A few weeks ago Tiggy, a friend and I went for a walk on the giant sand dune on the western most tip of Tarifa’s golden, crescent shaped beach. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the sea was sparkling turquoise and crystal clear and the beach was dotted with local families enjoying a glorious Saturday in April.
I lamented the fact that I hadn’t bought my bikini, as it was a lovely day for a refreshing dunk in the sea (in fact, that was the very day Tiggy learnt to swim). “No problem”, my friend replied, “You don’t need one, if you keep going round the point towards Bolonia there are lots of secluded coves you can only get to on foot where the nudes hang out”.
We didn’t end up going that way, I didn’t get my swim and my clothes remained firmly on but a little nugget of a thought began to germinate in my mind.
Nudist beaches are tantalisingly un-British – in fact I’m so boringly middle class that I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve ever sunbathed topless. In my defence this is in part due to the fact that whilst I’m certainly not a delicate English rose when it comes to my character, I most certainly am a delicate English rose when it comes to my complexion and therefore my predisposition to burn.
For this and other unimportant reasons I’ve never been bothered about getting my boobs out on the beach – but, for me, going totally bare feels more than mischievous, it feels deliciously naughty – the sort of naughty that people would gossip about.
“Sophie’s gone completely off the rails on her gap year. Nudist Beaches? Her reputation will be in tatters. She’ll never get another job now”, is what I suspect my parents will think when they read this, but hopefully be sensible enough to avoid vocalising out loud.
Sunbathing bare, to me, is so very different from merely skinny dipping – choosing to nonchalantly lounge around in the buff all day on the beach strikes me as the louche sort of thing that Europeans do very well but us buttoned up Brits do not.
Therefore in the spirit of my Eternity Leave along with embracing, nay rejoicing in my European residency while I still get to claim EU citizenship, I decided it was an adventure worth trying and that I would Give It A Go.
Casting my mind back, I believe the last time I voluntarily took off all my clothes and merrily cavorted around naked in front of a group of people before running into the sea, was when I was playing strip Twister on the front lawn of our house in Aberdovey with my friends.
That was when I was in my mid twenties. All I remember was the next day someone’s boxers were hanging from the lampshade in the sitting room, which I hadn’t spotted when I was clearing up the aftermath of the impromptu party, but my parents immediately did when they arrived later that afternoon.
I do recall getting into an awful lot of bother over that, along with the fact that half of Poppa Neary’s ‘good’ wine had mysteriously evaporated…
So that was a circa twenty years ago, and whilst I didn’t plan to “cavort” naked on the beach here, let alone play Twister, it certainly felt like going bare on the beach was somewhat overdue, except this time I wouldn’t be drunk and I would be alone (apart from Tiggy) and not with friends.
Going it alone was a slightly double edged sword. I didn’t feel emboldened enough to say to any of my (mainly male) friends, hey come hang out on the beach with me whilst I try out this nude sunbathing thing. Plus it felt like dragging someone else along was somehow cheating – this was an achievement to be accomplished on one’s own.
But then being alone was a slightly unnerving and intimidating thought. I certainly felt vulnerable, and with no one to chat to would my ultimate fear of a naked human being coming up and actually attempting to converse materialise?
Tiggy, I concluded, would be my protector. Mirrored sunglasses would act as our deflectors.
I approached our excursion with military precision. The weather and wind direction charts were poured over (no-one needs their nether regions exfoliated by wind-blown sand), friends were consulted for a second opinion and it was determined that Saturday looked promising – no clouds, low wind and lots of lovely sunshine all day long.
Indeed, Saturday dawned bright and clear as promised, time to put the plan into action. I slowly and meticulously pre-applied factor 50 to my never-previously-exposed-parts and got dressed. I methodically quadruple checked my bag and panic-packed an emergency back up pair of sunnies. I got undressed and re-applied even more cream. And then, finding nothing else to procrastinate over, Tiggy and I eventually hit the road.
The route to Bolonia was stunning, winding along a quiet road for 7k, it really was a peach of a drive, spoiled only by the kamikaze, death-wish local drivers who nailed overtaking on blind corners with a faith I’ve never before encountered. Rolling hills and lush, green grass stretched to the horizon, we saw herd after herd of baby goats bounding along playfully before Bolonia beach came into view and arced round in a graceful curve – Roman ruins at one end and nudist beaches off the beaten track at the other.
