A step back in time
The drive down from town had be just fine by avoiding the motorways and sticking to the road I knew from my youth as best I could I had arrived at the coast on this crisp and very bright morning, in the days of my youth a small tent or at worse the back seat of the car would have become home for the next few days, but now as the year had brought into question the benefits of such excess I was now heading for the comfort of a pub bed and meals that I didn’t have to reconstitute with a pint of water on the pressure stove. After so many years at the other end of the country it was good to see a lot of the country side had remained unspoiled, my intention was to walk some of the cliff paths and beaches I had known some forty years ago.
I was first attracted to the area by the tails of smuggling and the revenue men of years gone by that I had read of as a boy, at the edge of the town was the perfect pub to use as my base for this few day adventure it’s timber frame held all the mysteries of years gone by it had stood for many years before the smuggling had begun and now I just hope they had a room. With my ruck sack, that I had bought a few days ago on my shoulder I walked in and rang the large brass bell hanging by the bar come reception, after a few seconds a thin tall man appeared behind the bar his smile was welcoming and the best news was at this time of the year he had a room for as long as I wanted and a restaurant for guests, a breakfast was available as was a packed lunch if I required one, the main meal was from seven o’clock until nine thirty and I could decide on the menu at breakfast before going out for the day. The weather had been forecast as good for the next week so all was set for a good time.
It was early afternoon by now so a stroll in the town was all I intended to tackle today, I had brought most of the things I would require with me but a new map and some sweets and one of those little bottles of hand steriliser for my pocket, the post office had all of these things so I was ready, after a fish and chip lunch I would plan my first walk for tomorrow.
After a very fine homemade steak pie with all the trimming washed down with two pints of the landlord’s best bitter I headed for an early night, the mornings route was decided on it would be the path going east along the cliff top to the small harbour about four miles down the coast, as the tide would be coming up to high as I was walking, by the time I got to the harbour and had eaten my cheese and pickle sandwiches’ I would be able to take the beach back to the pub with plenty of time to shower and change before dinner, after making myself a cup of tea I climbed into bed with the somewhat well-thumbed red covered book I had from my childhood telling of the brandy runners that had inspired me for so long, as I re read it for the god knows how many’d time I was taken by the fact as it was betrayed that there were more than one band that plied the coast at the same time, until one band never returned having been lost on a charm night with no fog and a good wind, perfect for the trade to hand.
After a good night’s sleep washed and dressed I headed down for breakfast, as it had been some time since I had last walked on the scale I intended to do today, the light menu was my choice as the full English was one for another day. After collecting my packed lunch getting my ruck sack I was ready, I said over and over to ‘myself take it easy’, the day was just as had been forecast by the time to the cliff path the tide was indeed coming in, I had remembered my sweets water and was feeling good as I made my way over the first stile and so on to the path proper.
The one good thing about a cliff path is the map is not required much as the groove worn in the grass by those before you points the way. I took it slow taking in the views over the cliffs and beach and out to sea one boat was visible on the horizon or was it a ship I can never remember what makes it what, to my right the rolling grass that in the distance turned in to farm land but not much sign of people as I thought this a couple came towards me, boots and a day sack they both carried walking sticks the type that you can adjust the height on, I made a note to get one before my next outing, as they past we exchanged the usual pleasantries with the obligatory comment on how good the weather was.
The walk was going well boots were giving no problems and the sweets were supplying just the right amount of sugar to keep me going, by this time I was well over half way to the harbour and the packed lunch. The only thing I did need was to go to the loo and although people were very thin on the ground I was sure it would be just my luck to be confronted by a fellow traveller at a critical moment, ahead and a ways back from the path was a small clump of trees and to my relief there was a side path to it, I walked in and found a largish tree to screen me, having relieved myself I took my bottle of hand steriliser from my pocket and rubbed some of the gel into my palms, as I did so the ground beneath my feet seemed to move and before another thought came to me I was falling backwards and down, I bounced down over and over my small sack and my lunch taking my fall, over and over I went, when I did stop winded and with skinned elbows and knees it was dark and I was confused, I lay on my side where the sack had pushed me taking deep breaths and regretting not just taking a chance on going on the footpath.
By the time I got my breath back took my pack off and found the torch the pains from elbows and knees had kicked in, to my surprise I was able to stand and was now wondering what I was going to do, I pressed the button on the torch and shone it around I found I was at the bottom of a rough stair case which had been cut into the chalky rock at the top was a pool of light, the way I had come in. As I collected my thoughts it dawned on me the sound of the sea was very loud I shone the light away from the stairs and there in front of me was a large cave complete with an old boat, barrels and boxes in the shadows beyond the boat there was what looked like a wall I walked past the boat and put the light on it, instead of a wall it was a pile of chalk boulders where the roof had fallen in. All around and on the boat were piles of boxes as if someone was unloading it and would be back anytime but in the last hundred or so years had not come, the fact that I was now underground and was not fighting fit had escaped me with this discovery, I went back to the stair case and with a little effort was soon back in the little wood and looking at the damage I had received in the fall, I decide a little time in the sun and my now flat lunch then a slow walk back the way I had come was all I needed for today.
