The Bottle of Orange Juice at Musselwick Sands Pembrokeshire

One summer when our fourth child was still a baby we spent the day on Musselwick sands beyond Marloes village. This involved parking alongside the road and walking across a field to reach the little valley leading down to the beach (see photograph below of children that day with our oldest son carrying the bottle of orange juice). There is a large sand beach at low tide but nothing at high tide. The main access down the little valley has the problem that it arrives at the coast in cliffs and one has to wait until the tide is half way out to get onto the sand beach. Similarly the beach will empty suddenly as the tide returns to this level. My old grandmother who lived her life in Milford Haven always warned me to be very careful of Musselwick as she remembered a young girl who was cut off on the beach by an incoming tide and drowned there. However we discovered that there was in fact a narrow and difficult track up the face of the cliff with some very steep drops onto the beach below. We found that it was possible to get our family up this track so we were able to stay on the beach after most people had left. On this particular day we had enjoyed ourselves and stayed on so we had to leave by way of the narrow track. We would travel up the dangerous track as a group with myself leading, the children in the middle and Mrs R at the rear. By keeping together we could watch everyone and the children behaved responsibly and we had no accidents there. However on this particular day I was carrying a rucksack on my back, our youngest baby daughter Alice in my right arm and a large and half empty plastic bottle of orange juice in my left arm. All went well until I got to the final stretch at the very top of the cliff with a steep drop below me. It had rained and the final steep stretch was slippery. There are few handholds – only the grass on the sides of the narrow track. As I walked up the steep track my feet began to slip back so that I was walking up but sliding backwards. I had no hands free to clutch at the grass on either side. So I took a fast decision and threw the orange bottle over my shoulder so it fell onto the rocks at the foot of the cliffs below me. I was then able to grab handfuls of grass and get to the top. The rest of the family had no trouble joining me but then I was questioned by the children as to why I had thrown the orange juice away. I explained that I had been slipping backwards because I had no hands free and something had to go. It was either our youngest daughter Alice or the bottle of orange juice. I had chosen the latter. This captured the imagination of our children and the topic was much discussed for many years. In later years my wife decided that the track was too dangerous and refused to climb it again.

Many years later when Alice was a young woman of 18 years, a humorous version of the story was still being told in the family about how I had kept her and thrown the bottle of orange juice away. Alice did not see the seriousness of the situation. So the next time we were in Wales I suggested that I would take her up that cliff track and we would see for ourselves where and why the bottle was thrown away. We did this and the track was unchanged. When we got to the top it was exactly the same and even more slippery after more years of use. Alice was ahead of me up the slippery last few meters and sure enough she started slipping backwards. She became very frightened despite having her hands free to hold onto the grass. So I helped her up to the top. That was the end of the funny story about my Dad once had to decide about throwing either me or a bottle of orange juice over the cliff at Musselwick. Sadly her report on that path has resulted in the family never using that trail again.

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