Updated: Sep 23
We recently we watched Agnes Varda’s beautifully playful and sincere memoir, The Beaches of Agnes. I love Agnes Varda, I love beaches, and I love the way this film tells her story through the beaches of her life. Mine could be told the same way: I grew up near the beach and wherever I have lived and holidayed I have sought out beaches. One of the reasons we moved to the Island was to be near the sea.
Our time here (renovation aside) has certainly been a story of beaches, and looking at my wall map of the Island the other day I realised that I had swam at every beach on the southern side of the Island except for Binnel Bay. So off I went to add that one to the list. Now crossed off, here are a few of my favourite swims and beaches on the whole south coast:
A harsh beach that most would overlook. I find it very beautiful. It can be hard lying on stones, and it can be a tough swim if the tide is wrong, navigating your way through the rocks in a tough swell. But I know the way through, and I know that when I get past the rocks, I can look down into the crystal-clear water and see the sand stretching out below the sea. I can swim a long way from shore and still be able to dive down and grab a handful of this fine sand in my fist while fish swim around me. And from this place far from the shore the view back to the Island is spectacular: I can see Ventnor, and my parents' flat to the east, my right, and St Catherine’s to the west. It is so good it is hard to make myself swim back to shore – it’d be wonderful to just stay there, bobbing in the waves, like a seal, looking around. Maybe I’m a selkie!
It took me ages to warm to this place. I never really fancied a swim there – it always seemed too busy for what it was. But then I stopped by very early one morning, on my way to somewhere else. I realised that it is not its fault that during the day it is too busy, and as a quiet, small village beach, it had so much charm. It was easy to see why Tennyson and co. found it a wonderful place to be back in late 1800s. With its grey pebbles and small fishing boats moored in the bay it had the feel of a pebbly Ionian beach. And when I swan from one side of the bay to the other the water was so clear and the huge rocks below the sea were at the same time fearful and fascinating. The only other swimmers that day were a few locals and me. Coming out of the sea I just wished the Albion Hotel was actually a Greek taverna. It would have been perfect.
Another one I shunned for a while as I prefer deserted beaches. But one day I went down with my brother and swam out with goggles on, and, in the clear water, saw very healthy marine life. And this summer, after watching Barney Artist perform at Harbourside at the Ventnor Fringe, I walked out of the gig to the sun setting at the far end of the bay and realised what a beautiful beach and town Ventnor is. Barney Artists called it the most beautiful place he had ever played, and I see what he’s saying now. Though he is an East End lad 😉!
The cutest little cove in the country! Taking the kids here after school justifies our move to the Island! We have an ice cream, the kids play in the sand or, when the tide is out, splash around in the lagoon, I swim far out to sea and look back on this wonderful cove. The feeling of happiness as I sit with the towel around me, drying off after the cold swim, watching the children play cannot be surpassed.
Bloody great crab baps too! What more...?
A surfer’s delight. A spectacular beach and pretty quiet when you make the effort to walk a few paces down the beach rather then just plonk yourself at the bottom of the steps as most visitors seem to do. There are shipwrecks to swim through and dinosaur footprints to discover. Still much prefer the below beach though.
My absolute favourite. Sometimes, when I can get away with it, I dump the kids on my parents, tell my wife I need to recuperate (bear in mind that she works far, far harder than me, or than I ever will!) and head off, with a book, to my favourite beach. Now, I will not reveal where this favourite beach is (though I will tell our guests – and swear them to secrecy!), as otherwise it will be crowded by all the twenty or so people who read this blog, and the reason I love this beach – other than it being stunning, sandy, peaceful, great for (strong) swimmers – is that usually I am the only one on it. I don’t have to put up with children screaming, parents screaming at their children, the smell of barbecues, drones, beach tents, any of it. Occasionally a surfer is out there – good, occasionally a naked person strolls by - okay, but mostly it is just me and the kestrels, kites, and kittiwakes, and the sound of the sea, shushing the shore.
I actually do often (non-negligent parent that I am) take the kids here too. They love the scramble down the cliffs, the wild waves, and covering themselves (and me) in clay from the pools at the base of the cliff. They play so happily, and I just sit there and watch them running in the surf, like me and my brother did when we were their sage. This place really is heaven!
And so, Binnel Bay…
Well, it wasn’t much to look at, just a pile of stones and a patch of sand. A few petrified trees, a nesting Kestrel and a crumbled stone harbour wall (the result of a Victorian misadventure) gave it interest. And the swim was good. It was worth the journey for the walk along the cliffs on the voyage of discovery. Passed a very interesting house too! I have put my flag in the sand and may return one day.
And for anyone who loves standing on a shore listening to a few tunes, try these:
or, if you want a rough day, can't beat:
Come swim with us!