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Walking on frozen sand

The English coast - even down in the south-eastern corner - can get pretty chilly in the winter. Camber Sands, though, gave me my first ever experience of frozen sand. In the early morning as you climb up over the dunes to get to the beach below, there are deep marks of footprints and paw prints rigid in the icy sand, memories of other earlier walkers, now long gone.

When I visit on an early January morning there is just one rider, her horse and a companion on this vast beach - five miles long. The soft golden sand, the emptiness, the sheer size make this an inviting spot but it has its darker side. The five men who drowned here last August unfortunately knew nothing of this. Camber looks beautiful but it has treacherous, fast-moving tides and sand bars with deep channels of water between them. The sea was calm that day but it seemed to run rings round them and the tide moves in faster than a man can walk.

I remember recalling at the time of this awful incident a similarly sad story from the other side of the country, the north-west. In the nineteenth century, farmers would graze their cattle on the marshland around the Dee estuary near Chester. A young girl, Mary, was told by her father to bring the cattle in from the marshes but, lost in the mist and the rising tide, she drowned. She was found the next day by fishermen who first mistook her floating hair for seaweed. Charles Kingsley was haunted by this image and it inspired his famous poem, The Sands of Dee. I first came across it when I was a young girl and that has haunted me, too, springing immediately into my memory after the more recent tragedy.

It's cold but that's not the reason I feel a slight shudder as I walk back over the frozen footprints.

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