Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Blue Lagoon


I left the office with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, 10 minutes and i was home, squirreling away essentials into my rucksack. Owen had been staying in a caravan at Lydstep Haven and i as on my way to join him so that we could investigate Aberiddy's Blue Lagoon, a marine flooded quarry tucked into the cliffs of the rugged west wales cliffs.

I kissed the wife and kids goodbye and set off down the M4 past the giant clouds of steam billowing from the chimneys of Port Talbots steelworks on into the greenery of the Welsh countryside. The sun was almost at the end of its daily journey through the sky and provided a pink and red light show in the dimming autumn sky.

I pulled up next to the caravan just as darkness enveloped all bu the glittering sea which was brought to a silver life by the full moon. I could see the dark red glow of the barbecue and Owens smiling face as he raised from his reclining chair, beer in hand. I grabbed my bag from the car and join him on the decking which had a prime view over the moonlit bay.

Owen slid one of his homemade Chili Beef Pizzas (always fillet steak!) onto the pizza stone that sat on top of the crackling BBQ and placed the heavy black lid on that would turn it into a blisteringly hot oven. The hiss of a can being opened sounded beside me as Owen passed me an ice cold beer. Two hours ago i was in work now i was watching the silver sea with a beer in my hand and hungry senses being teased by wafts of roasting beef and crisping dough.

The first slice of pizza was virtually inhaled, it tasted so good. It didn't take long for the plates to be emptied, a frozen bottle of vodka magically appeared and we began the very serious matter of putting the worlds to rights. Time drifted, as it does when mixed with alcohol, i looked at my watch and said it was nearly midnight. Midnight swim? We grabbed our towells and made the short dark walk to the beach. Under the cover of darkness i was happy to wear socks wit my sandals but realised my error when i stepped into a bog which left my toes encased in soggy muddy wool.

We were soon on the beach, clothes off and running across the sand to the floating silver pathway of the reflected moon that stretched from the horizon to the beach. I ran into the water and just as i reached critical (groin) level dived into the dark cold brine. Straight into a brisk breaststroke out to sea and then floating around on my back in the twinkling seascape looking up at the moon and around and the dark shadows cast by the nights clouds.

Back on the beach we jogged back to our towells looking like representatives from the Ministry Of Funny Walks (Naturist Department) as we stubbed toes on pebbles or stood on sharp shells. We quickly dried off and headed back to the van, the cold salty water (or the copious amount of consumed vodka) had given us the munchies.

Owen chucked some more charcoal on the BBQ and set about pounding some dough for another pizza, this time chicken and chili. I poured two shots of vodka straight from the freezer, for medicinal apres swim purposes and we sunk back into the caravans soft well worn armchairs.

TV on i spent a good 20 minutes looking at the blue sky screen trying to find something to watch, squinting my drunken eyes to focus on the uninteresting words. The search was fruitless and the off button was pressed. I slipped on the armchair into a more reclined position and drifted off into a drunken dream. I awoke at 06:50 horizontal on the caravan sofa at eye level with the coffee table which held a whole, untouched chili chicken pizza. My wooden tongue clicking in the desert of my mouth. I rubbed my eyes and felt the sting of the salt from the midnight swim. I succumbed to the usual feelings of having spent a night in Owens company, being extremely full and extremely hungover.

Unable to face breakfast we threw our bags into the car, Owen asked if i had my bodyboard and told me to chuck that in as well, just in case. He drove. It was cloudy and threatened to rain, our heads felt better hiding behind shades. As we left the caravan park and entered the winding county lanes my condition nose dived as my hangover took hold.  We knew roughly where we were going but not exactly. I was suffering from sea sickness as we snaked across the countryside. Owen handed me a map, i managed to spit out "no chance" as i fought to keep the contents of my stomach in place.

I don't usually submit to a hangover, preferring to battle it through unaided, like a man! but this was different, i needed to get better. We stopped in Haverfordwest to get a cure. Can of diet coke, packet of Ibuprofen and the all important crisps (welsh salt and pepper). By the time we got to Newgale i was well on the road to recovery. Owen parked, or tried to park the car at Newgale surf shop so we could quickly inspect the beach and surf. There was a small offshore wave, the sky was filled with racing clouds threatening to rain. We nipped into the shop for a quick look, Owen bought a bright yellow bodyglove t-shirt. We were soon back on the road flying up and down the hills. A sign announced that our destination, Aberridy, was 2 miles. The rain began, wipers on top speed, but it couldn't dampen the excitement as we slid around the last bend into the car park. The site that greeted us however, did dampen our excitement. 30 teenagers in wetsuits, life jackets and hard hats receiving a safety briefing from the group leader. Coasteerers, the bain of a quiet marine dip.

