Morecambe Bay in Lancashire is beautiful. If the weather isn’t great, it can be moody and atmospheric. And on a bright, clear day, it’s even more spectacular when you can see the magnificent Cumbrian mountains in the distance.
But whatever you do, don’t ever walk across the sand without the Queen’s Guide.
I went on a fundraising walk across the Bay in 2012 for a local charity called Galloway’s. There was a group of us following Cedric Robinson, the Queen’s Guide to the Sands. He had his trusty stick and his vast knowledge of the terrain, having been the Guide for many years. Needless to say, we all got across safely. Tired, wearing dirty boots on our exhausted feet, maybe a little smelly of damp mud, water and sand, but we got back safely.
But one day in August 2020, Simon and I visited Silverdale in Lancashire, overlooking Morecambe Bay. We walked along the beach towards Arnside, a little village located at the southern edge of Cumbria. I showed Simon the town across the bay, and told him that I believed it was Grange-over-Sands. I added that there was no way we could cross over there without the Queen’s Guide because of the danger of quicksand.
We carried on our walk, taking a route away from the beach, towards Arnside Tower, an ancient fortified ruin which deserves its own blog post. After a takeaway drink at a little cafe in Arnside, and a spot of plum picking, we headed back towards Silverdale, this time along the beach.
Curiously, while there had been many people on the beach earlier, these had all disappeared. It felt like we were the only ones, which might sound romantic except for what happened next, which was more reminiscent of a horror film.
Looking back, I remember signs warning of the danger of quicksand but assumed it meant sand further out. Of course, I knew it would be daft to trek across the Bay. I had said the very same thing earlier. But as we were walking very close to the edge of the beach, near the rocks leading away from the seaside towards the path, I thought nothing more about it, even when the sand started getting thicker, wetter and sludgier. The tide was coming in, yes, but it was still far off. No need to panic…
Thank goodness for my new walking shoes!
But new hiking shoes or not, it really was getting harder to actually walk through this diabolical sand. Alarmingly, I also realised that I was slowly sinking in with each step I was taking.
The realisation hit me. This was no ordinary sand, this was quicksand. In my naivety, I had assumed the quicksand was lurking ‘out there’ but actually it was here and I was in it and I could no longer move. I was sinking and I could not move my legs.
Simon was faring no better. Even worse, he was further out than me and carrying a heavy rucksack. Even Simon was in difficulty.
It was time to start panicking.
Thank goodness we weren’t too far from the safety of the rocks. Thank goodness Simon had the presence of mind to push me so I could clamber onto the cliff. I had lost one of my new walking shoes in the process but, again, thank goodness Simon found it (thinking it was a floating piece of litter at first) and threw it over to me before it was swallowed up by the mud.
One down, one to go. At first I assumed it would be easier for Simon to get out but he was a little further away and in the time that I had scrambled to safety, he had sunk even more. Despite his strength, he was having difficulty lifting his leg to take a step.
He was stuck.
It was like a horror film with a swamp monster hungrily looking for victims. The scary thing is that there really have been fatalities over the years. Perhaps the most famous case recently is the one of the Chinese cockle pickers in 2004. Tragically, 24 of them died.
Quicksand is a serious and deadly issue.
So these thoughts were going through my increasingly hysterical mind while I stood on the rocks. I felt that if I ran off to look for help, Simon would have disappeared under the sand by the time I got back. At one point, I desperately held out my handbag towards him to cling on to as if that would have helped.
Just as well Simon is clearer-headed than I am. Using determination, strength, willpower and sheer focus, he managed to lift one leg out of the muddy sand – and then the other. And again. One leg … at a time…
It was a slow process which felt like longer. But he got there.
Now there were two of us on the rocks, disbelieving as to what had just happened.
Simon told me that if he hadn’t have been able to get out, he would have tried to use his rucksack as leverage to propel him forwards. Watching survival expert Ray Mears on television has its uses!
The picture below shows a very muddy and relieved me.
Facts about Quicksand
- Quicksand is ‘loose wet sand that sucks in anything resting on it’ (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It forms in ‘saturated loose sand when the sand is suddenly agitated. When water in the sand cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that loses strength and cannot support weight’ (Wikipedia).
2. Guides to the Sands have used laurel branches for marking safe routes. They have done this for centuries.
3. These ‘brobs’ are seen in Turner’s paintings of Morecambe Bay.
4. According to Wikipedia, it is impossible for a person to sink ‘entirely into quicksand due to the higher density of the fluid…sinking beyond about waist height is impossible’. However, ‘continued or panicked movement, however, may cause a person to sink further… it can lead to a situation where other factors such as hypothermia etc may harm a trapped person’.