[I’ve just found a notebook in which I wrote this last September, while we were on holiday, and which I totally forgot to publish.]
For as long as I can remember, I have loved natural bodies of water, particularly if I can swim in them. When I was young, my parents used to rent a slightly scruffy cottage in mid-Wales. The cottage itself wasn’t much to write home about (though it had an adjoining store room chock-full of dusty stuffed animals — real ones — antique farm machinery and tools, plus rusty and potentially lethal animal traps: all very exciting for young children). What it did have was a stream flowing through the back garden. It was a gorgeous little stream, with freezing cold water straight from the hills which was the colour of strong tea from all the peat. However, it was so clear that you could see every detail of the rocks and stones on the bottom, tinted a warm sepia by the water. My brother and I spent a lot of time paddling, swimming, sailing a huge chunk of polystyrene as a raft and generally messing around in that river.
On other holidays, I loved trips to beaches and would get frustrated to the point of fury by my mother’s insistence that we wait at least two hours after eating before going swimming. If we went on walks that followed rivers I would spend the entire time looking longingly and compulsively into the water, wondering what it would be like to swim in. I do the same thing even now: I can’t walk beside any body of water without aching to swim in it. I learned to swim when I was very young, and I took to it like a slightly ungainly otter, spending as much of the time swimming underwater as on the surface. I don’t swim fast, or indeed elegantly, but I adore the water and always have. When my Mum used to watch me swimming at the local pool, other mothers would comment that I was a real ‘water baby’. I’ve always loved the legends about selkies, and I identify with the selkie women separated from their seal pelt and forced to gaze longingly at the sea. I think that probably goes a long way in explaining why I love islands so much, particularly small islands 1. On a small island there’s a very favourable ratio of interesting coastline from which to swim compared to rather dull interior.
I love the Western Isles, but they take ages to reach so I have been delighted to get acquainted with an island that’s a lot closer to the Midlands: Anglesey. It almost fails one of my key island requirements, because it has two fixed bridges to access it, so you don’t have the excitement and sense of adventure of arriving by ferry. In fact, I almost failed to notice that we had crossed on to the island, despite the fact that I was driving. However, it makes up for this by having a superb mixture of types of coastline, particularly in the south, which was where we were based.
There are lovely sand dunes, all waving marram grass studded with wild flowers. There are long sandy beaches which are perfect to swim from, but they also have interesting rock outcrops to explore, and bands of smooth pebbles and shells for beachcombing. There are even jewel-like rockpools to potter around in, catching sight of darting, transparent shrimps and blooming anemones. As if that wasn’t enough, there are cliffs and a lot of lighthouses. Heaven.
We stayed in a lovely cottage which was right on the beach. Huge windows gave great views of the sea, and at night we were lulled to sleep by boom and hiss of the waves. I’ve often fantasised about moving permanently to various places we’ve stayed on holiday, but I had serious bouts of this fantasy house-moving here. Mentally I had moved our furniture in, re-arranged a couple of rooms and planned out my future days. I would start in the early morning with a swim in the sea, followed by breakfast while gazing out to sea… you get the idea. Basically, I was envisioning the kind of idyllic, partially-aquatic life that I have coveted since I was about 5 years old. I had even re-planned my career to accommodate living in a rather out of the way spot.
I love the sea more than anything except Mr. Bsag, my family and the cats, and yet we currently live as far as it is possible to get from the coast in the UK. This is not good, not good at all.
1 Yes, I know that I already live on an island, but at some point a large island ceases to feel like one. ↑