We discuss whether to come back later but instead opt for a speedy stealthy change, enabled by our lack of safety equipment we are wetsuit clad and running off up the hill before our friends briefing is finished. As we jog around a corner we are greeted by another group of coasteerers heading back to the carpark. The group leaders trying to decipher our ironic smiles, or grimaces. And there she is, the Blue Lagoon, empty, a bit choppy as the wind has picked up and with a slight festive feel as sea foam snow slowing floats down to the blue surface.

Straight down the bank and we are in, e have it to ourselves, but for how long? The water, true to its name has a tropical light blue hue to it as we strike out into a front crawl race to the seaward side. Here as we floated about discussing how great it would be with no wind we discover that we are not alone. We are sharing it with someone who is entitled to be here more than us, a seal, who kept a close, large brown eye on us.

I turned and swam to the edge of the pool as Owen played about diving down into the misty depths. As i inspected some seaweed which was growing on the flat slate rocks i turned round but could not see Owen. I waited for him to surface but he didn't, panic crept through my body, how long as he been under? I instinctively called out his name and a "Yeah" came echoing back to me. "Where are you?" as i looked up to see him getting to hi feet on top of the old quarry wall, now used as a jumping board. He launched himself out into the air and gravity slammed him down into the water, a split second after he surface so did the seal obviously impressed. It is quite unnerving floating in deep water knowing something bigger than a fish is watching you.

The pool has a channel carved through the stone that links it with the sea. This channel fills the pool with fresh sea water twice a day and lets seals and fish swim in and out. There was quite a swell out to sea and as the waves came in they forced themselves through the channel, the current from the would push you back into the pool. When the water receded it drained from the pool and dragged you out to sea. Owen played about in the shifting currents, the seal obviously had the same idea as he popped his head up right behind Owen and bumped him like a jealous child on the swings at a playground. The seal played around surfing the current in and out of the pool before he disappeared.

Owen swan out to sea and shouted me to follow, which i reluctantly did. The current was strong and even though the channel was shallow, you couldn't stand up because the water would pull you over. The water boiled with an angry violence. Anyway, instincts ignored i adopted a floating prone position, goggles on and then allowed the current to pull me out to sea. Head under water, the surface of the channel came into view as i left the deep water of the pool. The channel was only 2-3 feet deep, its floor forested with weed and kelp. The speed with which the water pushed was impressive and i enjoyed watching the benthos blur past me. I looked out just in time to see a giant barnacle clad boulder loom at me out of the blue, i just managed to fend it off with my hand and avoid a head on collision. The barnacles cheese grated the palm of my hand as i was pushed into a strange limbo where the opposing currents seemed to cancel each other out. We floated in this area held by the sea as the water around us raged and boiled. This was fun. After a bit we decided to swim back to the pool which turned out to be problematic. The water draining from the pool would not allow us to get back in and the sea and waves would not allow us to swim out, i started to get concerned that we may stay here, forever! Attempts to climb out on the rocks either side of us were met by the hands of the waves dragging us back in. Panic. Eventually we found a spot where if we timed it right we could ride a smaller wave through a fault in the rocks into a rock pool where, if we were quick enough we could scramble out before the receding wave dragged us back out to sea. Relief.

We swam a couple of lengths of the pool and heard the screams of the coasteerers, who we had forgotten about, in the next bay. We decided to get out and as we walked back to the car park we saw a couple of surfers floating about just off the beach. We both laughed at them because the surf had been so rubbish n hour earlier. As we watched, one paddled into a wave and stood bolt upright as the lip pitched right over him in a huge barrel. We ran back to the car and grabbed our bodyoards and finns. We wobbled across the pebbles down to the black sanded beach. i Hadnt been surfing for a long time and the waves looked pretty heavy. They were overhead and the lip was pitching right out into the flats. After a frantic paddle out we were in the lineup. Owen paddled off to the left to catch the peaks, i was happy where i was. A razorbill landed close by and set about diving under the water looking for its lunch, it wasn't the least bothered about my presence or the pounding surf.

