There’s a calm, out of season feel to the seafront at Southend. It’s quiet, with just a few boats bobbing gently at mooring in the choppy green water inshore of the lifeboat station. A handful of early morning locals sip coffee and read newspapers in the sunshine on the deck of the coffee shop by the boat slip. The September light is wonderful as I pause by the famous ‘Big Apple’, closed now for the winter. Swallows head out over the lighthouse bound for the coast of Devon and beyond.
At Bracelet Bay, the car park is more or less empty, allowing gulls to sit on the tarmac undisturbed by cars. Others bathe in the shallow pool left by overnight rain. The newly painted lighthouse looks pristine once more, glistening in the bright, north-westerly light. More swallows arrive from east and west, seemingly sucked towards the islands and lighthouse, before being funnelled out to sea.
Looking west across Limeslade Bay, fast moving clouds paint dark blue patterns on the sparkling sea. I sit on one of the many benches mesmerised by the view. A stonechat appears on the top of a thistle, he’s joined by another and then more. I realise there’s a family party on the slope down towards the sea. More swallows zip overhead east towards the lighthouse, and I wonder if the people taking photographs of the view even notice the birds, or are aware of the miracle of migration taking place just a few feet above their heads.
West along the coastal footpath, the sea changes to a deep shade of blue. I walk for at least ten minutes and meet no one. A great clump of rosebay willow herb sheds seeds, some blowing high up the cliff-face. Gorse and honeysuckle attract honeybees. A distant buddleia bush is alive with white butterflies; this long warm summer has been good for them, and hopefully given them a chance to recover after so many poor seasons. Below in the clear water, a seal pops up from nowhere, we stare at each other for a few moments, and she’s gone. And still more swallows head for the lighthouse. I wonder how many will make it across the Sahara to South Africa.