It seems a lifetime ago that we camped at remote Sandwood Bay.
Thick drizzle was falling when we arrived,
seriously swelling that portion of the sea just south of Cape Wrath.
Although it was mid-June, we wore heavy rainproof coats and hats.
We were freezing cold and were beginning to wish we hadn't ventured
this far north, to such a barren wilderness.
Our biggest mistake had been to imagine this place crowded
and bathed in bright sunshine like on the postcards,
and to picture ourselves spending idyllic days
swimming in the North Sea and sunbathing on warm sand.
And oh what luxurious accommodation! Ruined Sandwood Cottage,
with it's cold stone walls and ill-fitting windows
that let in continual icy draughts that howled and wailed
like a pack of half-starved banshees on the rampage.
Sleeping, I wrote in my red leather-bound diary, is a total impossibility!
But it wasn't only the wind. There was that other thing too.
What we'd encountered earlier had made us doubt
our sanity. We were seriously scared.
So we huddled together in a corner in our sleeping bags,
gulping the brandy we'd pilfered from our respective parents' cocktail cabinets
and praying for the swift arrival of daybreak.
The rain couldn't quite penetrate to the ground floor
were we were, but the damp clammy air certainly did.
It settled in our lungs, making us cough like life-long smokers.
Ha...I remember how you played it up, rolling around
on the time-worn earthen floor and pretending to suffocate,
and how you accidentally kicked the gaz fire over in the process-
only just averting a major catastrophe!
Oh how I laughed, but I knew how nervous you really were.
Being a few years older than me, you always seemed to feel
you had to take control of the situation - to be the strong one.
But I knew that what we'd experienced earlier had seriously unnerved even you.
So what really happened to we teenage friends that summer,
on that first holiday without our parents
that we'd pleaded so hard to get?
We'd packed everything we considered we would need
and rented a beaten-up old red mini. You drove,
I read aloud, feet up on the dashboard, from Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
It took us twenty-four hours, with breaks, to get there.
Then the road just ended and we had to continue on foot for the last few miles,
carrying only the few essentials we could manage.
When we finally arrived, footsore and weary,
the Bay was eerily deserted. Like a graveyard.
The only sounds were the surf crashing onto the shore and the cries of gulls.
We began collecting driftwood, intending to light a fire.
Then we noticed the mast of an old wreck protruding from the deep sand.
We were intrigued. We walked over to it and began to explore.
I can still picture us there now in my mind's eye:
terror stricken - when a mariner in old fashioned uniform
shouted at us, telling us that the wood was his and to leave it alone.
What time-slip had we fallen through? We dropped the wood
and bolted for the relative safety of the cottage. And to this day,
neither of us has ever dared mention to anyone the fact
that the old captain had left no footprints in the soft sand...