22/100 – Mudeford Sandbanks

Mudeford sandbank is a long spit of shell-white sand stretching from the foot of the Hengistbury Head nature reserve along to nearby Mudeford. The sand is clean and soft, deep in places and beach huts big enough to live in sit proudly side by side. Most of them have somewhere to relax and a full fitted kitchen, some have stairs going up to a sleeping galley above. There are wide wooden decks littered with barbeques and recliner chairs, picnic benches with sandy rings on their surfaces, flags and bunting and carved wooden life buoys hanging from the peaked roofs. I think, as we stroll along, that I could definitely live in one, right by the sea, sleeping and swimming on a cycle. Though I probably couldn’t afford it.

On one side of the spit is a big area of marshland where the land merges with the sea, tall swaying grass and flat low lakes. It is a haven for wildlife and there are many signs describing the different species of birds found here. They even have natterjack toads, though we don’t see any. Down at the far end of the spit there’s a deep channel that separates us from the mainland. A ferry runs in peak season, though its only a few metres from one prop of land to the other. You could swim it in minutes if the tide wasn’t so fierce. The water skips as it is shunted through this passage, rising up into crests that twist counter-intuitively against the wind. White flecks the edges of the waves and the surface of the water is scored, cross-hatched by the pull of the current beneath the surface as it bashes into the concrete wall of the jetty opposite.

Walking back along the opposite side of the sandbank gives a view out to the open ocean. In the distance, the white chalk of the Isle of Wight stands out like glitter risen up from the surface of the water. The needles are the colour of the clouds as they darken with the lowering light.
I swim in a bay back by the start of the spit, in the shadow of the cliff-side nature reserve we passed through to get here. The bay is sheltered from the writhing currents and here the water laps up and down gently, humbly. I swim a triangle from one buoy to another to another, tapping them with my palm and watching as the wet slap pushes them away, bouncing back then forward again with the rock of the ocean.

A man in a canoe paddles through, dissecting my self-drawn triangle. I wait for him to pass but he doesn’t acknowledge me. The water is stony, tiny bits of gravel afloat, and dark too as the sun starts to dip behind the cliff. Off in the distance, the light is still shining on those white cliffs and the sea is steely blue. The view makes my insides empty, quieten, and I float on my back, watching for the handkerchief white birds that flit across the wide open sky above me.

I stay in longer than I should and my hands are cold and dressing is hard. That’s the worst bit – the in and out. Those are the bits you have to forget, ignore so that you go in again. You have to remember the hole in your chest, the cold creep of your muscles awakening and the birds whipping through the wind, entirely unworried by your presence.

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