Rhossili sunset

April 30, 2021 1 Comment

Three of us set off on the south Gower road to watch the sun set in Rhossili.  It’s been another day of unbroken sunshine in this strange dry, cold April.  The gusty wind of the early morning has dropped to a faint north-westerly breeze.  The sky’s still clear, but it’s slowly losing its light.

We walk down from the church and through the village, against the flow of visitors now leaving, and stop to look out over the bay at high tide. The sea has small ruffles, like a dress. Then we’re out on to the close-cropped turf of the cliff tops. A few people are gathered with their smartphones around a couple of miniature ponies, only a week or two old.  Their legs look absurdly long in comparison to their delicate heads, which can barely reach down to the grass.  The adult ponies graze, with not a thought for the humans.

Beyond the coastguard lookout, where the land ends in a collapse of rocks at this far north-west corner of Gower, the tide races through the strait dividing it from Worm’s Head.  We hope no one has fallen asleep on the Worm: the night will be cold.  I stroll on my own along the edge of the coast towards the east.  Above the cliffs at Mewslade a near-full moon floats, a pale echo of the sun in the west.  Then back up the steep path to the cliff top.

We sit near the cliff edge, sipping tea and nibbling biscuits and waiting for the sun to fall into the sea to the right of the Worm.  Soon a trail of flashing orange-yellow light opens up on the sea like a path to the heart of the sun.  Its colour grows more intense as the sun declines, but then fades as the sun comes closer to the horizon.

It will be ten minutes more before sunset, so we walk slowly back towards the village, this time keeping close to the cliff edge.  Now we become aware that we’re far from alone.  Spaced along the cliffs are other small groups of people.  It’s obvious they’re here for exactly the same reason as us – to escort the sun into the sea.  A few people stand, other are sitting huddled in padded coats or blankets (what heat was left of the day has gone).  Everyone faces seawards, and take photos.  Some are selfies, but most of the phones point to the sun, which is now about to vanish.  For a moment it rests, like a ball on a smooth cushion, then seems to deflate, surprisingly quickly.  What’s left when it’s gone are long, oblique wafts of cloud, where there were none before, and then a wide wash of dark vermillion, a spill of blood, spreads across the horizon.

Slowly the twilight deepens.  Behind us the moon has brightened and now stands high above the long field wall, rebuilt by the National Trust in traditional Gower style.  The groups of people are starting to leave the cliffs and join the path for the walk back to the village.  We suddenly realise that we’re the oldest people here.  Nearly everyone else is young.  Surely they wouldn’t usually be found here, youthful spectators at a cold April sunset at the end of Gower?  But these aren’t normal times, they’re Covid times.  The pubs are barely open, indoor venues are shut, big groups are still banned.  What else is there to do but watch this wide-screen wildlife movie?

But maybe that’s not the whole answer.  The setting sun has probably always attracted close, rapt attention, not only for its frequent beauty but also because of its paradox.  It extinguishes itself and gives way to darkness, but we know – or at least inductive reason persuades us – that it will appear reborn in the morning.  In the fourth of Richard Strauss’s Four last songs, ‘Im Abendrot’ (At sunset), a long human journey comes to a close: ‘Through sorrow and joy / we have gone hand in hand / from our wanderings we now rest / in this quiet land’.  But at the end of the song, above the dying chords of the orchestra, two flutes soar high – the skylarks mentioned in Eichendorff’s poem.  For me at least, they carry no Christian message of rebirth, nor do they symbolise the soul’s escape from the body.  But they hint that something is left from every extinction, that a piece of all of us survives, and that in any case the sun will soon rise again.

We pass people lingering on the grass among the still-grazing horses.  For a few moments there’s complete silence.  The red glows over the sea.  Then we all decide, almost simultaneously, to wander back up the track to the village, a slow reverse pilgrimage. 

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  1. Alun Burge says:

    A beautiful evening remembered…

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