When the mist rolls in off the Bristol Channel on a cold winters night, the folks that inhabit “The Old Ship Aground” pub in Minehead tell tales that send chills down your spine, tales of shipwrecks and smugglers, tales of peril and tragedy in the local waters that have one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.
Inevitably as the night gets darker, and the ale gets more plentiful, the tales get taller, as indeed do the stories of local heroes who have become legends, largely through many misty ale soaked nights where the thin line between fact and fiction is breached.
One local legend is immune from such treatment, a local Barbarian whose exploits are so incredible in their own right, there is no need for embellishment, even fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, also born in Minehead, would have difficulty making these tales taller, even ale assisted.
Rugby can be a brutal and unforgiving sport but every now and then a player arrives on the scene that can raise the game above the ordinary, a player who amid the bump and grind of top-level sport, manages to make the difficult look easy, a player whose skill and execution provide a sheer beauty, grace and elegance that warms the soul, sets our pulses racing, a player that appears to have more time and space than those around them, Danielle Waterman is such a player.
This week “Nolli ” as she is affectionately known announced her retirement from international rugby.
A red rose that could always be guaranteed to bloom, whatever the weather, whatever the soil conditions, she has graced the white shirt on eighty-two occasions.
It is impossible to calculate how many girls and women have been inspired to take up the game by watching her, but I have witnessed first hand the “Nolli Effect” around the playing fields of Europe.
She is renowned for her bravery on the field, but perhaps even more noteworthy is her bravery off it, for being part of the RPA “Lift The Weight” campaign and discussing her depression candidly, typically, not for her own benefit, but through a desire to help others who may or have suffered similarly.
The international stage will be a lesser place as a result of her absence but like all good Wasps she will be making a nuisance of herself on the open fields of Tyrrells Premiership grounds all next season.
Danielle Waterman’s list of achievements is endless, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2014, nomination for World Player of the Year, a member of the first ever Team GB Rugby Sevens squad to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Nolli captained England A at the tender age of seventeen, and made her full England debut in 2003 whilst revising for her A levels, aged just eighteen.
But in the years to come we will not be discussing the cold statistics, it will be that sidestep, that tackle, or the unique running style, and that joyous smile after scoring a try or making a last ditch tackle.
So if you ever happen to visit “The Ship Aground” on a damp misty moonlit night and you notice the locals huddled together speaking in hushed tones, they may well be telling tales of horticulture, or to be specific their favourite local Red Rose.