Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Cove

Yesterday, I returned to the scene of a previous night-swim on a truly beautiful evening - green hedgerows framing clear blue skies, the gold-on-gold of evening sun on ripe fields. This being my first daylight visit to the cove, I began with a cliff-top survey. This is (part) of what I saw...

From the sea, the views are, if anything, even better. Rugged cliff faces fall steeply into the sea, their bases riddled with caves and sea arches. My favourite discovery of the evening was the sea arch in the centre of this picture: it leads to a hidden cove with a substantial south-facing shingle beach, almost entirely enclosed by cliffs. From the land, it could only be visited by abseilers, but from the sea, visitors have a choice of two fine arches or one (narrow) open channel. A magical, numinous place.

Outside the cove, wandering among islets and sea stacks, I came across two other swimmers who said they were hunting for crabs; I don't think their prey was in much danger though. The would-be "crab hunts" were armed only with children's hand nets. One of them was trying to dive; I would see the head duck down, followed closely by a disappearing bottom. However, a wet bottom was all that he could manage, and his legs would remain, disembodied, on the surface, thrashing frantically at the air, a little bit like a capsized sheep (well, if sheep were black, bipedal, and could swim).

I decided to have a go at crab-diving myself. The bottom was a mixture of bare rock, kelp-beds and white sand, and the water was extremely clear in the sheltered areas - swimming in fifteen or 20 feet (5 - 6.6 metres) of water, the visibility was so good that the sensation of height made me a little dizzy. Finding crabs was very easy - one should look at the edges of the kelp beds, where prospective victims have food, but only imperfect concealment.

Catching them wasn't much harder - I would drop into a vertical dive with only the tiniest splash, and reach "snatching distance" within a few seconds. The crabs turned out to be a fairly combative bunch, stretching their claws up and back in search of the fingers gripping their carapace. They turned out to be smaller than I expected - the water makes everything seem larger and closer - with most of their spiky shells about the size of my hand. The strength of their legs was amazing, though (comparable to human fingers, I think). The largest and most aggressive of the half-dozen which I caught (and released) did manage to make contact with his right nipper: but it closed on thick and nerveless neoprene.

Very, very good to be back in and beneath the water. I never get tired of the sheer otherness of exploring these "alien" places; of the strange beauty that I find there; of lifting from deep sands and rising weightless, without effort, to the rippling "sky".

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