The Old Schoolhouse

The Medicine of Mothecombe

Mothecombe Beach, Flete Estate, South Devon

November 17 2017

“…as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart: How shall I go in peace and without sorrow?

Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.”  (Kahlil Gibran)

In times of turbulence and torment there is no better tonic than a trip to the beach, moreso with a toddler in tow. And there is no better beach than Mothecombe, also known as Meadowsfoot.

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A jewel of a place; hewn from the Devonian slate of the South Hams and multifaceted, reflecting the many vistas of the countryside hereabouts. For within the gaze lie rugged moorland, rollercoaster fields and rustic woodlands that dip down into the timeless tranquility of the Erme estuary.

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And of course, there is the sea. The soothing sea. The balm of the ocean.  And today, all that is clasped in a setting of the finest gold. For although this is mid November and the air is chilled, the sun has forgotten the season. She shines upon us benevolently as we dine alfresco and enjoy a lunch of local seafood and the gift of a good grape harvest at the Old Schoolhouse.

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The path to the beach crosses rabbit-peppered fields, then dips down through a delight of trees where the last blackberries are withering; their juices long sapped by the onshore breeze..

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Glimpses of paradise greet us through peephole clearings before the horizon expands and sand at last presses up between our toes.

Mothecombe first sand

As usual we are alone. Access is not particularly easy and in all but the heights of July and August this is a place of peace. A place to swim naked.


Today the sweetness of summer hay has passed and the high hedges no longer crush the crested lanes. It is only eight degrees above freezing, but the wind is kind and the sea is slight.

I find a perfect rocky changing room and strip off – albeit a little gingerly! Then the dash to the water; clear as glass and equally cutting. Recent storms have woven ridges and ripples into the sand as I wade up to my waist.


A sharp intake of breath. I dive, deep and long into the next wave. Surfacing, I savour the fizzing freshmint feeling of the chill that coils all around me. Impossible to describe. The endorphin rush that I have craved for the past two weeks since my last cold water swim.

My fix.


I drink it in – savouring the salt too, for I love its cheeky tang. The tide is rising but the beach shelves gently, so I am never far out of my depth as I relax into my stroke and begin to swim out. Out beyond the breakers. Where I can float and gaze and think and dream. A place of wonder. A place of prayer.

I think of the films that have been set here – notably Sense and Sensibility and Du Maurier’s Rebecca. A beachouse clings to the cliff and beyond, a remnant of war.


Here the Home Guard sat and waited for an invasion that never came. And here they blew a hole in the tidal pool. Gently bobbing, I ponder why, but explanations are as sparse as the clouds in the perfect blue above me.

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Lying still, the water around me warms, but the slightest movement unmasks a concealed chill. I languish longer than I should, gazing at the long-deserted pillbox, imagining the lonely vigil on a wild Westcountry night.

Suddenly my own early warning system jangles into life. My left fourth toe buzzes urgently then descends to numbness. The way it always does when it is time to retreat. I twist into the cold current and slowly swim back towards the excited chatter of my granddaughter.

An hour of precious beachtime memory-making follows.

An hour of discoveries and delights.


Mothecombe sandcastle delight

As we begin the ascent towards home, Alexa’s legs falter and she is lifted onto my shoulders. Clutching a feather in each hand, she begins to gently flap her wings. “We will fly back Grandad” she chuckles.

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But I am already far above her – soaring in the thermals. Circling and content in this world of Salcombe Smokies and Sauvignon Blanc. Of sandcastles and shell collections.

Borne up and lifted high by the innocent laughter of a child.