Monday, 6 January 2014

Book Post: Shemlan, Newgale, Pembrokeshire And Floods

Jason Hartmoor has been alive a little over an hour. He has recovered from his recurring nightmare and turned the damp side of his pillow to face the mattress. He luxuriates in the bright light streaming through the window overlooking the sea. It takes up most of the length of the room.
The bed sheets are white and crisp. Every opening of the eyes is a bonus, a thrill of pleasure. Sometimes he tries to stave off sleep, lying and fighting exhaustion until the early hours. It is becoming increasingly hard to push back the darkness. These days he’s lucky to hold out beyond midnight.
Throwing the lightweight duvet aside, he pauses for breath before sliding himself into a sitting position, looking out over Newgale’s glorious sandy mile, the breakers cascading. The dots of shivering early surfers bob in the glistening waves.
The pain starts to creep back, like a slinking dog.
He stands by the window, gazing out over the hazy beach, the fine misty spray thrown up by the incoming tide. His face in the morning light is lined and wan, pain etched into his still-handsome features, a face that would seem haughty but for the humour in the blue eyes nestled in the bruised-looking shadows. His hair is white, his forehead prominent and his nose aquiline. He draws himself up unconsciously; the slight puff of his chest brings a twinge of discomfort.
From Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy

What's the connection between the Lebanese mountain village of Shemlan and the Pembrokeshire coast? Absolutely none, unless you count me. Retired diplomat Jason Hartmoor was always going to have holed up either in Newgale or Pendine, it was touch and go which until I actually started writing the words above. I just wanted a long beach.

I spent many idyllic childhood holidays just around the corner from Newgale, the family stayed in the village of Pen Y Cwm (Welsh for 'top of the valley') and we'd often walk over the headlands to the village shop. When the tide is low you can walk from the beach at the end of the valley to Newgale, a mile and more of golden strand stretching out before you and a huge sea wall of slithering grey sea-worn stones protecting the pub and campsite that, apart from a handful of houses scattered on the hillside, make up Newgale itself.

The recent bad weather in the UK saw the Pembrokeshire coast taking something of a battering and Newgale was no exception: for the first time in living memory, that huge mound of stones was breached by the tide and wind-blown sea, flooding the campsite and pub beyond.

My parents never lost their love of this majestic coast and - arguably too late in life - chose to move there in their retirement. It was more my father's choice, he had a hankering to live by the sea. They ended up inland, a little down the road from Newgale and so we travel there frequently enough. The beach remains a favourite walk and yes, even in the winter months that mercilessly cold grey sea is dotted with the figures of surfers. I've always thought them quite, quite mad.

Anyway, as you travel uphill out of Newgale towards Pen Y Cym and Solva there's a bungalow with blue windows. Stand below it and look out across the vast expanse of shining sand at low tide and you'll see the view Jason took in on the day he pushed his x-rays into the kitchen dustbin and trundled his wheelie bag out to the taxi on his way to Beirut and his date with destiny...

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