Memories of Slapton Sands
Memories of Slapton Sands.
Slapton Sands, located at Torcross in South Devon was one of my favorite places to visit when I was a very young boy.The beach stretched about three miles long and was made up of a blend of stones, pebbles and shells.
“The breathing of the ocean’
The Atlantic Ocean pushed waves up the bank of pebbles, creating a soft roaring sound which faded to a hiss as the water reached its limits of motion. Then the water would slowly retreat back down the slope, dragging millions of tiny pebbles and rocks with it. At the same time, a new wave would gather momentum and repeat the process. It always sounded to me like the ocean was ‘ breathing’ A long inhale, followed by a softer exhale. This made for a constant and unique soundtrack.
As a very young boy, I formed a great attachment to this area of Torcross. I loved the small village and character houses with walls that were coated with the same pebbles that were found on the beach.
I used to explore the beach with great enthusiasm and sometimes I would find very curios things. I was perplexed by some of the metal objects I would pull out of the sand. Some were found partially exposed while others were buried. I would find dials, controls, wires, switches and strange metal boxes and all kinds of fascinating objects. For an inquisitive young boy, this was tremendous fun and very exciting. I remember wanting to take these found objects home with me but to my great bewilderment and disappointment, I was never allowed to. I could never understand why?
I recall that there was a painted sign located about half way down the beach. I had to stretch and look up high to try and read it. It warned about mines! Yes, they even had an old red painted mine on display next to the warning. For a young boy though, it only made me even more inquisitive! I had no fear of mines, or explosives so I continued picking through bits of rusted metal fragments whenever I could find them. I was too young to understand the purpose of mines, or why they were there.
The rest of the time, I would spend playing in the cold atlantic ocean waves and running on the beach, chasing the warmer areas that were lit by the moving patches of sunlight that would pierce through the drifting clouds.
By late afternoon, after I burned off enough energy, I’d find a cleaner area of finer pebbles and using a large flat stone, I would carve out a smooth shape resembling a winding car race track. The cars would be represented by smaller stones! This is how young kids would play in the sixties! We had to use our imaginations! I remember how satisfying it was, designing and building this perfect race track on my favorite beach.
‘Setting of the Sun’
Time would slip away so quickly and before I knew it, the sun would start disappearing behind the lush hills that lay beyond the other side of the road that divided the beach and Slapton Leigh, (the fresh water nature reserve). As the sun got lower and the sky darkened, I would catch the first sight of the distant light house which was located at start point.
By early evening, the lighthouse became my focal point as the day came closer to an end. I loved the way the light would sweep around the bay casting a long lonely beam of light, piercing the mist and sweeping the rocky coastline. I used to count the seconds as I waited for the light to come back around again. It was mesmerizing, comforting and very atmospheric.
Twenty years or so later in the early 1980’s I went back to visit my favorite beach as an adult and I was exposed to the mystery that had been a hidden secret for all of these years. Behind the metal fragments, switches, dials and all of those ‘play things’ that I had fun discovering, was a story of a profound sadness.
April 27th 1944. Thousands of young American forces gathered for the D-day landing rehearsals.
There are different estimates as to the exact number, but several hundreds of young service men lost their lives on Slapton sands in a massive human tragedy. Stories differ as to how and why it happened but details of this event were kept quiet and it never saw the light of day until the 1980’s. To this day, there are unanswered questions.
I have read differing accounts and so my mind remains open about it. I wish that light house could reveal the truth about what really happened there that fateful day.
Despite the horrifying events that are linked to Slapton Sands, I still have a never ending affection for it. For me, it will always represent my innocent childhood memories of wonder and discoveries. It was the place where I took my first photograph with my Kodak instamatic. I even took photos of the Torcross sign post and the old abandoned tea room/café with its chairs stacked upon tables that were once filled with tourists. I learned to love and appreciate the simplest of things and formed an unbreakable bond with wildlife and nature.
It’s where I fed the swans on the fresh water and it’s where I walked through the nature reserve, being exposed to new plant aromas, bird song, wild flowers and reeds that grew taller than me!
It was back then when I was just a young kid holding my pollards ice cream cone, the edge of the extended wave at my bare feet, and listening to the ‘breathing’ of the ocean at Slapton Sands.
Thanks to; Slapton Line Partnership / South Devon AONB for use of their photography.