Echo Beach

The sound of the Rainstick is a melancholy one. It’s a noise which attracts a bizarre collection of addicts to the beach at Eype, just outside Bridport, on the West Dorset coast. In the case of the Rainstick, the sound is created by little stones tumbling through a network of twigs. At Eype, it’s the waves breaking with metronomic regularity onto the steep bank of pebbles which form the shoreline.
So timeless and reliable is this sound that it tends to induce laughably frightening thoughts such as “How many pebbles are there in the world?”. These are thoughts which may or may not cross the minds of the small but dedicated number of people who, rain or shine, winter or summer, day or night, can be found sitting on the pebble bank, staring out to sea for hours on end. What it is about certain places which gives them the power to mesmerise in this way?
In the week we spent at Eype, rain fell ceaselessly for 72 hours and it was shrouded in fog for the rest of the time. Yet the (well-hidden) caravan park was full, the campsite was full, the B & Bs were full and no one showed any discontent or desire to leave. They must have been regulars, since it takes a real effort to get there. The lane is so winding and narrow that some people assume they’re on the wrong road and turn back; anyone attempting to approach on foot has to negotiate steep, tortuous cliff paths.
One afternoon, I was stopped by a middle-aged gentleman who pretended he wanted to ask the way. He introduced himself as being a Russian poet from Leningrad and, within moments, had produced from his rucksack a slim hardback book containing his own poems, all dedicated specifically to this small stretch of Dorset coastline. The almost spiritual sincerity shone through so brightly that I read them avidly. Each poem had also been painstakingly translated into Russian. He hailed a passing walker to take a picture of me studying his literary work.
Leonid is by no means the only one to find Eype beach artistically inspirational. The African master drummer Noah Messomo holds highly atmospheric drum workshops here (“turn right”, say the directions) and the artist John Skinner leads beach sculpture sessions. Musician Jackie Leven credits the locality as influential in his work, and the singer and songwriter Polly Harvey is specifically inspired by these very waves and pebbles.
At 1 a.m. one night, we met in the lane a woman called Fiona and her young daughter who had driven that day all the way from Rotherham. Their husband and father had deserted them ten days earlier and they’d chosen Eype beach as the place to “find themselves”. Overcome with emotion as they told their story, they nonetheless were obviously gaining in strength and determination from their pilgrimage. They had two Rotweilers. “Don’t trust them,” said Fiona. “They don’t like men.”
Even in the middle of the night, there are figures hunched up on the top of the pebble bank. With their Hurricane lamps and their Thermoses, the dedicated shore fishermen of Eype spend most of their lives there. They never seem to catch anything, so what are they doing? It’s obvious: They are composing songs, writing poems and discovering the true meaning of life.
From the Hampshire Chronicle

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Tobagonian Paradise


Sometimes on holiday, things just work out well. For a start, our boat trip over to Little Tobago turned out to be an individual tour, as there was no one else on board except the guide. We had an hour on this desert island bird sanctuary, making contact with Blue-Crowned Motmots, Frigate Birds and Boobies. On the way, we snorkelled off Goat Island, the private island where Ian Fleming wrote many of his Bond novels. It’s up for sale for £1.25 million, which would seem quite a bargain if you had the cash. The only trouble is, there’s nothing to do there, but it’s only a five-minute boat ride from the decaying but still splendid Blue Waters resort.

Literally the moment we arrived back on dry land, the heavens opened and a tropical storm lashed the shores at Speyside. We were fine, though, safe in the sanctuary of the amazing Gemma’s Tree House restaurant, tucking into a lobster feast of unrivalled excellence, before heading off to bathe in the cooling waters of the Argyll waterfall. As I said, sometimes things just work out well.

For a start, the “villa” we’d booked turned out to be the height of luxury, complete with private pool, maid, four bathrooms and a security guard. Conveniently, it was a mere couple of minutes’ walk from Pigeon Point, probably the most photographed location in the whole of the Caribbean. Also within easy walking distance were a cornucopia of fabulous and reasonably priced restaurants. We tried them all and were disappointed by none: Iguana, Pelican Reef, Dillons Seafood restaurant (yet more lobster, mmm). Just by Store Bay beach, you can take in the sunset with a cocktail (you can’t beat a good rum punch) at the mildly decadent Crown Point Hotel. Generally speaking, we found better value at the least posh places: the only establishments which seemed over-priced were the luxurious Coco Reef and the over-hyped Seahorse Inn, while the gloriously down-market Golden Star offered fabulous value with its combined three course meal and Wednesday talent show, a crazy event which was worth the journey alone.

As for culture, well, it’s the steel pans which are the trademark of Trinidad and Tobago. You can hear them everywhere, but the most popular opportunity is at the weekly Sunday School in Buckoo, an anything-but-religious experience. For people with less traditional tastes, fantastic reggae booms nightly from some of the rum shops, not strictly legally, it seems. Another Sunday experience not to be missed is a visit to Luise Kimme’s castle-like art gallery, where this eccentric but lovable character presides over hundreds of brilliantly colourful semi-abstract life-size sculptures.

We decided not to bother with hiring a car, since the tours offered by Tour Tobago are so comprehensive and such good value. With the help of proprietors Reuben and Carrie, plus the ever-informative Lynden, we found out everything there is to know about the history, culture and wildlife of this outstandingly beautiful country: the rain forest, the music, the art, the climate, the history, the food and, of course, the huge range of tropical birds.

Getting to Tobago and back isn’t hard or too tiring. You can fly direct or stop off in Grenada. We were there for ten days and would have happily stayed on for double the time. It’s beautiful, friendly, unspoilt and welcoming. You could hardly ask for anything more from a holiday.

From the Hampshire Chronicle

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