I looked to my left and saw the other surfers frantically paddling to the horizon, i looked up and saw a sizeable set of waves pumping into the bay. I paddled hard desperate to make it over the top of the first wave before it exploded, i rose up the surface of the unbroken wave just in time as the lip feathered and pitched forward. As i dropped down the back of the wave i heard the boom of it breaking and felt myself being sucked back towards the beach despite paddling hard. The spray of the broken wave stung my eyes closed, i wiped them and looked up to see the next wave feathering in front of me and its lip start to pitch. Should i paddle hard and try and make it over or linger, wait for it to break and duck dive? Too late, the wave broke right in front of me, i tried to duck dive but it ripped me off my board and took me through the spin cycle of natures washing machine, reminding me just how much respect the ocean deserves.

A peak rose up out of the blue in front of me, i turned and kicked into it, free falling down its face. I dug the edge of my board in slicing deep into the wave turning at the bottom and sending out a fan of spray as i rose back up the wave to the lip. I straightened out and the lip pitched over my head and towards the beach engulfing me in a cavernous barrel of water. In a split second i was spat out in a cloud of mist,  turned to the beach and the wave detonated behind me bouncing my legs high into the air and almost pushing me into a somersault.

I walked up the beach and watched Owen drop into a barrel and scream across the bay, he turned and paddled back out to sea, wanting more.

I got changed at the car, watching Owen surf for a bit. I started to feel hungry so got the supplies out of the car getting ready for the now traditional apres swim feast. I set up behind the breakwater hiding from the offshore wind. Owen got out and got changed and i cooked up some chili cheese steak baguettes (rump steak, fried onions, mexican cheese and nando's pir piri tomato sauce).

We could here the screams of the coasteerers who had now got to the lagoon and were jumping off the rocks. We wolfed down the food and decided to walk back to the lagoon. When we got there Owen almost stepped on a seal that was perfectly camouflaged on the black slate floor. The seal snorted a warning to us and then posed for some photographs.

We jumped back in the car and took off through the lanes to check out another possible swimming hole near bosherton. Another flooded quarry identified with the help of google earths satellite imagery. The quarry lay just behind the wooded hedge of the road, a road we had driven along many times not knowing what the hedge hid. We know noticed the only tell tale sign that there was something interesting there. A red sign emblazoned with the phrase "Danger - Keep Out". We parked up and walked along a leafy lane, the right hand side of which contained a six foot security fence topped with bundles of barbed wire. Our chances of getting in looked poor. There is always a way though. When we arrived at a set of security gates we could see that someone had kindly removed a large metal panel from the right hand side allowing us to step right in an walk down a track full of anticipation. Sometimes things dont work out and this was one of those times, the water level had dramatically dropped for some reason, the sides lined with dried out aquatic plants. The wind brushed the surface of the water into ominous looking chop and the water looked choked with weed. We wouldnt be swimming in here but we kept it on our list to try next spring and see if the winter rains could fill it up and entice us int for a swim.

We drove the short distance to bosherton and checked out the Lilly ponds, this is a definite spot for a future swim.

We headed back, stopping at Morrisons for supplies. Back at the caravan we had oysters steamed on the BBQ and Bambi Burgers washed down with yet more frozen vodka. And yes, i woke up full and hungover.
I opened my eyes to see the caravan full of golden light and looked at my watch 06:45, outside was the start of a beautiful dawn. I got up, chucked on a shirt and grabbed my camera. I walked down the sandy green pathway to the beach just as the sun was rising over Caldey Island.

The entire caravan site slept behind me, snug in their beds. The beach was all mine as i sat on a rock basking in the golden glow. What better way to wash away the nights excesses than to go for a swim in the golden water. I took off my shirt and shoes and waded out into the water, feeling privileged to experience this alone. I swam out following the golden pathway of the reflected rising sun that stretched out to sea. The contrast of the cold water on my body and the warm glow of the sun on my face was bliss. When i swam back to the beach i floated around for a while as the waves gently rolled the pebbles up and down the beach. I could feel and hear the sound of their movement through my body, where ears could hear nothing. The tingling sound epicentred at the base of my submerged neck and i alone felt the oceans song  I scrambled back up the beach and put my shirt on, grateful for its fleece lining and made my way back to the van to pack and return to my home and my family.,-5.244834&sspn=0.008179,0.02738&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Abereiddy,+Berea,+Haverfordwest,+Dyfed,+United+Kingdom&ll=51.93778,-5.20871&spn=0.002044,0.004801&t=h&z=18

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