As we set off for a walk this morning, accompanied by Julie Crawshaw – our project evaluator – we all notice it smells. First Julie notes the seaweedy air that has drifted over the dunes to the carpark, and takes a happy lung-full of seaside; then as we file onto the beach we simultaneously breathe in a whiff of something sulphurous and stinky – perhaps drains-water, perhaps rotting kelp.
Today it’s really warm (12 degrees and a light south-easterly) and the air is laced with moisture. A mist slouches across the beach, hanging somewhere between sea, sky and sand. I’m finding the warm damp soothing as I have a problem with dry sinuses exacerbated by the driving winds of the past week. It’s a joy to be able to breathe deep and easy.
In winter I really miss outdoors smells that rise from earth and sea – though I only seem to notice the missing when the sense is suddenly awoken on days like this. Here, here: wafts of vegetation at the estuary bridge as rays of sun hit the land. Turn the corner for a rich cowpat – lovely.
As we wander along at a comfortable pace in the balmy weather next to crashing waves, the ozone leaps up and fills the air with crisp sweetness. But I realise we don’t have much by way of words to describe smells: I’m not sure if it’s just English or if other languages are richer in smell-words. Opening a packet of crisps to share, two labradors trot round the corner and find us pretty quickly, doe-eyeing us for a bite. If dogs could speak, their words would be highly scented. Certain sea-birds – petrels and albatrosses – have keen sensors in their tube noses and can smell krill under the water, half an ocean away. Roaming the open waters seeking food, their olfactory sense is a matter of life or death.
For us, smell can come or go without crisis. But this doesn’t make it any less precious. Today has been a gift: though there’s no way to share it on this page save by the wrinkling of a memory in your nasal passages.