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Five Fingers by Emily S Cooper

Five Finger Strand is a beach that has lived many lives. Every few years the sand dunes are washed away, only to reappear realigned. When I was a child, the road down to the beach had a car park and a wall of concrete bollards, but is now just a steep dune valley leading into a rocky stream. For six months last year it was inaccessible. I drove down once to find two German tourists confusedly reading the No Entry sign. How can a public beach be off limits? I sent them to nearby Culdaff and advised they have a pint in McGrory’s.


As I walk around the edge of the water, I come to a calm inlet; a deep pool that is so still you can see the stones beneath. I seriously consider stripping and getting in, it is so inviting and although it is January, it’s unusually warm. In a certain mood I would have done it, but the winter is long at home and it’s not always easy to access the drive that you need for cold-water swimming. The dog jumps in and out. She’ll get in the sea when there is snow on the beach, doesn’t give a hoot.


Five Finger is named after the headland crags that scratch into the bay. It is geographically disorientating as the estuary that feeds into the beach separates you from the Isle of Doagh – not actually an island, but another land changed by shifting sands – which is around 40 minutes away by road. You could almost leap across the water, but it runs deep quickly, and the tides are strong and could take you at any time.


 There are deep pools in the sand. When the tide is out they look almost like oases, level with the sand, reflecting the clouds in the sky. The dog runs through one, caught unawares by the depth, stumbles and clambers out. As if to cover up her embarrassment, she runs enthusiastically into the next one, stumbles again as if it is all part of her plan. The beach is empty and I laugh and call her names. She flicks me a ‘and what?’ look over her shoulder and grabs a kelp stalk to trail in her wake.


When I was a little girl we came here for a walk. Before anyone could stop me, I ran full tilt into the water, determined to fit in a swim at home before we decamped back to London. I was undressed and wrapped in a blanket, my dress secured with the rolled up window to dry in the wind on the drive home.


It’s getting dark. The darkness here is so complete. I came one night with my mother and aunty looking for the northern lights. We sat up at a lookout above the beach for an hour before giving up. They told me they used to see them as children, but didn’t consider what they were; just part of the scenery, like the way the Swilly would change colour depending on what colour t-shirts the Fruit of the Loom factory was dyeing that day.


On the way back the dog sticks closer to me, she’s more wary when she’s tired. I see writing on the beach. Thinking it’s a New Year message or a declaration of love, I walk towards the sea to get a better view. It’s my name, Emily, written in huge letters. I look around, the beach is still deserted. I walk quickly to the car..

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