It was early evening, last Saturday, when one of those amazing and unplanned moments of nature’s life broke in upon our walk, and caught us and others up in exhilaration. We had walked up Bon Accord Road, crossed Durlston Road at Wordsworth Care Home, and after the short distance to the downs along Bellevue Road, we took the path above Prince Albert Gardens to Peveril Point. It was during the length of this clifftop walk, as we stood looking out to sea, that the air was filled with at least a hundred swifts. They flew low, often just above us and others, who, like us, involuntarily ducked when one whizzed past especially close.
Not confined to the path they went out and back across the cliff edge, and confounded any attempt to count them, by the sheer speed and twisting, turning flight, that caused, in a matter of fractions of seconds, to mix the first few counted with the next, and the next, and the more again.
Out and beyond, above the sea, the characteristic call of the sandwich tern announced them diving for food off Peveril Point itself. The number was easier to manage here; maybe eight of ten, almost constantly diving then rising again for another go. Pickings in the air and in the sea were clearly abundant that hour, when maybe 400 yards as-the-crow-flies, away on the seafront, from stone quay to Mowlem Theatre, the gulls abandoned their half consumed crabs and were re-learning the take-away menu, and their abundant and easeful source of sea-salted and vinegar-sprinkled chips.
Nearly mid-June and the ‘firsts’ of the year are still coming, albeit fewer now, though no less special: the first marbled white butterfly - so numerous in 2019 - and first ringlet, off the gravel path above the Tilly Whim caves towards the castle. That was on Wednesday, whilst yesterday, again on a latish walk, after 7.00 p.m., our first hummingbird hawkmoth of the year, in speedy flight above Peveril Point before we glimpsed a less welcome sight, as a large rat slouched into the undergrowth behind the Coastwatch lookout, as we approached the steps descending to the foreshore.
The sea washed gently along the edge of the concrete walkway, the rocks damp, and a fringe of churned up dead seaweed; the flotsam of a more turbulent tide. It was the hour of a cool glass of wine in the cottage gardens, the sun’s rays streaming upward from their source, hidden behind cloud and the Nine Barrow Down. An angler took nothing but peace and quiet with his rod on a stone jetty, and the none too distanced little knots of visitors whiled away the remaining hours of daylight in a timeless chatter of pleasure.
Nothing in the world could alter things, one might think, but our minds contemplated the unseen threats to life that are still invisibly hidden across the country, as the coronavirus continues its deadly course; the stirred opposition to the evils of racism, with on-going protests and toppled icons of historic wealth and questionable social standing; and for us, in little Swanage, the conundrum of how we open our churches and share prayer and the reading of Scripture, in the buildings built for this one purpose, and for congregations desperate to enter and use them once again.