We followed the road east along the beach until it ran out and parked The Beast by the gate to the coastal path, where he could keep a lookout and stand guard until we returned.
We walked along the coastal path for about a mile – it was simply breathtaking, both rugged and inhospitable yet peaceful and tranquil and, apart from the odd military lookout from WWII, untouched by human hand.
It’s hard to imagine that this coast once witnessed the shock and awe of the combined forces of the thirty three ships of the mighty Spanish Armada and French Navy take on and lose to the invincible nautical battle strategy of Lord Nelson and a smaller British fleet of only twenty seven ships.
Nelson may have sacrificed his life onboard HMS Victory some two hundred years ago, but not a single British ship was sunk, while the Spanish-Franco fleet suffered a crucifying and crippling loss of twenty two. I wondered how many brave souls and spirits had been sacrificed within these waters and now lie, stories and horrors untold, in the shadows and shallows of this vast stretch of sea.
We wandered round cove after cove on a headland carpeted with wild flowers, the air delightfully perfumed by the aroma of the pine trees above and, apart from the grazing cows and spirited song birds, without encountering another living thing. Was I going to end up doing this in total solitude I pondered?
And then, on the next headland, we spotted a man walking towards us. He passed at a respectful distance and gave us a little wave. One quick glimpse informed me he was sporting a sarong which didn’t look like he had anything on underneath – I concluded I was heading in the right direction.
We rounded that headland and there, down on the beach, I spotted no more than half a dozen bodies dotted around, already having made their nests for the day. All were couples, no soloists. ‘There’s safety in numbers’ I decided, and so I scanned the beach for a suitable spot for us.
Descending from the path to the beach, Tiggy sensed that something exciting was on the cards and was being particularly bouncy and boisterous, hurtling along at top speed and running up to show off her doggles and check out if fellow bathers were friend or foe.
The doggles have been an uncontested success but her peripheral vision is definitely now slightly skewif and I had a last minute flap about her mistaking someone’s schlonger for a sausage. You may laugh, but once terriers latch onto something, it’s terribly hard to get them to let go. Much to her distain then, it was back on the lead pretty sharpish and no more untethered exploring for her.
I found what seemed to be a perfect spot – in the lee of some old, weathered, wooden fishing boats that had long since been discarded to naturally decompose. With conviction, I took my towel out, I shook it and purposefully lay it down.
Tiggy, sensing some unusual, inherent weakness on my part, decided to take complete advantage and promptly lay bang slap in the middle of the towel, refusing to budge. Ignoring her for the time being, I set about the task of undressing.
I had already decided before arriving that I would de-robe standing up and not half-heartedly and shamefacedly attempt to wriggle out of my clothes sitting down. I may be a buttoned-up Brit, but I absolutely embody the quintessentially British bulldog mentality that if something is to be done, then it’s worth doing properly.
“Stand up straight, you’ve got this”, I told myself determinedly – I squared my shoulders and attempted a nonchalant stance that certainly did not convey the trepidation I felt. I slid my t-shirt over my head and un-pinged my bikini top. Half way there!
Not permitting myself to pause, I promptly unbuckled my belt, took off my shorts, folded them neatly and placed them carefully in my bag along with my tops. This was it. Time for the big reveal. I stood back up and with a deep breath I pulled down my bikini bottoms with both hands in one smooth and swift movement.
Ta dah! For the first time in my life, I was standing totally, completely and utterly bare, in broad daylight, in public. I stood there for a nano-second with my bikini bottoms dangling from my hand being gently buffeted by the breeze.
In my imagination, I whooped out loud and twirled them round my head in gleeful yet coquettish kind of victory dance, a sort of glorious combination of all the best bits of a “Carry On” Barbara Windsor mixed with the dignified burlesque of Dita Von Teese.
Thankfully for us all (especially my dignity), decorum and Britishness prevailed and I remained totally stationary.
With a nervous yet triumphant smile to myself, I glanced around and then, exhaling and shoving Tiggy out of the way with my foot, I sat down with a bit of a thud.
