Visitors are warned about the tides at Filey Bay, but this isn’t our first time. Every spring my Dad and I return to the rock pools between Filey Brigg and Flamborough Head in search of new stock for Dad’s fish tank. We are brave explorers of the North Sea and I am the expedition’s marine biologist.
We steady each other while rolling up our trouser legs and remove our shoes and socks. I’m wearing the new shoes that mum bought me; fuchsia pink trainers with flashing lights in the heels. They’re my favourite. I put them next to Dad’s large boots on a rock up shore. Barefoot, we squelch along the sand towards the water. Our first job is to release the animals that have outgrown Dad’s tank. In plastic lidded buckets we’ve brought four shannies, a rock goby and Matilda the crab. After a diet of fish flakes, smoked salmon and corned beef these little creatures return to the ocean with a fat plop. I feel like Jane Goodall, Jacques-Yves Cousteau or Eugenie Clark; another successful release into the wild.
The afternoon is grey, but the sweeping beach is golden brown, like a brush stroke of colour across a fading canvass. The bay is backed by a wall of cliffs, streaked with chalk and clay. These layers were left by past ice ages and Dad tells me they are the pages of Filey’s storybook.
With our buckets dripping fresh seawater, we trek out to the baron stretch of Filey Brigg, where creatures cling onto life in their isolated pools until the tide returns. The chalk vein of Filey Brigg rises out of the ocean like a spine of rock – local folklore claims that these are the bones of a dragon that drowned at sea. Trying not to slip on the algae covered rocks, I grip the slime with my toes and balance myself with the sloshing bucket. Dad goes further out to the Brigg’s edge, past the caution signs that warn of sea swells and gusts of wind. While I shelter in the craters left by German bombers during World War Two.
I choose a rock pool and wade in. The water licks the edge of my rolled up jeans and soaks my behind as I crouch to inspect the ecosystem beneath the surface. Herds of glassy shrimps flutter across the seaweed forest, a crop of purple anemones wave in the water like jelly flowers and bubbles fizz out of the sand, betraying the expelled breaths of a crab. The pool is full of rich pickings. I lose track of time hunting hermit crabs, cornering fish with netted fingers and seeking the ultimate treasure, a starfish.
After a while, my feet are raw from walking on the jagged carpet of pebbles and shells. With my bucket teeming with life, I struggle out of the pool and follow the concrete line of the sewage pipe cover to the end of the Brigg. Cold wind slashes my legs and bites into the wet bottom of my jeans. I’m ready to return to my trainers.
‘Find anything?’ I shout across to Dad.
‘Yeah, a few things. Mainly shannies and shrimp though. You got anything good?’ Dad asks. I show him my catch and together we decide what to take home and what to let go. With the lids secured on the buckets we begin the slippery walk back.
When we reach the bay side of the Brigg we see that the tide has come in and we’ve been cut off from the main beach. The shoreline is flooded right up to the cliffs and my new trainers are floating away. They bob and flash in the water like a far off lifeboat. We’re stranded.
I look to Dad. Will the sea go out again soon? Will we be okay to wait on the rocks? But instead of offering me any comfort, he throws his bucket to the floor. It crashes in an explosion of water and tiny fish. He curses the sea and searches the side of the cliff for an escape route. Are we trapped? I cling onto my own bucket, my eyes filling with tears.
‘Do we have to swim daddy?’ I ask. I’ve just achieved my 20 metre swimming badge at school. We could make it if Dad carries me on his shoulders like he does in the leisure centre. The waves crash against the cliffs and the rock pools at our feet are overflowing.
‘We have to climb’ he says. I stare up at the cliff. It is a stone giant with jagged skin sprouting rocks and sharp grass. Dad rips the lid off my bucket and pours my treasures away, but I don’t care. They are natives and we are castaways.
‘Can you carry me please?’ I beg, grabbing his arm.
