I was a little bit stumped when I got the theme for this month’s travel link-up: scent. I know of all our senses the sense of smell is one of the most powerful, but how could I use it to sum up a holiday experience? I mean, I could talk about Hong Kong, which for me is the scent of food, heat and sewers; coal smoke, which always reminds me of growing up in North Wales (steam trains); the tinsel suitcase we brought out every December, and which therefore smelt to me exactly like Christmas. But it took a while to settle on the right topic; the one scent which I could recurringly bring back to memories of travel, holidays and the summer. The smell of the seaside.
I spent nearly 6 years growing up close to the coast of North Wales, and I could see the sea out of my window [Disclaimer: NONE of these photos were taken in North Wales. It’s never normally this sunny, for starters! They were all taken in California]. We often walked our gorgeous dog along the beach, and my mum used to point out the white horses on the surface of the sea. We moved to the Suffolk countryside, where we had to travel further to reach the coast, and it was more of a treat to visit the beach. And then I moved to London and had to make do with frequent walks to the River Thames in my attempt to be close to the water and that scent of the sea which has always been tied to so many memories.
So what do I think of when I catch a hint of salty sea air? I think about days spent on Aldeburgh beach with my friends, paddling, throwing frisbees and enjoying fish and chips and ice cream. I think about freezing cold afternoons on Brighton Pier with Anna, peering through the gaps in the wooden floorboards to the roiling sea below as we tried desperately to keep warm. I think about watching a rose-pink sunset on the Scottish coast when I was fifteen, playing Hide and Seek with my friends whilst camping on the island of Great Cumbrae. I think about walking along Bondi Beach on a grey winter’s day with my family, and padding barefoot along the hot Californian sand. I think about a boat trip across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz, the wind a welcome breeze against the blazing sun.
Maybe this is a bit of a cheat, as thinking about it, the seaside encompasses several scents in one. Because besides the smell of the sea itself, there’s the smell of suncream sizzling on warm skin; smoke wafting up from the sausages and burgers being cremated on a BBQ; salt and vinegar on hot fish and chips, and the sweetness of melted ice cream running down arms.
This photo was taken on the Pacific Coast Highway in California in September 2014. Ben and I were road tripping around the state, and this particular day of our trip was one of the best of our holiday for me. In fact, it was one of the best days of my life. I felt so light and happy and carefree, basking in the warmth of the sun and taking about a billion photos along the way. We watched elephant seals wrestling in the surf, ate clam chowder in a surfing town and got up close and personal with a pelican perched on the pier. We sang along to American rock anthems and watched the sun arc across the sky, following us to Monterey. I have never felt so free as I have that day. And every time I breathe in the sea air, a small part of me remembers that sense of total freedom and joy.