The day disaster struck.

On Sunday, I was driving from Mynydd Mawr to camp further up the North coast of the Llyn. Having got somewhat lost along the myriad of little lanes, I ended up somewhere I hadn’t intended to be at all. When I saw a parking and picnic area, I decided to pull in and consult my maps in the hope of discovering my location. A notice board at the picnic site told me this was the carpark for Penllech Beach. From here, there was a footpath leading across some fields, past waterfalls and down to the beach. It was early in the day and I was in no hurry, so we headed off to the beach. I had no idea that I would not be returning to that car park in the manner in which I left it.

Some rough steps led down to the beach and this walkway ended in smooth rocks on which I almost slipped. There wasn’t another soul on the beach at that time of the morning. As I walked along the shoreline, I experienced a fleeting moment of apprehension, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to be here alone. I should have heeded my instincts and those of my dogs. I sat on a rock to watch the waves breaking on the sand. Jessie dog came to sit beside me and huddled in to my side, making me wonder if she wasn’t feeling well as she would usually be avidly sniffing along the beach.

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Penllech beach

I got up and began walking back to the other end of the beach, and passed the steps we had come down. As we passed the steps, Morgan dog ran up them and sat waiting at the top. I tell him we are not going back up yet, we haven’t been here long. I continue along and look back to see Morgan is still sat at the top of the steps, as if he wants to go. I wonder if he, too, isn’t feeling well as he doesn’t seem to be as keen as usual, either. I call to him several times and finally he is persuaded to come down and follow.

Jessie dog then begins to play fight with him, trying to get him to play chase. He takes off, with her in hot pursuit. I’m looking up at the gorge where the waterfalls down to the beach are just out of sight, wondering how I can get across the stream to take a photograph. Too late, I turn to see Morgan hurtling towards me, not looking at where he is going but looking over his shoulder at Jessie chasing him. I don’t have time to get out of the way. Twenty-eight kilos of dog slam in to the side of my knee. I scream and hit the sand like a sack of spuds. The pain in my leg is excruciating, radiating from my kneecap down to my foot. I lie there in shock and pain, with the two dogs sat beside me. I fear my leg may be broken. I am on the edge of the water, with the waves of the sea seeping into my clothing and soaking my shoes. I tell myself I must get up, I must get out of the water. I try to turn over to get to my knees but I can’t move the injured leg. I pull myself into a sitting position in the water, wondering what on earth I’m going to do. I manage to pull my rucksack off my back to get to my mobile phone which is inside. No signal.

I look around me and see a couple walking along the coastal path. They come down the steps toward me and ask if I am alright; they had heard my scream and seen the whole thing. They lift me to my feet and I try to walk but each time I try to put weight on my left leg it gives way beneath me. It feels like my knee is folding inwards and I’m beginning to feel really scared.

The realisation that I may be seriously injured throws me into a panic. Maybe it was shock, I don’t know, but all I can think is that if I can just get back to my camper and lie down, I will be alright. Another lady comes along at that moment and asks if she can help. Her name is Liz, she’s from New Zealand, and she’s staying at a place on top of the cliffs. Between them they managed to help me to the bottom of the steps.

I have a brainwave born of fear and desperation. If I could just brace my knee, and with the aid of my walking stick (which is in the van), I am certain I can walk back to the van. Liz goes off to see if she can find something to bandage my knee. Jacqui, the lady who found me, takes my keys to go and get my stick. Twenty minutes or so later, my knee is bandaged up, I have my stick and a lady on each side of me. I take one step and my knee gives way again with an excruciating bolt of pain.

Another lady, Jo, arrives and says she is going to call for air ambulance, at which point I dig my stubborn heels further into the sand. No, no, no, that is not going to happen, I tell her. I just need to get my dogs and myself back to the van and rest up and then I will be fine. She says, okay, she is just going to go and ask a local farmer if he can get his quad-bike down here to get me back to the van.

When she comes back it is to tell me she has called for an ambulance. I tell her I am not going in any ambulance, I will not leave my dogs. My dogs have been huddled up to me all the time I’ve been sat on the steps. Honey, she says, you are not going to get off this beach without a stretcher, you can’t walk. You need to get that leg seen to. Listen, she adds, they’ll probably just stretcher you back to your van, check you over and say everything’s fine, so don’t worry, okay?

This reassures me. I now think this is what will happen. As we sit and wait and the kind ladies are chatting, I am formulating a plan. When me and the dogs are back in the camper, I will stay parked up in there in the camper until my knee is feeling better. I tell myself it will be better by tomorrow. I know now that due to shock, or panic, I wasn’t thinking straight at all, but at the time it all seemed perfectly plausible to me.

