Sitting out on the deck at T-Bay cafe the silvered wood of the table is warm under my hands but the wind shivers the tea in my paper cup and flattens the blue and white bunting against the railing. A Bounty bar wrapper trapped under the ash tray flutters wildly as sparrows and starlings stagger after crumbs.
Swooping down from the roof rooks struggling to land are more often than not sent sliding sideways with legs dangling up the promenade. Higher up the gulls and gannets circle and out in the bay a surf class is battered by the rumpling silver sea under a lowering sky punctuated by kite surfers.
Sometimes I like the hustle and bustle of the sea front but today with the promenade lined with glaring chrome bumpers and crowded with buffeted walkers and the wind slapping and tangling and tugging wide open spaces beckon.
The Backstrand on the landward side of the isthmus that is Tramore Beach is a big plain of flattened grass and tidal sand flats that stretches north to low hills. Today indigo pools ruffle in the grasses like offcuts of sky and the rutted path gleams silver in places from the nights torrential rain.
At the dunes at the end of the beach projecting across the sheltered flats to the townland of Lisselan is Malcolmsons embankment which had once reclaimed part of the Backstrand nearest Tramore town. There was a horse racing course on the reclaimed land until the sea broke back through in 1911. Years ago I found a horses tooth in the sandy bank above the beach and at first thought it was the tooth of a giant person until I was put right by a more prosaic friend.
As an SPA (Special Protected Area) the area belongs to the birds now. According to Declan McGrath in his Guide to Tramore, Backstrand and Dunes Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Heron and Turnstone among others can be seen here. It’s a wintering place for many birds from the Arctic. Brent Geese visit in large numbers. I often see the Grey Heron that nests across at Corbally as well as Curlew and Egret.
North along the spit below the waving grass and rattling bracken the wildly nodding ox-eye daisies are waggling hysterically at my ankles, petals tattered or totally torn away by the wind. On the meagre beach along the spit the black stones are polka-dotted with white lichen eyes and bewigged by tired dusty bunches of seaweed as they wait unseeing for the muddy tide to creep back in.
Among the rocks crab shells and crab legs, smashed shells and slivers of silvery mussels are scattered, the detritus of feasting birds. Two halves of a cockle, once locked in grooved embrace, still cling in last passionate kiss.
I stumble among the larger rocks to the path that twists along the spine of the embankment where the marram grass is shining and curved like hog hair. The wind is fierce but the sky is blue and there is great freedom in the space all about and though everything here is battered smashed and broken I like places like this. All the damage is out in the open, everything that can be is already battered.
I put up a flock of piping birds and gulls wheel. At the end of the embankment I forage around for shells to draw but there is not much here:a sunset shell, a large cockle, a periwinkle hiding inside a larger shell. No whelks.
Stopping at the dunes on my return I sit a while in the needling grass among the violas and the low, dull clumps of blackberries sheltered from the wind and warm in the sun.
Looking back there’s a towering grey hand of cloud reaching over the town trailing curtains of rain across the bay. It’s time to seek shelter.