Earlier this year I spent a week at the coast, the Welsh west coast which with each visit feels more like home. One warm, sunny evening I packed a sleeping bag and a stove and headed for a remote, inaccessible beach to spend the night alone under the starry Spring sky. It was necessary to pick the evening with care to fit with the rhythm of the tides which with an almost 6 metre range at that time of year left precious little beach between the surf and the cliff at its daily peak. The night I chose to make my home on the beach high tide came at around 11pm and, although I had checked the tide tables many times, I still waited a little nervously, watching the stars and listening to the alternate sibilance and bass of the incoming waves, half expecting an unusually large surge to swamp my tiny encampment.
Before nightfall I wandered up and down the undercliff seeking out driftwood and jetsam for a campfire but strangely for me I felt the disturbance of fire to be inappropriate on such a peaceful, sun-bathed evening. As I strolled across the smooth, hard sand at the edge of the surf it struck me that I would no more dream of lighting a fire here than I would in the nave of a great cathedral, that in some respect I was here on sufferance, a welcome guest; a guest with the responsibility of the pilgrim.
As the light faded, I lay on my back listening to the music of the ocean; the stereophonic symphony of deep booms from the sea cave to my right, and the higher, splashy, sweep of waves running up the sandy expanse to my left. A sound track to the dazzling vista of the Milky Way overhead with the familiar and reassuring constellations: Cassiopeia, The Great Bear, Auriga, Gemini. In my peripheral vision the soaring cliffs behind me framed the sky and stars and linked the just visible sea-horizon with the land mass I felt beneath my back. I lay there in an epi-centre of wonder at the vast, unfathomable beauty of the heavens, the land and the water.
I eventually drifted off to sleep, soothed by the sounds of the sea, to awake in the paleness of dawn, alone, or apparently so, on a new wave-smoothed beach. The sound track remained the same, just a little more distant now that the surf edge had retreated from the narrow strip of sand which separated the cliff from the high tide mark of flotsam, the sliver of earth which held me dry.
On rising, I noticed with a thrill of rising hackles that the beach had been recently crossed by a four-legged, clawed animal. It took a little while to work out that the prints were those of a fox and I cursed that I had not been awake to see this passing visitor. Nevertheless, amongst my store of beautiful, remembered mornings, there are few which equal the deep sense of belonging and harmony which this near meeting inspired.