It is the last day of March, but it might just as easily be April Fool’s Day. We leave the house in weather that is sunny and dry. A five minute Metro ride later and the sky has darkened, gushing hail and snow. It’s a short dash to the beach, where we take refuge under the canopy of the old watch house at the top of the cliffs. Built in the 1800s for the life brigade to watch out for vessels in distress, it is an eccentric stone building with a clocktower and a tiled roof that curves downwards like a heavy brow. We sit on an old bench, gazing out over a wild seascape as the life brigade volunteers would once have done.
A heavy black cloud above the horizon compresses the land. The RNLI flag snaps and flutters in the wind. A veil of sleet billows across the sand. The sea is a dark grey doily edged in boiling white. Waves spill onto the sand between the piers as the tide advances. The beach is glassy wet and pimpled with worm casts. Gulls gather at the edge of the tide.
A pair of women in wetsuits and bright swimming caps brave the water. They whoop and yell. The beach isn’t passable now, the tide has come in as far as the caves, cutting the sand in two. Waves wash over the piers leaving foamy puddles. Beyond, at Tynemouth, the waves leap the defences and form white clouds above the water.
We walk the steep bank down to the bay. Sometimes the hail and sleet return, sometimes the wind whips the sand into a frenzy. But I throw the ball for Winston and he retrieves it, oblivious to the storm. We’re alone on the sand. There is just us and those hollering women in the water, shouting with abandon. We are in a cold, windswept and exhilarating bubble.
As we walk back up the bank, the women return to land. They wrap themselves in towels and drink from flasks. We share a smile as I walk past. I had come to the sea expecting comfort and contemplation, but instead I got motion and energy, something I probably needed much more.
A month later I return to the sea. The sky is pale blue and jostling with fluffy cloud. An indigo stripe marks the horizon. Large, slow waves roll in like a lullaby. Sunlight catches the offshore turbines and the lighthouse. The lifeboat chugs towards the river, funnelling water behind it. A long dredger is moored down the coast.
Today we are with a friend on her first break since the pandemic began. We treat her to fish and chips and play two pence games in the amusements. Before and after, we walk along the promenade, mesmerised by the incoming tide, listening to its song as it washes away any vestige of pandemic fear. Today I had expected nothing from the sea but beauty, but instead it restores us, bringing renewal just in time for spring.