For my birthday in February, Tess treated me to an overnight stay at Aberdovey, a small seaside village within Snowdonia National Park on the north side of the Dovey (Dyfi) estuary. We stayed at the Sea Breeze Bed and Breakfast and Restaurant, in a bright, spacious room looking straight across the river, though a heavy sea fret meant we’d have to wait until morning to enjoy the view.
In summer Aberdovey is a haven for watersport enthusiasts and for families enjoying the fine sand and thriving little harbour, perfect for crabbing. In winter it is quiet.
The driving rain we’d struggled through from the train station early afternoon had reduced to a drizzle as we headed for a drink at the Penhelig Arms. The few seafront shops that opened out of season had just finished for the day and we had the underlit streets to ourselves. Tiny waves, pushed on by a brisk South-Westerly breeze, slapped onto the shell-strewn beach below, reminding us how much we had missed the sea. Embracing the emptiness and wrapped in damp, salt air we were easily lost in the misty romance of it all.
‘Wow!’ said Tess, suddenly. ‘Look at that! Are they what I think?’
Feeding voraciously in the muddy shallows were three swans, their white plumage fluorescent in the gloom. Not only was it strange seeing them active after dark, and in salt water, but fascinating how they plucked nutrients from the water’s edge with such intensity, as if stocking up for a long vigil. They hardly noticed as I crept close enough to chance a photo.
Spirits raised by this unusual sight, we sat before the pub’s log fire supping Brains Bitter and French Merlot and dreaming up scenarios about where the swans had come from and what would happen to them next. When we came back an hour later they were still busying themselves, in deeper water round the wooden stanchions of the pier. Surely there was a plan to all this?
Back at Sea Breeze, we were taken by the happy ambience of the busy bistro on such a chilly winter night. We realised it was local people, well aware of the superb cuisine, and that we’d hit lucky. Barely were we seated, soaking up the warmth of the busy room after our trek through the mist, when a basket of homemade soda bread with olives and oils arrived.This could not have primed us better for the Dyfi fish stew with aioli, and crab with pistachio mayo, leaving just enough room for a shared apple and elderflower fool.
Afterwards we took the night air to round off a wonderful day. At the pierhead, leaning tentatively on the flimsy metal railing, we were entranced by the desolation. The sea churned below us on a turning tide, and a thicker fog had fallen across the estuary, so we could see no further than a few yards out into the water. It was hard to believe we were close to civilisation yet in complete ownership of this mysterious and romantic setting. I couldn’t have asked for more; it was the perfect birthday present.
‘They’re probably hunkered down somewhere,’ I said, harking back to the swans.
‘Don’t be so sure,’ said Tess. ‘Look – here they come now!’
My amazing day was not over yet! Right on cue we watched the surreal sight of our proud creatures appearing through the murk from further along the pier. It was as if they’d been waiting for us to return for a final, late-night performance.
‘Aah, there are only two,’ I said. The image we’d formed earlier was somehow spoilt by the trio splitting up.
‘No, here comes the other one,’ said Tess. ‘It’s lagging behind the others.’
The three swans picked up speed as they hit the ebbing current. With time against us and no real chance of a photo we huddled together for precious moments, transfixed as the solitary yellow lamp picked out the swans’ upright necks and dazzling feathers before they were plunged back into swirling darkness – a final sail-past before heading out to open sea on a vital night mission.
Paul Costello © May 2012