July 30 2015
Sometimes a name in itself is sufficient to invite exploration.
Polly Joke is such a name.
As soon as I saw those words in my ‘Secret Beaches of the South West’ guide I knew that I would go there.
The detail did not matter. The name did.
So on a sun-soaked afternoon in late July, I find myself parking in a field and stepping out on the half mile trek through poppy-peppered cornfields, rolling downwards to the sea.
Polly Joke is a name of endearment and familiarity, used by the locals. But to most this is Porth Joke; a north westerly facing inlet beach between the prominent headlands of Kelsey Head and Pentire Point West on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. Completely undeveloped, this is a natural gem; geographically only a handful of miles – but galaxies apart – from nearby trendy Crantock and the crass commercialism of Newquay.
The walk to the beach is also a thing of beauty, passing blackberries that are beginning to swell with Autumn promise, graceful grasses and golden grain. Bees, bugs and butterflies abound.
A gentle drone and rhythmic breaking of distant waves – their crashes; a ragged remnant of a recent unseasonal gale.
For the last hundred metres of my descent, the business of bees is gradually replaced by the clamour of children and I realise that I will not be alone this day.
How naiive to think I would, for this is peak season. But nonetheless, there is no feeling of crowding – no confusion of windbreaks – no radios – no barking dogs. Just a happy murmur of childhood, softened by an Atlantic lullaby.
Crossing the chilled stream that traverses the apex of the beach, I choose a spot on the edge of the dunes – all marram and thistle and wisps of hot sand coiling to the tune of an onshore breeze.
The general advice at Porth Joke is to avoid swimming except in the calmest of conditions and then only on the rising tide. This is on account of the strong swell, lively surf and strong rips that feature prominently in the cove.
But today, despite a recent force 8, the swell is manageable and the tide rapidly consuming the vast, almost flat expanse of sand, so I wade into the gorgeously warm (18.5C) and clear waters.
Heading out, through a straggle of weed and past a handful of optimistic body boarders, I am soon swimming alone in the surf, which is lively and playful.
I dive into the first wave; indigo at it base and rising through turquoise to the purest white foaming crest.
Tossed about in its heart; powerless as a grain of sand, I break free from its grip and explode back to the surface.
My sense of conquest is short-lived, for I am instantly battered around the back of the head and flung forwards by its accomplice – stealthily creeping up on me from behind.
I feel salt gush into my nose and mouth, see a kaleidoscope of spinning blues, hear the rush of the wave above me and the shuffle of sand below. …before I again escape and rocket back into fresh air.
And it feels so good. Like a toreador, I emerge to face the relentless charge again and again …
An hour surges past like the relentless breakers, leaving me bobbing in a timeless place.
The beach has contracted and a trickle of families are embarking on the uphill trek towards home.
I face the shore and launch into each advancing wave, surfing on my stomach until the water is again shallow, warm and tranquil.
And where sea and river meet, amidst the turbulence and change, I see a shape outlined in foam.