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Sunday 11 September 2011

Role Reversal - February Half-Term 2011

Part 3

The boys rush ahead and shin up the ladder to the top of the final breakwater.  Barry and I are following at a more leisurely pace when we hear Luke shout,

‘Oh no!  Here’s trouble!’

‘What’s wrong?’ I call.

‘There’s no ladder down and no path either.’

‘What do you mean?’  I can’t believe I’m hearing him correctly but as Barry and I reach him, our predicament becomes obvious.
On the far side of the breakwater, the sea wall is absolutely sheer.  Even if there were a ladder, which there is not, it would be useless.  Frustratingly, the beach is now only about forty feet away.  Unfortunately, that’s forty feet across the waves.

‘We’ll have to wait until the tide drops,’ Barry says.

We sit and study our position.

‘When the waves go out, it’s not deep,’ Luke observes.  ‘We could take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and paddle.’

‘Not a good idea,’ Jamie says, pointing.  ‘See those?’

This breakwater is much shorter than the others.  It looks as if whoever was constructing it, gave up before it was finished.  Huge boulders remain grouped around and line the base of the sea wall on the shore side.  They are roughly broken up and rusty iron bars and poles protrude from their uneven surfaces like sinister bones.

‘You could cut your feet badly on those,’ Jamie states.  ‘They’re half under water, so you can’t even see them properly.’

We agree.  So we wait.  Minutes pass.  I’m enjoying the mild weather and the clear light which allows us to see around the Dorset coast from Charmouth to Golden Cap and right along to Portland Bill some thirty miles away.  The boys and Barry start to fidget.

‘We can make it now,’ Luke says, ‘watch.’

As a gentle wave retreats, he runs down the slime covered slope, jinks his way between a couple of smallish rocks and scrambles up a large boulder just before the next wave reaches him.

‘We can keep going along these,’ he calls.  ‘They’ll get us about half way to the beach.  Then we can make a charge for it.’

‘Great.’  Jamie follows him.  ‘Come on, Nan.  It’s easy.’

A few years ago, I had a bad fall on a seaweed-covered rock and so I have not got the confidence to rush down this slippery slope as the boys have done.   For the first time, even Barry is dubious.  It looks as if we could easily slide, flat on our backs, into the ocean.  Once again, I feel daunted.  Then I notice that small patches of concrete seem to have been left between the edge of the slope and the side of the breakwater, presumably when the construction was abandoned.  At least these are flattish and make reasonable toeholds.  I start to edge my way down, searching the uneven surface of the breakwater for finger-holds until I reach the water’s edge.

A wave retreats.  I follow it and dodge across the rocks at the end of the breakwater.  As the next wave rushes towards me, I realise that scrambling up onto the huge boulder where the boys are standing is not as going to be as easy as Jamie made out.

‘Quick, Nan.  Give us your hands,’ he yells.  They haul me up just as the wave licks at my feet.  As it withdraws, Barry joins us safely, much to my relief.

So, between the waves, we leap from boulder to boulder until we reach the last.

‘Right,’ says Jamie.  ‘When I say go, jump down and charge for the beach.’

‘But-‘ I say.


The three of them jump and hit the ground – or rather the shallows – running.  I know I can’t make this four foot leap and be certain of landing upright, so I edge halfway down the side of the boulder before taking off.  Even then, I stagger in the soft sand before getting into my stride.

They’ve all reached the beach and start yelling,

‘Run, Nan, run.’

‘Come on, Gill.’

I can hear the wave behind me.  At least I’m only going to get a soaking and not plunge to my death.  I’m probably about six feet from the shore when the wave hits.  I rise up on my toes and try to jump as it breaks.  Then I’m wet up to my knees but miraculously, my feet, in good waterproof trainers, are still fairly dry.

Everyone is delighted.  We’ve made it.  The boys run off towards the landslip.  My legs are shaking, whether from exhaustion, terror, or both, I’m uncertain.  I sink onto a sun-warmed rock and watch the boys exploring.

‘I thought you were very brave,’ Barry says.  This is praise indeed.

‘I wouldn’t have done it for you,’ I tell him.

‘I know.’

We both laugh.

I stretch out my legs to let my trousers dry in the sun.  I notice their label, ‘North Face’, with some amusement.  I realise my light fleece is made by ‘Craghoppers.’  For once, these over-the-top brand names seem thoroughly appropriate.

It’s all been worth it though.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, we are the only people on the beach and its treasures are there for the taking.  The boys delight in ammonites, perfectly formed, encrusted in iron pyrites and glowing in the sunshine.  Small rocks split to reveal glittering arches of quartz crystals.  Jamie begins to identify various different minerals found in extraordinarily coloured pebbles and takes photographs of huge ammonites and something that might well be a shoulder blade of a dinosaur.  Luke spots a seahorse in a rock pool.  We all study the tiny creature and decide that the pool is large and deep enough for it to be safe among the sea anemones and fronds of weed until the tide returns.  Then a starfish takes our attention and more photographs ensue.

After a happy couple of hours, the boys are mentioning food again. It’s time to go.

Thankfully the tide has now retreated far enough for us to avoid the breakwaters.

As we stroll back, I reflect on the fact that for years I’ve been looking after my grandsons. This afternoon, that’s all changed.

© Gill Dunstan
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