“This is a nice beach. Why did you say it’s forbidden?”
Neither Phil nor I wanted to upset young Ceri.
Let her enjoy this moment of respite from the freezing Irish Sea before she discovered the truth.
A large group of us had set out in canoes from Solva.
Phil and I being experienced paddlers had agreed to take Ceri as a passenger in our two-man canoe.
“We’ll make a canoeist out of you yet.
“Just watch those eyelashes!” Phil couldn’t resist the dig, but Ceri seemed a nice enough kid under the make-up.
A bright September day, with little wind or swell, promised an uneventful afternoon.
But you should never relax at sea!
We’d hardly left the harbour, when one of the boys turned a ghastly shade of green, and began chucking up his lunch.
“Better out than in,” we joked, but it was obvious that our seasick companion needed to be on dry land.
“We don’t have to stop too, do we? This is really cool… I mean… Active!”
Ceri’s soft Swansea accent belied her use of the latest slang.
She was obviously enjoying herself, so Phil and I agreed to paddle just a bit further.
The others could regroup on shore – and clean up that boat!
Less than three there should never be is the rule of sea canoeing.
There were three of us, but Ceri was an unknown quantity, Phil was recovering from a torn ligament, and we were all in one boat. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I swallowed my doubts.
Sure enough it wasn’t long before disaster struck.
Later Phil would blame Ceri - “Never, ever stand up in a canoe!”
At the time we fully occupied trying to save ourselves. Whenever we made a grab for the upturned boat, it rolled over towards us, plunging us back into the waves. And we lost all the paddles.
But somehow we managed to cling on to the slippery hull, and propel our craft towards the narrow gap in the cliff wall, leading to Forbidden Beach.
“We must keep warm, we don’t know how long we’ll be here,” I insisted.
“Take off those wetsuits, and spread them out to dry.”
The rocks at the back of the little cove were warm, but it was a challenge to undo our zips with numb fingers.
Ceri was shivering, so Phil improvised a game of catch with a buoyancy aid.
But we couldn’t ignore the seriousness of our situation.
Although so near to Solva and civilisation, this was worse than a desert island.
Surrounded by high cliffs, the only chance of escape was by boat, and we had no paddles.
And we were completely invisible - except from the air.
Occasional seabirds flew over, but no helicopters. I remembered that the nearest naval rescue base was in Devon.
“But why Forbidden?” Ceri repeated.
Phil embarked on the story of the hidden cove, with all its shipwrecks and tragedies.
He couldn’t resist drawing Ceri’s attention to a pile of bones further down the beach.
“Don’t worry, he’s only teasing. Anyone can see that’s a dead seal-pup.”
My contribution did nothing to cheer up Ceri, whose mascara was running again.
“I-I suppose we are safe? Will the t-t-tide come in and drown us?”
Ceri’s voice shook. “Isn’t that the h-h-high water mark?”
She was looking at a line six feet up the cliff, where the rocks changed colour.
“Only with a spring tide,” I reassured her, visualising the tide tables in the Canoeist’s Handbook.
“So we’re safe ‘cos it’s September?”
No-one informed her that tides are high at the autumn equinox too.
“We must do everything we can to attract attention,” Phil contributed.
“Have we got any way of starting a fire, or signalling? If we make enough noise someone on the coastal path might hear.”
“We should build a platform to retreat to when the tide does come in,” I suggested.
“Then someone could try climbing the cliffs. Not you, Phil, not with that leg. But maybe erosion has created some new footholds. Let’s split up and work out a plan of action…”
“Sounds like some stupid school project,” muttered Ceri, in bolshie mode.
She nevertheless made her way to the water’s edge, avoiding the dead seal.
The afternoon was drawing in, and it was already too dark to use the sun’s rays to create a spark, or a signal.
Perhaps our best bet was to save our energy, and hope somebody came looking. Surely they’d have missed us at the adventure centre by now?
A splash, and a cry of triumph alerted us. Ceri stood with seawater lapping round her ankles – the tide was already rushing in – and indicated the righted canoe.
“If we sit in the boat”, she ventured, “at least we won’t drown. And this was strapped under the seat!”
I gasped. Why hadn’t Phil or I thought of the emergency kit we took on every trip?
I tried to grab the black cylinder from Ceri, who was struggling with the water-tight lid.
“Look, there’s a first-aid box, matches, a mobile…wicked …’ Her find had restored Ceri’s confidence.
“But I’m not sure what this is. It says Ikaros…”
A mobile phone would be no use – probably no mast within miles! – and we wouldn’t know any useful phone numbers anyway. But Ikaros meant marine safety equipment and Phil and I knew all about distress flares - in theory. We’d never actually used one.
“Well I’m going to try texting,” Ceri muttered.
Phil and I were still hesitating over the flares – would red or orange be more visible in the dark? - when we heard an unexpected sound. A disembodied voice and an insistent but barely recognisable tune. Ceri might have preferred an even more up-to-date ring-tone, but being of the mobile phone generation, she had managed to text the coastguard, and raise a response!
Remarkably soon, we were ensconced in a lifeboat, drinking hot soup, and recounting our adventures. And the unlikely song that echoed round Forbidden Beach that day?
Amy Winehouse singing ‘They tried to make me go to rehab but I said “no, no, no” ’.