It was the end of a hot day. The cool water felt good on our feet, and the waves lazily pushed the pebbles around on the beach. Across the channel, the Needles turned from white rock to glowing peach, as the sky dimmed, the air became cooler and stiller, and the red sun sank irresistibly towards the edge of the earth.
We had discovered that the best time to come to the beach was at 7pm. The crowds had gone, the parking was free, and we didn't have to mess around applying sunscreen. Once the sun had finally disappeared, we bundled the boys into towels and drove them back to the cottage, where they were happy to fall into bed.
The cottage - a compact and fortunately cool Victorian semi - was in Lymington, where we managed to spend a few days in August. It's a neat little place with a high street that tumbles down the hill to a harbour full of expensive yachts. A short drive away, through the New Forest, is Beaulieu Motor Museum, which of course had to be the first stop on our itinerary.
The Motor Museum was packed with cars, from the very old...
...to the very fast...
...to the very small...
...to the downright odd.
And who remembers these??
Graham, Toby and Theo absolutely loved Top Gear World, with the Real Cars that had been altered, cannibalised, and generally wrecked by the presenters. I retreated to the beautifully peaceful remains of Beaulieu Abbey, and reserved my admiration for the beans and squash in the kitchen gardens.
All the pre-booking systems for Covid-19 compliance meant that most places were operating at a much reduced capacity. That was great at Beaulieu, but we got caught out for the Isle of Wight ferry, which turned out to be fully booked for foot passengers. We had to settle for a cruise round the harbour. Still, I doubt they would have let Toby steer the Isle of Wight ferry!
Turning our backs on the sea for a few hours, we found our way into the New Forest and paddled in a stream. It mostly flowed over stones (rearranging them to divert the water into new channels was a most absorbing activity) but of course the boys had to find the one patch of mud. And make the most of it.
We also said hello to some of the ubiquitous New Forest ponies, and ate - what else? - New Forest ice lollies. Usually Walls and Nestle are the only choices, so we were pleased to discover a company that offered some new options. Toby was delighted to find one which was something like an ice cream sandwich and a Feast jammed together.
On our final day we took one more walk down to the marina in Lymington, along to the open air swimming pool (which sadly had also been fully booked for our visit).
The journey home was carefully timed to coincide with the second Silverstone Formula 1 race, so that we could listen to it on the car radio. The excitement of Max Verstappen's unexpected victory meant that we hardly noticed the miles disappearing beneath the tyres, and in fact we didn't stop until we pulled on to our own driveway.
It had been a long few months of lockdown, and life wasn't back to normal yet. But a few evenings of watching the sun set by the sea had definitely made things look better.