I’ve come to Teignmouth to write, to think, to sleep in silence.
A year ago I made landfall in nearby Dartmouth after three years away. I remember it as though it was yesterday. The glide of my boat as she stole up the river through silted water. The peace of Dittisham. The exquisite shades of green that line the banks of Britain’s naval heart.
Today I touched seawater for the first time in…I don’t know…maybe months. I live on a riverbank so I’m not short of water. I wake up to swans trying to take off and geese having arguments. I don’t live far from the sea. But still, it’s different.
There’s something about living by the sea that is irreplaceable. It’s like living on the doorstep of the world. My house is just 10 miles from the sea. I can follow the river the whole way by bike if I want to, it’s a good place to live. But it’s not the same as just walking down to the sea.
I’m ostensibly here to feed cats and water innumerable houseplants. There are some fish in the mix too. My friends have gone on an adventure to Kyrgyzstan – naturally. But really I’m here for the silence. I recently moved house and I’m plagued by traffic noise. I work freelance half the week and writing there is impossible.
I’ve never spent much time in Teignmouth before. Just passed through, attended a few BBQs, whistled by on the train. But now I’m here a few days each week, it has my attention for the first time. Like anything that gains context, it’s no longer a random town, it’s more.
A tiny seaside town
I grew up in a beach town and spent my entire youth roaming around my twin seafront cities of Bournemouth and Southampton, sometimes crabbing off the harbour wall at Lymington or further west, at Mudeford. But there’s an intrinsic busyness in Hampshire and east Dorset. Even in midwinter there’s little solitude to be had.
Teignmouth is different. It’s out of the way, for a start. The population of Devon is around 700,000 less than that of Hampshire and yet its over 1000 square miles larger. Devon has space, lots of it. Its landscape is alternately rugged and rolling and the sheer choice of phenomenal locations means its population can spread out and its tourists even more so. So Teignmouth resides in its own pocket of beauty.
It’s small and quiet. It’s borderline overlooked. It lacks the loudness of Paignton and Torquay. It lacks the culture and elegance of Exeter and if you’re a visitor driving for hours to the South West…well…you’d probably just carry onto Cornwall.
I write for a few hours here, the only sound is the odd seagull and the quick footsteps of the cats chasing flies around the kitchen. I hear no traffic. I hear no city. Exeter is small but sometimes it seems to be 50% cars. It’s my fault, I live central.
Wandering the salt-stained streets
When the laptop screen is too much and the cats have typed too much gibberish walking across the keys, I leave the house for the town. It sits on a spit, its flood defences seem to pale in comparison to the sea at its toes but it’s still here, weathering winter storms.
Teignmouth is dilapidated, its white buildings in need of a pressure wash but it’s part of the charm. Lymington, a few miles from where I grew up, is a shiny, wealthy town with expensive shops and house prices to match. But its wealth is tiring. Teignmouth has no pretension. It just seems to exist as a proud community, happy in its relative obscurity.
I’m surprised by its size as I wander the high street. It’s filled with charity shops and families eating fish and chips at metal tables. It has artists’ galleries and independent hardware shops that seem to have disappeared from most other towns. It still has a working fishing port along with a vast amount of small boat moorings.
It’s the summer holidays but it’s not packed. It retains a casualness that’s surprising for such a setting. There’s no rush here and yet it’s not dying either. It feels permanently relaxed.
The wind is up for the first time in weeks. It’s the tail end of a heatwave and I’m enjoying the cooler weather. The days are shifting, autumn isn’t here but I can feel it coming in the mornings.
With it comes my book. I spent over a year writing it, creating it, crafting it. I wrote it in five different countries and now it’s being published. Every day is a day closer. It seems odd and unimaginable that it will be in print. It’s the ocean in a book. It feels fitting that I should be back by the ocean as I talk to my publishers, good that I can walk the sandy beach as I mull over its launch and think about how it’ll feel as I hold it for the first time.
Everything in my life has changed in the last year. But the sea is a constant.