Two youths – the one, a hoodie, the other, a beanie – were observed at 10:57 sharing a plastic bottle of cider behind the electricity pylons. White Lightning. They moved hardly at all. The weather was clement, if still chilly. At the road junction for Deadmans Beach just beyond the Barbican Gate was an emptied pub (the Barbican Inn in fact, the faded sign said), half-timbered and lead-latticed, advertised as being for sale, with temporary wire mesh fencing mounted on breeze blocks barring access to the rutted car-park at the side of it. Through the window-panes, condiment bottles and salt and pepper shakers could be observed still to be on the tables within, but the estate agent’s board affixed to one of the timbers was already weathered. Was that the dead house they told about? Pieces of concrete were dumped against a wall. On a window-ledge, a dented cola can. Further along, at the road bend, bunches of wilting flowers were seen tied to a roadside fence, clearly to mark the spot where a fatal accident had occurred. A pause, a shudder. But it was an urge to amble, as much as any restriction on motoring, that forced us here, and once here it was natural to go past, and on. Pleasant, even. So then, at 11:21, it was a question of leaving the road and opting to follow the Old Military Canal to the right, where glimpses of catfish could be had in the shallows (stopping only for a necessary comfort break in a ditch), hearing the rooks cawing in the tall trees beyond, at the head of the escarpment where the village sits, where the money-spiders roost and the many varieties of beetle, preyed upon by those birds; then turning left on reaching the canal bridge and proceeding across the plain that spreads to the sea and was once (mere thousands, not millions of years ago) part of it, the escarpment forming the ancient sandstone sea-cliff; the flat, bumpy, excrement-dotted pastures of the Dead Level where sheep accompanied by sullen lambs stared for a few moments before moving out of the way – and here the breeze, full force ahead – and where, further off in the more waterlogged regions, pairs of swans, spaced far apart, sat mutely, one carefully opening and closing its wings. In the extreme distance against the sky could be perceived a line of wind turbines, their blades slowly revolving. The landscape is full of structures, but they are mostly hidden. A network of ditches was traversed by plank bridges. 

On regaining the coast road after a long interval it was possible to climb concrete steps, furnished with aluminium handrails, to reach the top of the sea wall, where a walkway is provided alongside the wide shingle beach. The rhythmic, swishing sound of the waves could now be heard. The tide was out; the sea was grey, but not too troubled, given the stiffish onshore breeze. Swifts darted around, and on the shining sand flats beyond were groups of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls, sampling their wares. The tang of fish, and salt. Occasionally a person and a dog. A man with long grey hair rode a bicycle too small for him obsessively up and down this flanking footpath, and it was necessary to step aside more than once to accommodate him. He made no acknowledgement. Below, to the left, in the lee of the sea defence, was a caravan site, with some people packing their belongings away into camper vans and a number of fixed caravans apparently deserted. Was this an option? Not an attractive one. By now it was 14:20. At the adjoining café a number of bikers were observed to be disembarking, removing their helmets outside. At Deadmans Beach itself, where the fishing boats, hauled up on the shingle, came into view, there were numerous bungalows, many de-anonymised by being given names and/or makeovers to suggest haciendas, ranches, Irish rural cottages, etc. Sounds of shouting began to drift on the breeze. Inland, it turned out the playing fields had been re-populated; two or three boys’ football matches were taking place, parents, relatives and teachers howling on the touch-lines; in one game, the tiniest boys ran around clad in red or yellow bibs obviously intended for adults, so that it looked as though they were playing in long dresses. One cannot stand and watch strange children for very long these days without drawing attention to oneself. In any case, rain-clouds began to gather. So, on the road back to the business park a small farm shop tempted with high-priced products; a jar of French fish soup was purchased to be heated up for our evening meal, as well as jars of garlic and curry sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. It was 14:55, and the shadow was already on the land.

from The Grey Area: a mystery - work in progress