The long summer holidays are drawing to a close and the countryside is changing, bathed in a soft, fading light and a certain still, calm, quiet lingers.
The evenings are drawing in, serving as a reminder that summer is waning and making each lazy, unhurried day seem all the more precious.
This Island is full of surprises – hidden in a sleepy inlet on the gentle Northern coast there lies a network of inlets, tidal fingers of the larger Newtown Estuary, once home to the Island’s Capital, and more recently a centre of oyster fishing and salt pans. Navigable only at high tide, the flat calm waters make for a perfect kayaking trip and so, with tide and time on our side, we launch our motley array of watercraft – three kayaks and a makeshift paddleboard, loaded with tripod, wood, sausages and steak from a neighbouring farm.
The first paddle is against the incoming tide and there’s much hilarity as we squeeze our way through a narrow brick lined bridge – there’s not enough room to paddle and very quickly we’re pushed backwards by the current, eventually needing to resort to a kind of modified scramble, with hands and feet gripping to brick work to propel us forward like navies on a Victorian narrow boat. The wet suited child on the paddleboard makes light work of it, lying prone and paddling surf style until he’s through and then sits giggling as the kayakers struggle – the littlest one needing the us two grown ups to tow him free.
Once we’re out, it’s onwards up a widening channel of flat water towards the main estuary a mile or so away and we fall into an easy rhythm. Half way along, the paddle boarder requests a tow – it would have made a brilliant picture – the child being towed by a long rope behind the fastest kayak, a surfer on a never-ending gentle wave, but the camera is stowed safely in a watertight compartment, so there’s nothing for it but to continue, until in the distant we spot the silhouettes of masts against the misty downland beyond. Newtown Creek is a popular mooring spot for sailing boats keen to escape the hubbub of the busy sailing towns that scatter this coast and we weave our way between yachts and islands of nesting seabirds and samphire, towards a thin spit of shingle and seagrass. The adventurous ones – the paddle boarder and his tow, shimmy under a narrow walkway – with the tide heading up, it’s a tight squeeze, requiring something akin to a aqua limbo to get through, so I take the easy route round the edge and a few minutes later our flotilla lands and the crews scurry around searching for driftwood whilst the fire is lit and the tripod – on of my few treasured possessions, is lifted into place.
As the fire settles, the children head off, armed with crabbing lines and bacon, towards one of the tiny islands dotted around the channels, returning only when hunger and the smell of sausages and steak lure them home.
In an ideal world, we would have sat in leisure enjoying the coming of dusk, glasses of chilled white wine in hand – but casting wine aside, we were compelled into action by the ebbing of the tide and the prospect of hours spent wading through darkened mud, if we mistimed our return trip. Strangely it was the children who were most concerned, perhaps nervous at their unfamiliar surroundings which were rapidly being enveloped by a velvet darkness.
Past rows of lit masts towards the darkening channel the children were silenced and I took to glancing behind every few moments to make sure we hadn’t lost anyone in the gloom. Nearing home, the water began to stir with an energy of its’ own and as our paddles stroked the surface, flecks of fire fell in droplets, each dancing for a few brief moments before disappearing to be replaced by another. This was bioluminescence – a chemical reaction described by Pliny and Aristotle, caused by the activation of the wonderfully named luciferin pigment within cells of plankton, disturbed by our progress. To us, it was nothing short of magic.