Hengistbury Head

Unseasonably warm weather means it is a day for the seaside. I awoke early anticipating a warm day. We are in a midst a heat wave taking over Britain in the middle of April. Everyone is complaining that it is too warm, but days like this I am grateful. I’m grateful that I live by the sea. The constant breeze means it never gets too hot.

I find myself parking up on the beach so early, the café hasn’t even opened. Although it is a Sunday, perhaps they do open a little later. There’s a crate of eggs, bread and milk stacked in the shaded doorway waiting for the staff to arrive. I get out of the car and the wind blows through my thick curls. I should put my hair up really, it’s too hot, especially for this time of day.

The walk from the car to the beach isn’t too far. Early bird catches the best parking space, is what my Mum says. My Mum has never said that. I just think if she did share words of wisdom with me, I have no doubt it would be about parking in Bournemouth. She knows all there is to know.

The path to the beach flows into the distance, up and around the headland. Hengistbury Head is the most easterly part of Bournemouth. At least, the Bournemouth I know, anyway. This was always the furthest I would venture on my own on my yellow BMX. Bringing a picnic, a kite and sometimes, my little brother. This was a day trip in itself. We wouldn’t go any further than this; we didn’t need to. It is strange to think after 20 years, I barely know what is beyond the headland. There are villages and towns that lead up to Southampton, but I have never visited.

The sand gathers between my toes, I can already feel it warming. The wind shakes the long grass, brushing sand into the air. I am relieved I thought to bring my sunglasses, to avoid sand getting into my eyes. Having grown up by the sea, I find the beach a calming place. It remedies me, rejuvenates my soul. It would be the first place I would go to recover from a teenage tiff with some boy or the death of a beloved pet. I would sit on a groyne and watch the waves crash against the stones, listening only to the world around me. Time would pass, and I would feel better.

Bournemouth at the height of summer is a different place. The seven-mile stretch of clean sandy beaches attracts thousands of visitors from home and abroad. The beach becomes so full with people, from a far it looks like ants climbing all over a discarded lollypop. You can no longer sea the sand, let alone sit on it. The hoards of people make me sweat with anxiety. I worry constantly. Where will I park? Where will I sit? Will I get a spot near the toilets? Will there be a constant queue for the toilets? The perfect beach is one with no one on it. Just me and the sea.

From the headland you can see the Isle of Wight across the Solent. It is barely visible in the morning haze. I can just make out the brilliant white chalk of the crumbling cliffs and the Needles beyond. It was only a few years ago that I walked around the whole island, alone. It was a week in July, before the school holidays and it was very quiet. The weather was mostly warm or at least, forgiving. Nevertheless, the island was all mine: the beautiful sandy beaches of the east coast; the dramatic cliffs of the south. I would walk for hours sometimes without meeting a single person. Often when I did cross paths with someone it was jolly holiday-makers, generous with their smiles and enthusiastic waves. I didn’t mind them so much.

Today at Hengistbury Head, until the people wake from their lazy Sunday slumbers, this beach is all mine too.

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