top of page
  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

On the Beach Part 2

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JUNE. 19, 2021

or Three Boats Passing ................

As well as the flower portraits of Flower Beach I also took other views of the landscape and horizon. This whole series of photos was outstanding for the number of insects that found their way into shot. Many of the flowers and even this rusty relic were home to insects and bugs, either stopping briefly for food or as in this case setting up home to lie in wait for unsuspecting prey. It says something about the richness of this habitat despite it's exposure to the harshest of elements, sun, surf, gales and salt.

"The Spider and the Fly" is a poem by Mary Howitt (1799–1888), published in 1829.

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said a spider to a fly;

" 'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy.

The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,

And I have many pretty things to shew when you are there."

"Oh no, no!" said the little fly, "to ask me is in vain,

For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

This is an old lifebelt hook now replaced, and the steel of the post is returning to it's mineral state, it surely cannot be much longer before it joins the rest of the dust on the beach. Meanwhile it serves as a very effective fly catcher.

Most of the plants out on the open beach are low to the ground, and this is one of the rare exceptions, a shrub that has managed to battle the elements to raise up it's head as a refuge for humans on a sunny, breezy day, with the additional help of a windbreak. It fulfils a similar role for humans as the rusty post serves for a spider, shelter. The spider has eight legs and here you see the human, prone to the ground with just two.

Humans share this habitat with all the other life forms and shape it to some degree in our image, seen here in the form of footpaths where the regular flow of human feet ensure little can survive. It is a constant battle between plants trying to encroach on the path and the foot traffic preventing them. It is a fine balance between the two and the coexistence ensures just the right amount of path. A Goldilocks effect of paths that allow just the right amount of access and just the right amount of plant cover. A map of shingle tributaries that converge on the car park at the far end of the beach, although strictly speaking the tributaries run in reverse filtering the humans out of the car park and onto the furthest reaches of the beach garden. Only the fittest make it to the rocks at Pilchard Cove about a mile along the cliffs, most setting up base camps along the way, according to their stamina. Walking a mile in shingle is a two steps forward, one step back affair, making it feel more like two miles, with no option once there but to retrace the route back.

Miraculously, because access is limited and modern humans fairly lazy, the beach remains quite uncrowded even at busy times of year. The average beachgoer is not looking for a hike, but for a lie down, as near to the car as possible. To be a bit less cynical, as near to the "facilities" as possible. The "facilities" amounting to a small wooden shack in powder blue, a colour hinting at bleaching by the sun, freshly painted, containing the world's finest coffees along with the latest "free from" food delights, in addition to one of the most expensive bacon rolls in the west.

Sitting in the passenger seat of our car driving back from a shopping trip this week, along the hair raising cliff top road above, I noticed for the first time that the tiny ant like human base camps on the beach were almost exactly spaced apart at the same distance, at a guess about fifty metres. A subconscious beach etiquette seems to be in play, where each new arrival chooses a spot for their tiny tent, just the right privacy distance from the next. The tents are mostly the instant, pop-up, dayglo, nylon, igloo type. The visual effect from the cliff top looking down, is of a discarded length of brightly coloured plastic popper beads laid out parallel to the waters edge.

This is boat number one below, and if you have been paying attention you will know there are three altogether.

These humans are not the beach variety but the marine species, passing by on the breeze, looking for an exclusive cove they can anchor in. There is one just a mile or so further along the coast, so exclusive that there will only be about five other boats there by the time they arrive. I'm not sure what anchoring etiquette is like. Probably less than fifty metres in a small cove.

Pedestrian humans can get to it, just about, down a very steep path, but it's probably a step too far, as the world's finest coffee is not readily available there.

This is why I call it flower beach. In the distance you can just about make out the lighthouse on Start Point. This beach is a popular destination for metal detectorists and has thrown up much gold in the past and still does occasionally today. If you see a detectorist, gold coins is what they are after. This is the busiest shipping lane in the world and may have been so very far back in history. It is also very dangerous and lined with treacherous rocks, which means it is also lined with underwater wrecks from centuries past. These wrecks are still giving up their treasure. The beaches of this bay are also still giving up a different darker offering on a regular basis. Being the main practice beach for D-Day, where thousands of live shells were fired and mines laid, there are still emergency disposals required after storms. There were at least two mine emergencies last winter.

At it's widest point there is a large variety of plant life between the cliffs and the water. Near the cliffs the vegetation is impenetrable but as you walk towards the water the vegetation thins out. The effect at this point is of flower islands in a shingle sea.

This is boat number two below.

Actually it is number one, or "One Blue Jay" to be precise. Thanks to my free app, Marine Radar, I was able to identify this floating brick as a container ship called One Blue Jay, en route to Rotterdam, doing 14.5 knots. It was built in 2016 and flies under the flag of Japan. It is 364 metres long and 51 metres of beam or to you and me 51 metres wide. She originated her journey in Singapore taking 23 days and seven hours to get to Rotterdam. She is two metres longer than the longest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas.

I am only telling you all of this because it is fascinating how much information you can find on the internet and I am of an age where that is still awe inspiring.

As I write this she is moored in Rotterdam, in the middle of this screen grab.

This road between the freshwater ley and the sea is called The Slapton Line. It is the lifeline of this coastal community and it is difficult to credit and in fact quite shameful that in the fifth largest economy in the world, a group of local politicians can decide that this road is not worth investing in because it would just be "too expensive" to defend from the sea. The Dutch built an entire country reclaiming land from under the sea but we can't throw a few boulders onto the beach to offer some protection to a mile of road. The local authority plan as it currently stands is to let the sea wash it away, that is not a plan it is a neglection of duty with no plan at all.

Neglection- to give little attention or respect to : disregard : to leave undone or unattended to, especially through carelessness.

That is a description of our politicians.

This is boat number three, a bit of a mystery. Marine Radar comes up with a blank because it must be a mirage. According to Marine Radar this ship is not really there, even though it hasn't moved and looks fairly solid to me.

Puzzled, I do some research at home later in the day, having come to the conclusion that it must be military. I remember a passing remark of a neighbour out on a coastal path walk earlier in the week who claimed to have been watching an aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales just off shore. Opening up my Marine Radar app and zooming out further, I now spot a few miles out a, red dot which had not been there when I was on the beach. This identifies as Unknown Warship. So I Google HMS Prince of Wales for images on the off chance and they match exactly the profile in my photo.

Elementary my dear Watson.

What I had been looking at was an aircraft carrier on manoeuvres. This also explains all the little black bee like craft that had been buzzing around her like a swarm around a hive. Some sort of secret exercise was underway. Luckily for us the navy are not still using the area for live firing though. If you look up close you can just make out the aircraft launch ramp on the left.

HMS Prince of Wales is one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK. Her flight deck is 70 metres wide and 280 metres long – enough space for three football pitches – and she holds 45 days’ worth of food in stores. She will have a crew complement (minimum crew) of around 700, increasing to around 1,600 with aircraft onboard. HMS Prince of Wales’ size and scope is awe-inspiring – she can embark 36 F-35B and four Merlin Helicopters.

A week ago the ship was stationed off Cornwall for the G7 summit.

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page