The walk back went slow but well as I was only a little dishevelled and not to muddy I went to the shop that I had looked in, on my way out earlier, it had a small amount of walking items one being the extending walking stick a first aid kit that was bigger than the one I had and a much bigger torch, what had started out as a cliff top walk was now becoming an expedition. On my return to the pub I explained to the landlord I had had a tumble and would finish what I had started tomorrow, I kept news of my find to myself for the moment. After a shower and a few running repairs I drove inland to a bigger town there I got myself a small camera and then went to the library, the local history section with its history of the coast was what I was looking for, the book I found with what I hoped would have the information in it that I wanted was one that I could buy from the gift shop across the road so the need for notes to be taken.
I had the early dinner and a drink then went to my room to get to know the camera and read my new found book, it had more detail than my old red covered friend. By ten thirty I had finished it and decided a walk round the town before bed would aid sleep, and another pint at the bar. As I lay in bed the day’s events going thought my head was I right had I really found it a smugglers cave? Over the years the cliffs had eroded but not as much on this part of the cost as on others so the beach on the cliff side would not look much like it had all those years ago although not too much would have gone. My new book gave the names of three men from the village that had disappeared on the same night in 1796, it was said the men may have been smuggling and drowned but as there was no proof of either no actuations were made, it was just local folk lore.
In the morning I wrote my route and what I had found yesterday saying I was returning to see what else I could find and as I was rested and not so shocked by the fall would take pictures and make notes and on my return would go to the police with what I had found. I put this note in one of the envelopes provide in my room and wrote on it, ‘To be opened if I have not returned by five this afternoon, I explained to the landlord after yesterday’s fall I felt safe in the knowledge that someone would miss me if I did not return and start a search.
As I retraced my steps of yesterday all the enthusiasm of a small boy filled me and the quest had begun, today armed with my nice new stick set to just the right height and the camera, in my excitement to get started I have forgotten to ask what I had in my sandwiches today so at least one surprise lay ahead. In the distance I could see the small wood on the horizon, by the time I reached it I was all but running, I went in and there it was the hole and the steps, I took my big new torch out of the pack and started on down the steps, todays descent was taking a lot longer than yesterdays had thank god with the cave this time brightly lit the rotting canvas of the sail lay in the hull between the boxes and barrels I walked to the pile of chalk at the end of the cave and searched the pile taking pictures of the boat and its cargo and the fallen roof. To one side of the pile more rotting cloth stuck out at the end of the cloth was an old boot the cloth and the bone that the boot was on went under the pile, I took pictures from all round, I found the smallest cask I could and a small box and carried them up the stairs to the light. At the top I put the cask in my sack the box under my arm and started back to the village.
When I reached the pub I put all my gear in the car and went in to see the land lord, I told him I had to go to the town, at the police station I took my sack box and camera from the car and went in, the person on the desk asked if he could help I said I would like to report finding a body, he pointed to some seats and said someone will be with you in a few moments I had just sat down when the door at the back of the desk opened and a very large uniformed officer appeared beside the man I had just spoken to the first man pointed at me with his pen and overcame the larger of the two, having put the box on the table with the cask beside it I took my camera from my pocket, his tone was as I expected it would be brusque and to the point, ‘I understand you have found a body’ he said, and where is this body.
After ten minutes of relaying my story to him he then took a look at the pictures, he then got up went to the desk and within second another man appeared this one in a suit and tie, I repeated my story as I did so the first officer stood nodded at everything I said as if he had been with me.
After making a statement, the police downloaded my pictures took the box and cask, I told them I was at the pub in the village pin pointed the wood on the map and that was that, after telling me they would be in touch, that was that I drove back feeling a little deflated. I got back to the pub just in time for dinner, with all that had happened it came to me my packed lunch was still in my sack, sleep seemed a long way away as I wanted something to happen, nothing did. By morning I was waiting to see police ever where but nothing, I once again started down the cliff path but this time blue and white tape with police do not entey was across it, feeling a bit cheated seeing as I had found it I walked back to the car park at the pub and drove to the harbour along the coast, which up to now I had not seen, the same story on the path there tape and no entre, I spent time at the harbour waiting for the tide to turn, my plan was to leave the car in the car park and walk back along the beach to try and spot where the cave entrance had been. The walk back gave no clue as to where it had been even though I could see from the map where it should have been or where I thought it should. Back at the pub the bar maid told me the police had been looking me, she said it as if she knew I was a wrong one from the moment she saw me.
Later the suited officer came to see me, from the information I had given them their team had located the place and their inquiries were continuing, as he was about to leave he said what made you go into the wood, ‘Call of nature’ he gave me the look people who don’t walk give people who do.
The next day with the tape still on the path I waited for low tide and walked back to get the car, after collecting my things from the pub, and paying my bill I drove back up to London feeling somewhat cheated I had found something but knew nothing. After my time away I soon slipped back into the daily routine until four or five weeks later I had a letter from the police thanking me for my assistance and saying their enquires were now closed, and they had passed the paper on to the country museum who would in the fullness of time be in touch. True to their word they were to let me know I would be credited with solving the historical puzzle of the missing smuggler of Heron cove, as after moving the fallen rock the others remains had been found, and that now the museum had a display of the barrels boxes and other things that had been found but the boat would have to stay where it was as much to their disappointment getting it out was impossible.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Chris Ricketts.
Published on e-Stories.org on 14.12.2014.