‘No, you go first so I can catch you if you fall.’ He assures me. I’m too afraid to argue. Waves splash around me and I can’t tell if the salt on my lips is the sea spray or my own tears.
The bottom of the cliff is sheer rock with no footholds or soft openings in which to dig my fingers. Dad lifts me up the side and I slap the wall, searching for a safe hold. I grip a sturdy rock and pull myself up. My leg slips out of Dad’s wet hands and my knee scrapes along the chalk.
After five or six feet, we pass the sign that reads “DO NOT CLIMB!” Beyond this point the layers of condensed white rock have eroded into the clay and it’s difficult to find a footing. Every few feet the clay slumps over the rocks and I’m able to dig my hands easily into the mud, but it doesn’t feel stable. Like climbing through play dough. Each layer of the cliff presents a different challenge. Shale and boulder clay crumbles as I scramble onto ledges. I grasp patches of grass but the roots tear away in my hands. I squeeze my feet into dark holes and startled insects buzz in my face. The wind blows sand and dirt into my eyes, but I can’t spare a hand to wipe them clear.
Finally I find a solid grip on the rocks and stop to take a breath. Hooking one hand into the cliff, I let go with the other to rub my eyes. I lean back for a better view of the sea boiling beneath us. We’ve climbed nearly 20 feet and now that the slope isn’t as steep I appreciate the height. I’ve heard of people being afraid of heights, but I’ve never been able to test myself for the phobia. I’m clear. Despite the dried tears on my cheeks and the tremble in my arms, I feel exhilarated. We are scaling a mountain with no safety harness. We are conquering Everest.
‘Keep going!’ Dad yells.
As we near the top, a sweet breeze pours over the edge of the cliff, promising salvation. I reach over the summit and claw at the grass until dirt pinches the inside of my fingernails. With the last of my strength I drag myself over the top and swing around to offer Dad my hand. He doesn’t take it. He clambers out of danger and we kneel on the grass to catch our breath.
‘Don’t tell your mother about that.’ Dad grumbles, smacking the filth off his knees.
‘I’m okay Dad. I wasn’t scared.’
The cliff top is carpeted with the green fields of Filey Country Park. Across the fields we see the car park and the reception for the caravan site.
‘Come on.’ Dad urges. We roll our trousers down our bruised legs and hobble towards the solitary building which contains the gift shop, cafe, public toilet and tourist information office.
Amongst the jumble of souvenirs, buckets and spades, inflatable dolphins and snorkels we find a rack of flip flops. Dad tells me to pick some. These are the first pair of shoes I’ve ever chosen for myself. I settle on a green pair with a cartoon turtle on the insole. They are a size too big, but mum always buys my shoes too big and insists I’ll “grow into them.” Dad chooses some black ones and we shuffle barefoot to the counter. The sales assistant peers over at our feet and the wet footprints that followed us in.
‘You’ll be wanting t’wear these now then?’ She says, picking up a pair of scissors. Dad nods and offers her a soggy £5 note. ‘What happened to your shoes? Have you been paddling?’ She asks and snips the plastic tags off.
‘Yeah.’ He says, snatching the flip flops back. ‘Something like that.’ He slaps them onto the tiled floor and slips his feet inside. I’ve never seen an adult lie before. I realise then that what we’ve just done was either very naughty or very stupid. Is Dad worried about being told off? I keep quiet and wiggle my toes into the new footwear. We flip flop back to the car, empty handed.
The next day Dad takes me to a real shoe shop. He buys me a new pair of pink trainers; identical to the ones I lost at sea. He says I should leave my flip flops at his house. He returns me to Mum’s and tells me not to talk about what happened at Filey Brigg. I don’t tell her, but I think she’s becoming suspicious because I never wear my favourite trainers anymore.
This piece formed part of my coursework for Open University module A215. We were challenged to use the tools of fiction to write a piece of Life Writing. I chose this memory because I’ve always been proud of my brave young self and wanted to give her a moment to shine and as a warning to others… Always keep your eye on the tide!