June is a summer month in England, but not a holiday month. All over the country, students are hunched over their exams, grinding away at Common Entrance, GCSEs or A-levels. The beaches of Devon and Cornwall will be swamped by the end of July, but at the moment they are empty and still. The tide goes in and out, relentlessly, but the bubble and froth of boats and bathers is more intermittent -- if equally predictable.
Salcombe was almost completely deserted when we visited it at the beginning of the week. Except for a few couples with babies, and the retired set, the town was nearly empty -- and the beach entirely so. Only the presence of carpenters and white transport vans, who were updating the shops for the upcoming retail season, created any buzz.
If the weather had been glorious, I'm sure people would have emerged -- like hermit crabs from their second-home shells. But in the cold drizzle, the children had no competition for places on the pier. High tide fell during tea-time, and clad in thick plastic macs, my daughter and her friend set traps for crabs. Tempted by bacon, the greedy crustaceons practically jumped into the nets. By the end of the summer, their ranks will thin . . . but on a rainy night, they were easy pickings.
Of course, the children threw their considerable haul back into the water. They fish for sport, not food. We prefer to get our seafood from the The Winking Prawn. On sunny evenings, you can sit outside and participate in a communal barbeque. But when the weather is dull, I want to eat my pink prawns and bacon-wrapped monkfish from a more comfortable indoor spot.
No matter how delicious the food and company, there is something terribly melancholy about the beach when it is shrouded in cloud. The children, more impervious to the weather, don't mind as much. For them, the ingredients remain the same: ice cream, and lots of it; a trip to Cranch's to buy rock and clotted cream fudge; a trip on the ferry and sea tractor; and crabbing, of course.
I can't help think, though, that the sun is the crucial alchemical ingredient: its magical properties turn lead into gold.