I started to cross my legs and then, with a gasp, realised that was absolutely not a position to be adopted for today, so hugging my knees to my chest instead, I put my hat on firmly, made sure my sunnies were secure and then rolled over, bottom up first of course.
Giggling to myself, I felt somewhat giddy. The wind was both a bit tickly as well as chilly on my bottom and by my ribs where my bikini top would normally go. And then the sun’s rays warmed my skin, the headiness subsided and it all felt really rather sublimely and delectably divine.
Tiggy got over her huff of having been ejected from pole position and plonked herself down beside me. Contently snuffling, she stretched out sphinx like, and snuggled in for a snooze.
Tickling her ears in her special spot and cuddling her closely, waves of contentment and happiness washed over us both.
After about forty five minutes of reading, I decided it was time to go for a dunk. Plus I didn’t want my bottom to be burnt to a crisp. “Poco a poco”, as they say here in Spain, was my strategy for browning my botty.
Skinny dipping doesn’t bother me in the slightest – so I strode out and immersed myself in the refreshing azure blue waters – I felt like I was in the setting of a Tom Ford perfume advert. Swimming naked is invigorating, I love it, I think there must be something truly embryonic about the whole experience.
Floating along in the shallows I tried and failed to persuade Tiggy to come and join me, instead she teetered at the water’s edge and barked convincingly if she thought I was going in too deep and therefore in grave danger. No one even took a second look at me as I ambled back to my spot.
It was time flip to bum side down and boob side up. In doing so, I definitely felt more exposed and a tinge of self consciousness and self-doubt crept back in. I suppose, if nothing else, face side up you can see more of what’s going on around you and there’s a greater chance of the dreaded eye contact and unwittingly encouraging unwanted human communication.
Tiggy, sensing she needed to be on watch, sat on my hand and kept lookout whilst I started to relax. I pulled my hat down further on my face and let the sun heat up my chilly post-swim-skin.
The sun was hotter now, I was worried Tiggy would overheat and that I would start to sizzle. It was time to call it a day and seek some shade, so not without a tinge of regret I got dressed and gathered my things. Before leaving our secluded little spot I looked around to make sure the view was etched firmly in my memory. I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect spot for my first nudist experience.
With Tiggy chasing the odd butterfly and finding then immediately abandoning sticks along the way, we meandered back to the strong and sturdy sanctuary of The Beast. We hopped in and carefully navigated home singing along to the melodic and harmonic sounds of Simon and Garfunkel.
Back home, bare again and checking myself in the mirror once more, my newly bronzed bottom felt toasty and warm to the touch, yet thankfully and happily all my hitherto white bits had turned pale golden brown and not burnt.
It dawned on me then, that after all of that flapping and insecurity, all of that unnecessary procrastination and over-preparation, I had uttered not one word to a single person all day long.
Why is the idea of something so often nothing like the reality? How do we know if we are going to like something or not unless we actually get out there and try it?
The only way to ensure failure is to not even try in the first place. Perhaps we should all stop thinking about what might go wrong and, instead, think of what could go right.
Sometimes I worry about whittling my life away with not enough to show for it. How’s this for a sobering wake up call; before they were twenty five, Michaelangelo had created Pieta, Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire and Keats was already dead.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Go Bare.”
That’s my favourite quote from the masterful pen of Mark Twain. I’ll leave it to you to decide which bit I edited.
Will I do it again, I hear you ponder? Maybe, some day, should you wander round the fifth cove to the far east of Bolonia beach you might stumble across a little, bare, blonde English rose sporting a straw hat with pompoms, lying on a pink stripey towel with a small Jack Russell tucked in cosily alongside her – and that, most likely, will be us.
Should you see us, just smile and wave and on the off-chance that we’re feeling brave and not bashful, Tiggy might bounce over for a ball throw and I’ll give you a little, shy smile and a wave back as you walk by.
Choose happy, and remember, it’s not really the time in your life that counts, it’s the life in your time. What are you waiting for? Get out there and do whatever it is you’ve always wanted to do, but been too afraid to try.
Love, Sophie, Tiggy and The Beast X