I am by no means a beach person, preferring mountains, meadows and even city streets to sand and sun lotion. Two beaches in particular, though, are permanently lodged in my memory and my affections, so disparate yet so connected that I venture to call this little contribution a Tale of Two Beaches.
One is a modest enough example, rather Victorian in style. It is a small pebble beach at Cricieth in north Wales, which I prefer to spell in the Welsh way (with one c in the middle rather than two) because it is an altogether Welsh sort of place. The coming of the railway, in the 1860s, turned it from a fishing village into a resort popular with English visitors, but it is handsomely overlooked at its western end by the castle that Welsh rulers built, nearly eight centuries ago, on a commanding rocky height. At the other end of the beach, to maintain balance, there is a smart café in the 1930s moderne style, and between the two, above the pebbly shoreline, a promenade is popular with saunterers, lovers young and old, and dog-walkers.
It is not a thrilling beach, nor a smart beach, but it is a family sort of beach, and I love it for two reasons: first, because through all the centuries it has been so loyal to its roots; and second, because just up the road from the promenade is my own house, so I can be home in a few minutes for my morning mail, Welsh fruit cake and instant coffee.
But, oh, how different is the second of my two beaches! On the other side of the world, across two western oceans, is that celebrated icon of popular Americanism, the Hawaiian suburb of Waikiki. Bang next door is its much statelier mother-city of Honolulu, with its ancient traditions and cultural richness, but it is Waikiki that the world chiefly knows, for its whole-hog, full-blast Americanism, all rock ’n’ roll and dazzle, grand hotels and tourist trash. Well, on the shore of Waikiki, within sight of the skyscrapers, is the second beach of my affections. Gray’s Beach is a small sandy pleasure-strand looking out across the limitless Pacific. It is named for the boarding house that, many years ago, stood beside it, but it is owned now by a successor that can claim to be one of the most luxurious hotels in the whole world, the Halekulani.
Here’s why I have cherished Gray’s little beach down the years. I have loved going there for a bathe in the evening twilight, swim-time in the comforting Pacific — warm water, gentle tides, hints of phosphorescence in the gathering dusk: and when I have luxuriated there enough, and have dried the salt off me, I like to walk back off the sand into the grounds of the hotel behind. There beneath the assembled stars, to the gentle music perhaps of a Hawaiian combo somewhere, I lie on a chaise longue sipping that old essence of Polynesia, a Mai Tai (rum, lime juice, curaçao liqueur), served by some infinitely courteous waiter from the Halekulani hotel.
And the chances are that I dream there, while the music plays on, of the pebble beach at Cricieth (one c), Welsh fruit cake, instant coffee and home.
For information on where to stay in Cricieth, visit the town’s website, criccieth.co.uk; visitwales.com has more general information. The Halekulani Hotel (halekulani.com) has double rooms from around $575 per night; see also gohawaii.com