It was part of our plan to visit. It was #1 on our list, in fact. So we piled into the cars and headed off, slightly later than we had hoped, but with so many of us it took a while to prepare for the day.
The sun blazed down as we set off, excited about our day, and we arrived at low tide – the best time. The car park was full, but with a bit of patience we found slots and tumbled out, laden with towels and bags, sun cream and hats.
And water. Lots of water.
We tramped down the forest path, grateful for the shade. The bank on one side of the path soared above us, impossible to climb, covered in lush foliage. The river on the other side glistened in the bright sunlight, the green grass on the opposite bank inviting it its seeming coolness.
But neither were our destination. We followed the well-trodden path and emerged at last from the shade into the fierce sun.
Ahead the beach – baking sand – and then the sea, calling, calling us into its coolness.
Why this beach, you may ask. It was more crowded than any we had visited so far and the swimming area, narrow between two red and yellow flags, warned us of rip tides and under-water currents, and instructions on what to do if caught. The narrow strip of water was seething with people.
Those not swimming had congregated to our left. Many were digging in the sand. As if on a mission. And indeed they were.
For this was Hot Water Beach, and the water running off from the rocks and hills behind us, seeping under the sand was often too hot to sit in. But we had to dig to expose this water, heated by the very earth itself.
So we did. Armed with serious spades – no children’s plastic ones for us, or for the hundreds who surrounded us, for this was serious business. We had been delayed and it was hard to find a patch of sand not being used. We did not have much luck, inexperienced visitors as we were, in finding our own hot water, but many were lounging in pools soaking up both sun and heat.
I managed to dip my feet into a pool to be able to say I had felt the warm water, but the subsequent venture into the sea was far more appealing and surprisingly cold.
I wondered, perhaps perversely, as I retreated up the beach to sit in the shade of the flowering trees on the banks behind me, why hot water appealed to people when the sun was so very warm. My companions left their holes and gave up their search for their own sauna, and turned to the more familiar sea where they played in the surf, until they grew cold in the chilly waters.
The day was fun, with family and friends but as we plodded back up the hill through the forest, my question was verablised by others among us. Why come all this way on a hot day to dig a hole in the sand and sit in hot water when there were miles of glorious beaches around us with a fraction of the number of visitors?
Perhaps it was because, like us, they wanted to experience the hot water that runs from the earth itself. Perhaps this marvel of nature reminds us of the miracle that is our planet. Perhaps because others, like myself, were full of wonder at the variety of creation.
Whatever the reason, however may people there were, I am glad I went and saw and felt the phenomenon. I may never return, but I have experienced yet another wonder of the universe.
And I found, as I tramped back to the car, my heart was grateful, not for the hot water or the beach, not for the chilling sea or the blazing sun, but for the cool gentle light of the forest, and the growing things, the dancing river and the peace, and most of all for the joy of being with people I love.
Always there are things to make my heart glad, and these were mine today.
What makes your heart glad?