There is something otherworldly about mist. On this July afternoon, the hottest ever recorded in our part of Ireland, it came onto the land at the beach at Whiterocks at about the same time as we did. It was as if someone had draped the whole scene in a white muslin curtain, shielding it off from the rest of civilisation.
I know this beach and its surroundings very well. We often walk the length of it in winter. But this afternoon, the meticulously tended golf links at Royal Portrush that sit high above the beach, and the harbour town of Portrush itself, that lies just out to the west, have become completely invisible. In the other direction, looking towards Runkerry headland and the Giant’s Causeway in the east, there is no sign at all of the majestic pile of Dunluce Castle. This usually takes centre stage in the dramatically scenic backdrop to the beach. On clearer days, it looks for all the world like an outsized medieval tapestry.
Despite the mist, the plentiful sand is warm, and comforting for bare feet. It is soft and silky, and forgiving to the touch. Still visible, scattered all around us on the beach’s extensive surface, is the fluorescent paraphernalia of contemporary beach life: surfboards; spades and buckets; little moon tents; and, of course, myriad varieties of the quintessential ‘windbreaker’. These tried and tested strips of multicoloured canvas, supported by short wooden poles anchored temporarily in the sand, act as barriers against the breeze for beachgoers right across Ireland. This afternoon in the mist, they take on the uncanny aspect of Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind somewhere above the Himalayas.
The beach, like several along this coast, is lined with high dunes. As children, my brother and I used to climb all the way to the top of these, and then launch ourselves down again from the summit to the base, hurtling along like a crazy pair of ski-boarders in the sand. We used to give them names, most of which I can’t remember, with the exception of one grand moniker, ‘The Niagara Falls’, bestowed on a particularly magnificent dune at Portstewart, which, to our parents’ delight, provided us with hours of endless entertainment.
There are lifeguards on duty at Whiterocks Beach, throughout the summer. We deposit our rug and folding chairs on the sand, setting up camp between the two red and yellow flags that indicate safe bathing. We are determined not to be dissuaded by the mist, and we make our way out, bravely, into the foaming waves. Swimming here, perhaps especially on days like these, generates pure joy, and brings back, in one ocean-washed instant, the carefree days of summer as a child. The brilliant breakers are magnificent, and the briny swell lifts our whole bodies off our feet, carrying us afloat into a buoyant dance. The strangeness of it all makes me laugh out loud with pleasure.
Next Summer at Home Staycation Story By the Water at Portbradden