A morning slack tide and I begin a lazy paddle in the late September sun.
I love this time of year; It has a rare and precious quality that all of summer’s long days cannot match.
Barely a breath of wind to trouble the glassy water as I push away from the quay to the noises of reversing lorries and daily busyness.
Soon the sounds fade and I’m near the reed beds. Swans glide and a heron, seeing my approach, takes off in slow, arcing wing beats.
A little egret stands statuesque, elegant and pristine white on the bank, as if admiring her reflection in the glass.
I catch sight of a fish swimming near the surface, sending faint ripples in its wake.
Only a floating bottle reminds me I’m not in paradise, yet. But I’m still paddling.
It’s warm and the only sound now is that of my paddle rhythmically pulling the water steadily behind me.
As my shoulders begin to work, a bead of sweat catches in the creases of my eyes, narrowed in defence against the harsh, reflected sun.
On the bend I surprise a cormorant. She beats the water, leaving a regular circular pattern where wing-tips touch the still surface in acute take-off, stirring the dark image of distant green hills. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven beats and she’s up.
If peace could paint a picture, it would be this.
At the end of the reeds my view widens with the estuary. Gulls, large and small, float lazily at rest as if enjoying the moment with me. They have nowhere to be and nothing else to do, it seems.
The search for food is temporarily suspended. There are no calls or cries, no squabbles or worries. Nature has bid them all, be quiet; be still.
Paddling on with the same hypnotic, rhythm, I stitch the cooling shadow cast by trees and hills to the ragged, sun baked edge.
The red dwarf sandstone cliffs of ancient Devonian rock are covered in twisted oak, over-ripe hawthorn and the occasional, late flowering, sweet smelling buddleja; and magical, misty pools of light are made where sunbeams pass through leaf and deep shadows onto still water.
The London-bound train passes on the far side of the estuary and I am glad I’m not on it with the masked spectators. Perhaps, today, they wish they were me.
Further down I see the small, weathered shacks and boathouses at the water’s edge, about which whole stories may be written on the imagination:
An inviting, empty rocking chair in the shade of a plum tree, an upturned boat with a blue patch on its side, a fishing rod abandoned on a rickety platform; distressed buoys and frayed, sun-bleached ropes.
I pass by in a trance of steady motion, not wanting to pay too much attention and break the spell; just enough to stir the imagination of possibilities.
Finally, I near the bridge where boats are moored in the channels on either side. Some are ghost ships, neglected and beyond use, whilst others are ship-shape and the watery light dances on their shiny hulls.
The sea-salt breeze picks up as I duck under the bridge and glimpse, for the first time, open water.
People are busy again on the beach and the assortment of houses, slipways, gardens and eateries that cram the water’s edge.
Flags fly, sailing boats rattle and clink and the pretty ferry boat is full of passengers again.
But always I sense the turning of another tide.