Seals and Slates

It was a pleasure to get out for a walk on the clifftops of the nearby South West Coastpath today. Autumn is starting to show itself, the Blackberries near ripening and the leaves turning towards their oranges, yellows and browns but today was what the papers have been calling ‘a heatwave’. So it was a Summer throwback day, T-Shirt, sunglasses and shorts were in order. And a hat of course, always a hat.

I joined the coastpath at Beeny cliffs north of Boscastle, at the Dick Treleaven bench I wrote about before. Like him, this has become one of my favourite spots. Today wasn’t about getting the distance in walking along the coastpath, there appeared to be many others out enjoying the weather and yomping by doing just that today. No, I had no schedule or timetable nor place to get to, this is my home patch and I just wanted to stand, or sit, and just enjoy being there and seeing what I could see.dsc07118-1

The coast here is good for marine life, with it being part of the Marine Conservation Zone  that stretches south to Tintagel from Hartland Point in North Devon so it wasn’t long before I could pick out the dark shapes of Grey Seals in the water. Further looking about with the binoculars revealed some basking on a rock just a few hundred metres out, so you may legitimately ask, with this abundance of wildlife right in front of me, where are the pictures? Well, here is an example of why there aren’t many. This is taken with my longest telephoto lens. There are seven Grey Seals in it. None of them is balancing a beach ball on its nose so you might have some trouble finding them. Luckily my binoculars are a bit more powerful so I watched them playing ‘Who can sit on the rock the longest while waves try to wash us off’ for a long while.


Swallows were swooping low over the clifftops, sometimes suddenly appearing vertically having skimmed unseen up the cliff faces in family groups of ten or more, only missing me by a metre or two. They were enjoying some of their last warm feeding up days before heading out to Africa as the insect life here gets more sparse along with the warmth. There were Stonechats perching teasingly close before diving off as the camera was brought to bear and distant Buzzards circling high above. I could hear a Peregrine’s call but couldn’t see it anywhere in the great cliff amphitheatre. Many mixed Gulls and Oystercatchers perched on the rocks far below and Cormorants flew low across the water, like hovercraft skimming on a cushion of air. Occasionally the brilliant white of a Gannet disturbed the distant blue and so caught my eye further out. The sun had also warmed up all the Butterflies and assorted other flying beasties and bugs, so the overall impression was that life in general had been given a last chance to get everything done.

Having established that long distance photography was out, I turned to the short distance and inanimate. I had seen on another visit before that a cliff just a kilometre along from here, the black one in the first picture, was made up of the classic North Cornwall slate.  A few seams of the stone were exposed in the weathered and sparsely vegetated parts of it but when I was here last time the light was grey and diffuse, leaving the slate dull and flat. Today’s light was altogether brighter and had a stronger, more directional quality so I made my way out to it. Thirty seconds as the Gull flies, half an hour in coastpath walking for a wobbly human with view stops along the wiggly path contour.

Among the many things I wish I knew a bit more about, or at least be a bit less advanced in memory deterioration so that I can read about them and actually retain the information, the Geology of the cliffs is one. I know the area was famous for its slate, Delabole is not far away and I believe that still has a slate quarry providing top quality tiling. There is even a pub there named for the tools used for the separation leaves of stone to make roofing slates, the Bettle & Chisel. My non-commercial interest was in the way it looks out on the cliffs now, already exposed being battered by millennia of wind and rain and yet providing homes for miniscule and multi-coloured lichens. They’re another thing I wish I knew more about.

Each of the following gallery of shots is deliberately bereft of things that your brain can latch onto to give a sense of scale, so that all that is left are the colours and patterns that the various shapes, edges and layers of stone make. They are mainly of a small area of stone, around 10 to 15 centimetres in length. For those that still insist they can’t visualise that unless it’s in in a measurement system that is somehow easier because it starts with a 32nd fraction of an Inch unit, that itself being multiplied by twelve to get the next unit up, then that by three, then that by a delightfully arbitrary 1760, missing out the various unmemorable poles, fathoms and chains, then that is approximately 4 to 6 inches, give or take an eighth.



2 thoughts on “Seals and Slates

  1. I am one of those archaic oldies who still deal with feet and inches. 4 to 6 inches I understand. Fantastic words.what you writ again.

    I can almost imagine being In the places you walk.


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