Then half a dozen people turn up in red overalls; they are a marine rescue team who had been on a training exercise up on the headland somewhere and had picked up the emergency call. They say the ambulance is on its way but has been held up by a trailer of silage along the lane. A short while later, half a dozen ambulance crew arrive. They ask me lots of questions like ‘can I feel my toes’, etc. I apologise profusely for the trouble I’ve put them to but say I’ll be okay if they can just get me back to my camper so I can lie down, I’ll be right as rain in no time. I am not leaving my dogs, I tell them.

The kind ladies say I must not worry about the dogs, they will look after the dogs for me until I get back. Jo owns a camp site over the hill. She’s going to drive my van back to her site for me and look after my dogs until I return. There won’t be any need to look after my dogs, I’m thinking, because I’m only going as far as my van.

An ambulance man explains how they’re going to carry me out on a stretcher back to the car park. They put my leg in a brace. They have to carry me across fields and across a stream, poor things. Back at the car park, they have me inside that ambulance before I have time to blink, and we’re on our way to the nearest hospital with x-rays facilities. The ride seems to go on for ever; as well it might because they’re taking me to Bangor. Then begins an interminable wait as I sit in a wheel chair, in my still damp clothing and shoes, staring at the walls, waiting to be seen. It is five hours later when I am finally discharged with a pair of crutches and my leg in splints (with no idea that I would be in those splints for months).

I ask the nurse for the number of a taxi cab to take me back down the coast. She tells me I don’t want to do that, it will cost me an arm and a leg if I hire one from Bangor and that I would be better off getting one to come up from Porth Colmon. I am at my wits end, now. I tell her that would mean waiting an extra hour and a half before they got here. I tell her I’m exhausted, I haven’t eaten for over eight hours, and I don’t care how much it costs, I want to leave now. If able, I would have stamped my foot, I’m sure. I can become as cantankerous and grumpy as the next person, when sorely pressed.

You have had a day of it, haven’t you, the nurse says, and comes back with a sandwich, a cup of tea, and the number of the cab. Seventy pounds it will cost to get me back to my camper and it is worth every penny. One and a half hours later, I am reunited with my dogs, and Liz and her friend, Lynn, make me a cup of tea. I sit on the step of my camper to drink it because I don’t feel strong enough yet to hoist myself up the steps, bum first.

As I’m sat there and Liz is making up a bed for me in the camper, I begin to feel very ill indeed. Lights are flashing in front of my eyes. I am sweating profusely and begin to feel sick. I tell Liz I’m not feeling well. She gets a cloth and drapes it over the back of my neck and tells me to breathe. I start throwing up. I can’t sit up any longer, I have to lie down or I’m going to collapse. The sky is full of flashing lights and I hear Liz say ‘we need to get her in the recovery position’. Then my hearing goes and all I can hear is the pounding of waves inside my ears. Next thing I know, I’m on the ground with a pillow under my head.

Next day, I am laid up in the camper. Jo, the campsite owner, tells me I am welcome to stay as long as I like and they will help me as long as needed. I decide it is time to get back to family, and so my daughter tries to arrange some way of getting me and my camper back to her place in Shropshire. Meanwhile, Liz and Jo have walked the dogs for me, fetched water for me, and gone out to buy some provisions for me.

It was an unlucky accident, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I can’t help but think of the ‘what if’s’.  What if the tide had been coming in and not out? What if no one had come by? What if my injuries had been life-threatening?

I shall never forget how I was blessed by the kindness and help of strangers; and the efficiency of the marine rescue and ambulance teams was second to none.

Jacqui from the Yorkshire Dales, Liz and Lynn from New Zealand, and Jo from the Moel-y-berth campsite at Porth Colmon; I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I shall never forget your help and kindness.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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22 thoughts on “The day disaster struck.

  1. Oh Jenny, what a catalogue of disasters – and what a lovely tribute to human kindness. I wish you better health very quickly. I’ve been meaning to say we must have been on Shell Island on the same day and in the area at the same time.Thinking about it I did see someone walking around whose skirt was in disarray in Barmouth! Anyway, I hope your family are taking good care of you. Love judith.

  2. Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! I know exactly where you were. We hiked there last year. Yikes. Get better!

    • Oh, Jenny – I read your post with tears in my eyes. I would feel the same about my beloved dogs. How wonderful, though, that you had the kindness of strangers – an uplifting experience, despite the pain and anxiety you suffered. Look after yourself, dear Jenny.

