It's the last Friday in November, and tonight I'll be driving 'up country' to spend the weekend delivering some training to a group of aid workers. This is my last chance to get some time in nature for the next couple of days, so I'm eager to make the most of the blue skies that I woke up to this morning.
I pour some milk in a bottle, pop a Yorkshire tea bag in my pocket, jump in my car and start heading out of Newquay. It suddenly dawns on me that I've left the house in such a hurry that I haven't even thought about where I'm going yet. I carry on driving hoping that I'll figure it out along the way.
Somewhere around Chiverton roundabout, Godrevy beach pops into my mind. I have a lot of fond memories of this beach from over the summer. It's a great beach for surfing, and there's loads of rock pools with HUGE starfish and crabs etc. Great if you've got children in tow (see photos below). This beach is full of surprises; one day in June this year, Leigh and I were sunbathing on the beach, it was absolutely boiling, suddenly, in a matter of seconds, this thick sea mist came in, and the visibility quickly went to zero. It was really eerie, and a stark reminder of how quickly the weather can change on the coast.
In the grey photo below, you can just make out two RNLI lifeguards on surfboards. They were searching for any swimmers who got taken by surprise by the fog. Luckily everyone made it out of the water ok. The photo before the foggy one was literally taken ten minutes earlier. They look like two different days.
Despite going to Godrevy beach quite a few times this year, I was recently surprised to see people posting pictures on Instragram of a protected cove around Godrevy that homes a large Seal colony. I decide that they would be cool to see, so entered "Godrevy" into the sat nav (Yes, I still go everywhere by sat nav).
Where I was brought up in Abersoch, North Wales, there are two islands in the bay. One of them has a lighthouse on it and is now owned by Bear Grylls, the other Island used to house a load of grey seals. I remember as a child mooring up my dad's fishing boat just off the islands, unwrapping my tuna and sweet corn sandwiches and attempting to count all the seals I could see. The numbers often went into the hundreds. A couple of summers ago, I went back home to Abersoch and was disappointed to see that the number of seals had diminished into single figures. I think I counted 3 on the day I was there. I remember wondering if this steep decline in the local seal population was due to over fishing, some other ecological reason, or whether they had just found a new home. It would be really encouraging to see a thriving Seal population again in UK waters. Today's mission is to find the Seals.
I drove past the larger cafe car park and up to the few parking spaces that are available near the lighthouse. Another win for the National Trust membership card meant that I didn't have to pay for parking.
As excited as I was to see the Seals, every adventure worth having must first start with tea, so I went in search of a good spot to settle down for a while and boil the kettle.
I walked along the headland until I came to a grassy platform directly opposite the lighthouse. The Lighthouse sits on an island of its own and was the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's book "To The Lighthouse" - although she locates the lighthouse in the Hebrides. It was built in 1858 to mark the reef which has been a hazard to shipping for centuries.
In 1854, after a ship and 40 of its crew had been lost to these rocks, Richard Short, a St Ives master mariner, wrote to the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette pleading for a lighthouse to be built saying
"Scarcely a month passes by in the winter season without some vessel striking on these rocks, and hundreds of poor fellows have perished there in dark dreary nights without one being left to tell the tale."
I sat there for about an hour just taking it all in, drinking my tea and eating clotted cream scones and jam. Oh, I forgot to mention that I'd also smuggled them into my bag when I was dashing out of the house earlier. I thought about all the stories that the waters around this lighthouse must hold, and how so many of them would ended tragically. Hard to imagine on such a peaceful and calm day like today.
After finishing my tea and scones, I followed the path around the headland until I saw a low wooden fence that went around the perimeter of a cove. A couple people peering over the edge with large cameras let me know that I may have found the Seals.
Sure enough, there they where, all 58 of them. Apparently the Seals can be seen throughout the year here but their numbers start to increase in the autumn. In January, it's not uncommon to see up to 100 Seals hauled up onto the sandy beach at Mutton cove.
They were largely immobile and spent their time just chillin' out in the sun. Occasionally, one would wonder too close to another and fins would start flapping and they would growl at each other. I later read in one of the National Trust leaflets that many of the Seals in Mutton cove had been seen to move between Cornwall, France, Wales, and Ireland, so maybe my missing Seals in North Wales had simply just moved home as I’d hoped.
It was beautiful to see a Grey Seal colony flourishing and great that the National Trust have taken it upon themselves to protect this cove and guard it from human influence. The UK has 40% of the world’s Grey Seal population, so we really do have an international duty to look after them. I highly recommend heading down there and counting how many Seals you can see. Take some binoculars so you can see them up close.
There's also lots of other sea life to be seen down at this beach. Here's a video that I took on another trip to Godrevy earlier on in the year. The rock pools are often full of star fish down there.
Comment below and let me know what sea life you spot when you head down there.