Until I actually saw the sea, I wasn’t entirely convinced that my South West Coast Path adventure would happen. I had planned, trained and practised for months. Coronavirus had delayed my departure – and still might stop me from completing the walk.
When I was close enough to smell the sea, my stomach turned somersaults. I was here; I was starting my journey. I had little idea how it would go – I knew that I was fit enough to do the walking, but how would I manage camping on my own, night after night? Who would I meet? What wildlife would I see? What would the weather be like by the middle of October? My mouth stretched into a wide smile in anticipation of the adventures to come.
Walking around Studland Bay on a warm sunny day at the beginning of September, I expected to see nudists enjoying the last of the summer. Last time we walked along here, Mike was embarrassed because I stood and chatted to a naked man for what to him seemed like an eternity. I’m far too concerned about bugs, sunburn and getting cold to be a naturist myself, but I can see how it could feel liberating, and have no concerns at all about nudity in my presence. I don’t really see how a naked body can be offensive, particularly on a beach, where usual dress codes don’t apply anyway.
Today, though, despite the beautiful Indian summer, the beach was virtually empty, and my attention was drawn not to nudists, but to the seaweed growing out of the sand. There was such a variety, I started to wonder why I only know one word for these plants, especially as they are so important to us. I have no vocabulary to differentiate between different species of seaweed. How can this possibly have happened? I can usually identify the main species of tree – oak, ash, beech, willow, etc, even if I don’t know exactly what variety it is. I have some idea about wildflowers – I can identify a poppy, ox-eye daisy or orchid, but I have absolutely no idea about seaweed.
The variety on just this one beach was astonishing. There were brown, bulbous pockets the size of a coin pouch; long strappy fronds that looked like liquorice shoelaces; bright leafy-green clumps like alginous lettuces; pillows of golden fluffy thread; barely opaque strands of white spaghetti with nodules along their length; and pink ones with branched stems.
If you know as little as I did, check out these fun facts about seaweed.
This first day’s walking was a gentle introduction to the coast path, mostly flat and easy-going. It wouldn’t stay that way for long!