      • Hi, Lynn. You are a kindred spirit! I was in pieces at the thought of leaving them; they were so bewildered and frightened when the rescue teams arrived. They haven’t forgotten the experience. I have to rely on others to walk them for me, now, and they are still reluctant to go without me.

    • I couldn’t have been in a more awkward place to get out of, could I? Those poor men carrying me off on the stretcher were huffing and puffing by the time we got back to the car-park! It was one of those moments when I wished I was a petite 8 stone!

  3. Oh heck Jenny! I have been following your travels with interest and it did cross my mind how brave you were going it alone. Thank goodness someone came along to assist you. Speedy recovery

  4. Oh, my word, Jenny! I wondered if something had happened to you because I was missing the next installment of your trip. I had a sixth sense all was not well…what an awful thing to happen – but how fortuitous that there were such wonderful people on hand to help you. I wonder if your dogs had a premonition of disaster? I was so scared reading your story that I thought you were going to be attacked! It is wonderful that you are able to write with such clarity and verve after the event. Get better very, very soon! And hopefully back on your trip in a month or so!

    • Thanks, Malla, your comments always cheer me. They say dogs can sense things that we can’t. I wish I’d heeded Morgan and left when he wanted to go, and wish I’d heeded my own bad feeling on arriving there. I’m not one for sitting about doing nothing, at the best of times, so hope I’m not laid up for too long else I shall go stir crazy!

  5. You poor thing, Jenny! what a shocker and a bummer…hope sweet Jessie & Morgan are not feeling guilty for the ‘trip’ up… I guess it’s time to just chill…poke around next summer…wishing you quick healing, of limb and spirit…and yeah, ya gotta hand it to those ‘strangers’ coming to your rescue – now you can quote Blanche Duboise with some fanfare: ‘I always depended on the kindness of strangers…’ (credit to ole Tennessee Williams for that great line!) — a part I always wanted to play, never got the chance…:)) oh, and I had a petite fall at home, tripped coming in from the garden and voila! finger needs plastic surgery to remove bone chips…c’est la vie!
    Love from your Canadian fan,
    Sylvia xox!

    • Thanks, Scott. I’m praying I won’t be laid up for too long. I’ll write about that trip to Shropshire soon – all I will say about it at this time is that I was ready to jump out the window two hours into the four and a half hour journey!

  6. Oh Jenny. This has made me cry! You poor thing! Such trauma and so much anxiety for your dear dogs. I would have felt exactly that same worry about leaving them. Thank goodness you had so much wonderful and kind help from the people around you. It sounds as if they were real angels. What a terrible thing to happen! I so hope you are on the road to recovery now, and will wait for the next post to see what came next!

  7. Your account of this awful experience is wonderful, Jenny, if that’s any comfort at all! That we can visualise it so clearly from your point of view is a tribute to the superb telling of the tale. A horrible thing to happen, but confirmation that kindness in strangers is alive and well. Here’s willing a swift return to mobility and the grand tour.

    • Bless you, Christina, for the wonderful compliment! The kindness of strangers, proving that we are never truly alone in a crisis, is a huge positive I will take from this experience. I’ve seen a consultant today and he estimates it will be 4 to 6 weeks before I am back to normal. Summer will almost be over by then but I’m pleased to hear it wont’ be longer. Think I have been lucky, all things considered.

  8. And not once do you get mad at a dog who was not looking where he was going. Yes, I know. A dog can’t be blamed! But if I were injured and crabby and in pain, I fear I would forget this. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing.

    • Hi Paula, no it wasn’t the poor dog’s fault. It’s made me much more aware of how dangerous such innocent play can be. Thank heavens it was me and not someone else who got hurt. And the genuine concern and kindness of those people has restored my faith in human nature.

  9. Blimey, Jenny, what a tale! These things happen so fast don’t they? Why do we ignore that little wise voice inside our heads? I would have felt exactly the same about my dog, when he was alive. Yours are very lucky to be so beloved. I hope you are healing up now and feeling better. What a shock for you and such a shame to curtail your wonderful adventure but great to hear this testament to human kindness. The thought of the tide coming in makes me shiver, as I live on Gower where the tide races in very fast. Mind you, this was a great piece of writing! No lasting brain damage I think!

    • Haha! No, the brain is intact, I hope. Too many times I have ignored that little voice – it seems that to ignore or dismiss is too often my first response when my instincts are on alert, and always to my detriment, I’m afraid.

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