Clifftop weather

Just last week I was on top of the cliffs at Beeny, just north of Boscastle, walking with Gwynnik, and stopped for a few minutes to take in the views of some Grey Seals ‘bottling’ and ‘logging’ in the sea about 100 metres below. The mixed species of gulls were cawing and shrieking busily, using the air drafts in the cove to float effortlessly around – some call them “sky rats”, if they made less crying and shrill calls and didn’t raid your chips at the seaside I think more would love their command and grace on the wing instead – and occasionally you could spot a Guillemot bobbing around a bit further out in the sea amongst the bright fisherman’s marker bouys.

The forecast was a little grim for later on so my walk was timed to beat the expected onset of a few stormy hours in the afternoon. There were showers in the forecast so I hadn’t taken my camera on this occasion, fearing a smoky and fizzy death for it if we got a bit damp, so only my binoculars were deployed and I remained watching the clifftop life through them for as long as I could ignore the ever more insistent whining of a bored-with-being-stopped-still dog.

We – or more correctly, only I, because Gwynnik wasn’t in the least bit interested in watching wildlife – was treated to a fast passing Peregrine below, Stonechats flitting around, singing and perching around the gorse at the tops, a pair of hovering and hunting Kestrel over the fields behind and Skylarks also launching themselves, previously unseen in the crops and now ascending then descending with their ‘look at me, look at how much I can escape gravity, oh no, run out of puff, falling now, I’ll make it look good’ displays.

Unfortunately, about a mile in to our walk, some of the said stormy weather arrived. I had seen the squall scudding along the coast and over the sea towards us, an ominous darkening and a speckling of the distant grey. The light was fading fast as it was coming. Suddenly the gentle breeze became a wind, increasing in its force as we were approaching one of the ‘kissing gates’, which started to flap and slam noisily open and closed by the power of the wind alone. Gwynnik was perturbed by the noise and the movement of the gate with no one near it and started barking at it as if to try to frighten it into stopping. My hat also suddenly tried to escape.

Then the rain arrived. It appeared to arrive with the same speed, force and soaking to the skin properties as a 2 metre wave. The lightweight packable shower jacket I was wearing stood no chance. Neither did my walking trousers, boots or hat. In about twenty seconds I had gone from being worried about my hat blowing off and trying to stand up, to feeling like I was standing in a shower fully dressed. All of my clothing was now cloyingly stuck to my skin. Gwynnik also appeared to have shrunk by about fifty percent as her fur quickly lost it’s ‘Awww… cute’ to become more ‘Good grief, a drowned rat….’

 

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Before: Awww… cute                                 After: Drowned rat

 

I turned my back to the onslaught of wind and water and thought about the situation for a few seconds. We were a mile away from the car and we were on top of a cliff that offered no shelter. Up here the wind is so strong and laden with salt, so often, that trees don’t actually stand a chance of growing much and even the gorse bushes are shaped into aerodynamic wedges by the prevailing wind.

The circular walk was around three and a half miles in all so I decided that, if this weather was to carry on, that the shelter – and some towels – offered by returning to the car rather than risking another two and a half miles of continuous soaking was the best and closest option, so we headed back. The decision was helped by some stinging pain as the sudden storm seemed to now be dispensing hail.

The worst of the squall passed in around three minutes. In five minutes the skies were clearing and only accompanied by a spotty drizzle. About half a mile into our soggy trudge along the exposed heights, through the freshly created puddles, the sun was drying the land up and the atmosphere was taking some of the excess water back in the form of steam rising up from the warming fields and the Skylarks had started their sudden firing upwards again as well.

The breeze was making my drenched clothing start to feel a little cold though, when we got back to the car my trousers were still so wet that they were clinging to me as if they were my lycra cycling tights. After a quick towelling down, Gwynnik had regained her fully fluffed up TOG value and cuteness. The drive home is only five minutes but it was a drive with a certain sense of urgency for me to get properly dried, changed and warm again.

It was with this occasion in mind that we approached the same route this week with a little caution but slightly more optimism, it being given in the forecast as fine but showery rather than showery and maybe stormy. With showery weather, the light plays through the clouds in the dry spots and, if you’re really lucky, you sometimes avoid a complete soaking altogether. The elemental nature of the area is, for me, one of the main attractions, even if ‘fully immersing yourself in it’ is sometimes a little bit literal.

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