A Banquet of Consequences(11)

By: Elizabeth George


He told her that he’d known she would love it and she would feel the same about Seatown, so off they went on their camping trip. No mention was made of anything else. No word about his mum, especially, and for this Lily was grateful. For obviously Caroline Goldacre—as she always had been called, never changing her name from the surname of her two boys to the surname of her husband, Alastair MacKerron—had done a world of good for William, and Lily hated to admit this.

She wondered about the camping idea as they drove to Seatown, which was on the coast overlooking Lyme Bay. It was not just cold; it had oddly become unseasonably bitter with the kind of frigid wind that blew its way occasionally from the Ural Mountains and swept across Europe, stunning everything in its path. She mentioned this to William, but his response was, “Not to worry. We’ll have the tent, I’ve two duvets along with the sleeping bags, and once we start the walk up Golden Cap, we’ll be warm enough. You’ve brought a hat, haven’t you? Gloves as well? We’ll be fine.”

Seatown comprised little more than a hamlet that was, wisely, tucked a good distance away from the bay in a fold of land that protected it from winter storms driving in from the English Channel. It was a small scattering of holiday cottages typical of many villages by the sea: nautical themes abounded on windowsills and in narrow gardens; upended fishing boats waited for their seasonal paint jobs; crab pots and floats and nets lay about, emitting the sharp scent of fish.

The camping area was just beyond the hamlet, facing directly onto the sea. The narrow lane they’d driven coursed past this area, dipping down a slope that ended abruptly at a shingle beach, where a stream bubbled across the pebbles, burying itself beneath them and reemerging near the salt water. The landscape, Lily saw, was as dramatic here as William had promised. For the beach was backed by tremendous cliffs looming over the shingle, and one of them was Golden Cap, the highest point in the county. It soared more than six hundred feet above Lyme Bay, providing—according to William—a stunning view not only of the water and of the town of Lyme Regis to the west of them but also of Dorset itself, which lay in splendour to the north. Walking here was where they would warm up, he told her, just as soon as they set up camp. And there was the Anchor pub down near the water—see it, Lil?—where they’d go for a hearty dinner after their climb.

The area for camping comprised two parts, both of which spread out on the east side of the lane to the beach, opposite to Golden Cap. Here, an area of caravans stood for hire on a shelf of land while slightly below and in front of these structures was the spot for tents. Perhaps a dozen of these mushroomed across grassland in rainbow colours, despite the cold.

Lily shook her head. “We English,” she said.

William laughed, understanding. Nothing got in the way of the English when they intended a holiday. He swung into the camping area, parked, and dashed inside the little shop, where he would pay for the privilege of a handkerchief square of land on which to set their tent. He was back in less than five minutes, and off they went. Another thirty minutes and their tent was set up, their sleeping bags and the duvets were inside, and all was ready for the strenuous walk up Golden Cap to see the view.

A sign posted the way. William led, with a rucksack on his back and a confidence in his stride. They rested often, for there was no hurry. They paused to take pictures. They stopped to rustle through his rucksack, where she discovered he’d brought chocolate bars, nuts, fruit, water, and even a bottle of red wine and two glasses. They sat against a boulder and looked back across the magnificent sweep of Marshwood Vale, all the way to a hill fort that Will told her was called Pilsdon Pen. Another month and the gorse would be blooming on Golden Cap, he told her. Then it would be yellow explosions, floral bursts of sun on a mantle of green.

When they made it to the very top of the cliff, it was all that William had promised it would be. The wind was intense, so they did not remain long. But in the western distance the crescent of Lyme Regis winked in the afternoon light while to the east Dorset’s Jurassic Coast introduced itself along the length of Chesil Beach, where boulders segued to rocks to stones to pea-sized pebbles as the strand travelled its incredible eighteen miles, backed by a glittering shield of water, an enormous lagoon that William identified as the Fleet.