The Great British Seaside is such a contradiction: it swells and swarms with people all summer long and yet, when the first frost sets in, these swathes of beautiful coastline become virtually deserted. Fossilised. Forgotten. Which is a shame, given the myriad benefits of bracing sea swims — or simply being close to a body of water — for our immune systems, metabolism and general mood. In search of this holy trifecta of wellness (Christmas is coming, etc) I find myself heading 250 miles south-west of London to Bantham Beach.
The frothy swell and waves that lick this stretch of the South Devon coast have earned Bantham a reputation as one of Europe’s finest beaches and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s part of the sprawling Bantham Estate (all 750 acres of it, owned by the same family who are connected to the Great Tew Estate in the Cotswolds) and where we chose to spend a positively balmy November weekend with our two mini-mes in tow. While the majority of properties in the village are privately owned, there are a few holiday homes that are available to rent.
We found ours via StayOne, flooded with light and postcard-perfect views of the River Avon estuary — cue whoops of delight and wonder each day from our four-year old, Mila, as she watched the water rise and drain as if ‘by magic!’. The house was beautifully optimised for families: enough boardgames and toys to supply Hamley’s, cosy wood-burning fires with artfully stacked coffee-table books beside them — and a basement cinema room to watch yet another episode of Bluey (who am I kidding? Compared to the pig-who-must-not-be-named, that pooch is a saint).
I digress. The real reason we made the five-hour journey from west London down here was the siren call of the water. Handy that the beach was a brief walk from the house, and we could shimmy into our wetsuits and straight into the surf with alarming speed. The littles had never been happier. Mila, flanked by windsurfers and body boarders, ran straight into the water like a child possessed; Rafi, our two-year-old who hasn’t quite inherited his sister’s fearlessness, hung back to build brutalist sandcastles while we laid out a beach picnic for lunch.
The more intrepid traveller would have perhaps ventured beyond the water — by sea tractor usually when the tide is up — towards Burgh Island, Agatha Christie’s beloved coastal retreat and where she wrote Evil Under the Sun. This writer, however, was perfectly content leaning into the lazy ebb and flow of daily life in Bantham — save for the occasional run to Salcombe for sweeties from Cranch’s. I absconded from cooking and enlisted the help of lovely local cook Lizzie from Crabby Cuisine to put on suppers each night. Verdict? ‘Mummy, this is THE BEST treacle tart I’ve EVER HAD.’ ‘Mila, this is the ONLY treacle tart you’ve ever had.’
Superlative puddings aside, I’m left after the weekend feeling lighter, brighter and more optimistic about the Big Push to the end of the year. Vitamin sea: you’ve got to try it.