Every once in a while I pick up on a sign that I have been in Britain for a lengthy time. The coffee becomes more tolerable and I seek out a Costa. I engage in the politics, once finding myself watching Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning and invariably tutting and name-calling towards an array of politicians (just like a Sunday morning with Bazza and co in Australia). I also develop greater familiarity with popular culture, aware at least of which predictable warbler might remain in X Factor and who ends up eating cockroaches in the Gold Coast hinterland. I am persuaded that Ant and Dec can actually be quite funny. And reminded that most of the press remains dire, particularly for non-xenophobic lefties.
If anything, weather fixation intensifies and I obsessively scramble to watch the national forecast on BBC breakfast every morning. And then the local one ten minutes later. Absorbing, calculating, praying in hope that there will be a clearer slot in between graphical blues and greens depicting more rain. I doubt that I have used the word ‘dank’ in Australia, but here it re-enters my lexicon. It was inevitable, but it still comes as a disappointment.
I later discovered that November was the gloomiest on record which is absolutely brilliant isn’t it? Bright spells were as rare as succulent oak trees in a delightfully scorching sun-blasted desert. Any glimmer of blue (or white or less grey grey) prompted me to seek the outdoors. Sunshine and squally showers meant a good day, like on an outing to Newquay with Mum.
I would naturally avoid Newquay in the summer, jammed as it would be with school holiday sun-seekers stumbling over surfboards and clinging to caravans. Out of season is a different proposition though, with Fistral Beach sparse and surfers unwilling to venture upon seas whipped into meringue peaks. An out-of-season foam party streams onto the sand as a continuous crashing soundtrack booms in from the Atlantic.
It is – to be sure – bracing, but seems more purposeful than hunkering down to watch endless episodes of Pointless. We pursue the headland for the 360 degree views and a ragged crossroads of wind and water and land. Shelter is close and welcoming, provided by another Stein enterprise which can comfortably survive a winter with fish and chips and bread and tea specials.
Post-batter and it is back through the foam party and across to Pentire Headland. Similar to before, angled walking is required to puncture through a north-westerly headwind; pausing still to take a photo requires strength and agility. Waves crash on three sides and filter into the beach at Crantock. A distant squall promptly bears down and sends us scurrying for the car. The rain is back, and the blue sky gone again.
My standards of what constitutes a good day in November have lowered, indeed plummeted. A grey morning triggers a return to Noss Mayo, an oft-visited haven but never so late in the year. What once was quaint is turned dour, the sheep peppering the coast questioning their existence and the yachts of the estuary creaking in ghostly wails. Bleakness envelops and a downpour drenches me before I could seek refuge in The Ship Inn. Posh people hog the fire with a sense of entitlement. Times have changed but some things haven’t.
The weather folk on TV keep trying to sound cheerful, gleefully informing us that it is unusually mild for the time of year, before presenting a summary of the week ahead featuring words like “unsettled”, “rain at times”, “overcast”, and “winds increasing”. So it came as something of a surprise to wake one Saturday morning to find a frost on the car windscreen, hastily scraped off in an attempt to enjoy the blue skies before the clouds encroached and it became “overcast” again.
The moors were looking stunning in such rarefied light, swathes of bracken glowing bronze and raggedy silver outcrops piercing a deep blue. Not everywhere was shimmering though, the sun sitting on such a low trajectory that hollows and recesses struggled to shake off the shade. Thus on a nice sunny day I find myself in a chilly, dark chasm, following a beautiful watercourse in Lydford Gorge to the foot of White Lady Falls. A very reliable supply of water (i.e. Britain) ensures the falls plunge with suitable grace and power, offsetting the annoying lack of sunlight in the valley.
With the trees rapidly denuding it seems that autumn is fast dwindling away into winter, even if the temperature is hardly playing ball. It starts to feel like Christmas is of course a-coming, although the shops have been full of Christmas since September. I cannot remember there being so many TV adverts for Christmas food, Christmas presents, Christmas drinks, Christmas movies, Christmas jumpers and Christmas music. I thought it would be nice to stay in the UK for Christmas, but this overabundance is starting to drive me mad. I guess that is part of the whole Christmas experience too!
Chances of a white Christmas appear non-existent, unless you escape to a seascape brimful of foamy fury. Unlike Newquay and the north coast, stretches of the south coast may not cut it for impromptu seafoamball fights, thanks to protection from Atlantic surge. Beaches like Bantham and Bigbury are generally more sedate affairs and miraculously the sun may break through the white cloud thanks to the shelter of the hills. At low tide, miles of sand act as a barrier to the elements and afford safe, non-muddy footing for bracing strolls.
Burgh Island is the centrepiece of this quaint corner of South Devon and easily accessed when the tide is out. Catch it at the wrong time and you’ll be faced with a giant tractor ride or a perishing wade through water surging in from left and right. Or maybe wait it out with a cocktail in the artiest deco hotel of them all. Alas, my re-acclimatisation means I am used to paying attention to the tide times along with the weather forecast and miss out on cocktails and tractors.
Despite the predominant cloud, despite the withering trees, despite the headwinds and squalls and muddy tracks, despite the gloomiest November on record, there is just a little charm and delight to be found. A few hours like those in Bigbury, or Newquay, or at Lydford make a world of difference. They are rare interludes, and may not be enough to persuade me I could do a whole November again. But then it could be a lot worse, it could be December instead…