I’d been to Barafundle Bay many times before, of course, but I hadn’t got lost in the sand dunes since, oh, when would it have been? We debated this as we tried to discern, with the aid of the rapidly disintegrating National Trust leaflet and my brother’s iPhone, which of the five sandy paths before us was most likely to take us towards the Permissive Path which would lead us down to the Eastern Arm of Bosherstone Ponds. In sand dunes, maps don’t help – people think they need to go that way or this way, set out through the scrub and before you know it you have a new path, one never to appear on any map.
The first time, we decided, could have been about 1949 or 50, when he was a babe in arms. But he remembered something more recent. “I got stung by a wasp.” This must have been four or five years later. “We’ll watch out for it, then,” I said. “You don’t want it to sting you again.” “Or one of its ancestors.” “Or descendents even.” He remembered being terrified by the steep descent from the walk across from Stackpole down to the beach; there probably wasn’t a wall back then, but even so it’s only about sixty feet. Heights, we agreed, reduce as one gets taller. Cliffs Kill! Said the banal sign at Stackpole. “No they don’t. It’s the injuries when you fall off them that kill.”
Barafundle is the greatest beach in the world, everyone knows that. Sweeping soft sand, a gentle curve of shore, serrated granite cliffs to each side, even a promontory with a hole through it, dunes behind stretching back forever. No car park, so only those who know how to walk can get there. But we couldn’t linger: we had to get to Bosherstone, the Lily Ponds, and the pub.
It’s remarkable that no injuries had been incurred yet, as we entered the pub. Brambles, nettles, gorse, tree roots, a plethora of dangerous-looking insects – and actually, probably, the occasional adder. Threats aplenty. True, Val had fallen off a chair back at the caravan the day before and grazed (and possibly nettle-stung – to my shame I found I had no antihistamine cream in my pathetic medical stock) her arm (and she already had a bad back), and I had arrived on Thursday with the tail-end of a fit of gastro-enteritis, contained by industrial administrations of cement pills and pink gungey stuff – but otherwise, unscathed.
The first wound occurred in the gents’ toilet back at Stackpole Quay. A door, I discovered, when presented open edge-on, is almost invisible. Invisible enough, at any rate, to draw blood when it encounters a fast-moving sandaled toe. Middle toe, right foot, since you ask. National Trust cafes don’t stock plasters, nor any form of medication apart from tissues. Their outside seating areas do however, stock a plentiful supply of wasps. Evasive and distractive actions were taken over the tea and scones (“put the jam over there”), and nobody got stung.
Sunday afternoon, after they’d left and I was having a post-lunch snooze on the sofa in the van, occasionally opening my eyes to peruse my sea view and compare it to the Barafundle in my mind, I woke up to a pricking sensation in the shin of my right leg (the one with the busted toe). I looked down. There was a glowing red patch spreading out from a white core. “Hmm,” I thought. “That’s a wasp sting.”