The Great Explorer

Entry by: macdonald

7th October 2016
The Great Explorer

When I awoke that first morning the caravan was filled with a strange, red light. The sky had changed colour to scarlet during the night. No one else was up, so I poured my own cornflakes, spread a jam sandwich and put this, a bag of crisps, a bottle of water and my penknife and compass into the small haversack. Finally I hung the binoculars I’d got for my tenth birthday round my neck. Down at the beach, the early morning dog walkers were all gathered together, looking up at the gulls wheeling above, screeching their alarm at the angry sky. Surf fizzed and bubbled up to our feet, soaking sand and pebbles untouched by water for years. The air was fresh with salt and iodine. A wooden post, alongside a garbage bin overflowing with cans and plastic bags, was pointing West. Two miles to ‘The Point’.
I ran along an undulating path lined with yellow broom then between dunes, and up a little slope, to a high point. Here the broom gave way to blue-purple heather stretching away, like an uneven carpet to the base of the distant hills. And on the other side, the rocky shore and the sea, foaming at the base of a cliff, but calm further out, blue-green and silent as it met the sky on the north horizon.
It was no wonder everyone else had still been asleep. The journey to Scotland had been endless traffic queues and baby Charlotte, cutting her first tooth had cried most of the way. The car engine had overheated and when we’d missed the ferry, Mum and dad stopped speaking to each other. By the time we’d arrived at the caravan park in a thunderstorm, it was so late we’d had to park overnight in a lay-by close to the entrance.

After an hour of walking the path dropped down to a shore littered with great blocks of grey granite. These were studded at their base with limpets and separated by lines of buff coloured sand. I took off my sandals to dig my toes into its tickly warmth.

In a boat, a hundred yards out, two men in orange trousers were lowering little cages on ropes into the sea. No one else was in sight until a dark head popped up in the surf. By the time I’d got to the water’s edge it had vanished again. I sat on the sand beside a jellyfish and pulled out the crisps. The head appeared again, very close. Smooth and brownish black, with eyes above a whiskery mouth.

‘Hello seal,’ I said. He didn’t reply but he was as interested in me as I was in him and soon he was following me, his inquisitive face popping up frequently to watch me exploring, clambering over rocks, dipping my toes in the chilly pools, selecting the best shells and most colourful stones. I reached the base of a cliff. There was a huge, white lighthouse on its top.

In a patch of seaweed a length of fishing line lay tangled in a piece of driftwood. When I picked this up I heard a gasp and a jet of water hit my knee. I jumped back and looked down. Nothing but moist sand. A few paces further on the same thing happened. Something was spitting at me from a keyhole in the sand.

When I got back, mum was sitting on the caravan step, bouncing Charlotte on her knee. Dad was bent under the hood of the Volvo, fiddling with the fan belt.

‘I’ve been exploring,’ I said. Dad came to look at my collections and the little dead crab I’d found. I told them about the empty beach, the fisherman in the boat, the spitting creature under the sand and the nosy seal.

Late next morning, I led the way, followed by mum in her sunglasses, shorts and hat, then Dad carrying Charlotte in the baby sling. Between the wet towels and deckchairs on the big beach, past the squealing children in their water wings, panting dogs and teenagers playing football.

My beach was empty again and the tide was out. Dad put our towels on the dry sand. When the little dark head appeared again mum said:
‘He’s come to say hello’ and Dad held Charlotte up so she could see him.

‘That’s Ardnamurchan point,’ said Dad, pointing up to the lighthouse. ‘The most westerly part of mainland Britain’. I took dad to the patch of seaweed with the spitting creature.

‘Razor clams’ he said as he dug out one of the long shells with my spade. When he lifted another rock a huge green crab ran out sideways, waving its pincer at us. I lifted another and there were crabs under that as well, but Dad said:
‘We better stop now. How would you like it if a giant hand ripped off your bedroom roof ?’

Mum had found a deep hollow in the rock where the outgoing tide had left a pool, with seawater quickly warmed by the sun. Charlotte was sat on the edge, wiggling her chubby toes in the water. Mum was pleased that she still could fit into her swimming costume and she and dad were silly, splashing about in the water, whooping and giggling like big kids.

After our picnic Charlotte fell asleep and I went exploring again. When I came back, Mum was on her back sunbathing and Dad was on his side, singing to her.

‘You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good.’

By the time we got back to the caravan, we were all tired out by too much sun and fresh air, but all of Nature seemed to have had ground to a halt, worn out by the exertions of that day. There were no waves in the flooded bay of the big beach, not a breath of wind, no cloud in the darkening, starless sky. The gulls had gone, but a solitary mournful cry from some lost sea creature echoed over the sand.

After dinner, I scanned the horizon, still as a painting, through the caravan window.
‘Are you going exploring again tomorrow, Billy?’ dad asked.
‘I don’t think so,’ I told him. ‘There’s nothing much left to discover.’
‘Fair enough,’ said dad. ‘The greatest explorer would have been proud to find what you did today.’
‘I don’t know what you mean, dad.’
‘A Paradise, Billy. You found a Paradise.’
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