In the late 1970s and early 80s my family used to come down from Bristol to holiday in a caravan near Brean Sands, Somerset. The dunes there seemed vast and wild and with my brothers and sisters I’d spend hours exploring, jumping around, crawling through scratchy sea-buckthorn thickets and running down to the beach. I recently paid a return visit and found that while the dunes seems smaller, the beach and sky seemed vaster. This piece is a fictionalised version of someone’s brief return.
Bad idea, going back. Perhaps. This place couldn’t be trusted. Dad’s fault – his warning story, repeated back then whenever we came. What happened, he’d said, was this: a boy playing on the dunes had dug a hole, tunnelling into the side of one of them and crawled in. Head first. He died of course. Suffocated in the collapse of a ton of loose sand. Swallowed by a hill of sand.
As a child I imagined his small legs, skinny like mine, sticking out, like the dead witch under the house in the Wizard of Oz. I shuddered. It was a long time ago. Today the dunes seemed diminished. What had once felt a Sahara by the sea: slope after sandy slope stretching along the edge of the beach, full of hidden ways and foxy corridors, beneath a low scrubby jungle of sea buckthorn, was now a thin strip of dirty piles, flecked with wrappers and cans and cartons, snagged on brambles, shaking in the wind – a forest of dirty leaves.
That was behind me. Ahead the real threat. The infamously treacherous, deceptively fast tide. A tide that could race across that vastness of beach, hungry for walkers and cars, for anyone who made a mistake with their time.
But I’d be alright. I’d checked. Setting out now, I could easily make it over the sand to the end of Brean Down. Drink eyefuls of sky, look across to Steep Holm, wave at South Wales. Plenty of time.