As this page is written in 2006, the furore over the lack of a lifeguard at the popular St. Bees beach is still fresh in mind. There are times when the long shore further south can be equally dangerous- one of the contributors to this website, Ursula Banister, recalls that in her childhood visits to Braystones beach, children were allowed into the sea only when the adults judged the conditions to be right, and one adult was deputised to watch them without distraction until they all came out. This page will include, as I find them, stories of what happens when people ignore such simple safety precautions, beginning with a couple from 1972:
On Sunday 18 June 1972, four Mirehouse lads, all aged 15, were paddling their canoe off Coulderton beach when it capsized. They had no life-jackets, the mobile phone network hadn't been invented- and there were no telephone lines down to the beach, so somebody had to go up to Coulderton to alert the emergency services. The tide was on the way out, the waves were choppy, and attempts to swim out with a lifeline proved extremely hazardous, particularly for 62-year-old Joe Stephenson of Bransty. Two men set out in a boat, but that too capsized- luckily they were able to get themselves back to shore. Three friends from Whitehaven managed to reach the boys in another boat, despite the heavy seas, and hauled in three of them, while the fourth had managed to swim ashore, aided by another visitor. The lads, one of whom lost consciousness after being rescued, were taken (with Mr Stephenson) to West Cumberland Hospital. By the time the Inshore Rescue Boat arrived from St. Bees, the rescue was over- though the canoe was not recovered. [reported in the Whitehaven News, 22 Jun 1972]
One incident, around 1984, which did not find its way into the newspapers, involved three night-fishermen, at least one of whom should have known better. Fishing off Braystones as the tide came in, they failed to notice that as they walked out over the beach, they had actually been going slightly uphill. At least they did the least-worst thing when they finally realised that they were on a rapidly-shrinking island, and resigned themselves to getting very wet. As their bait-buckets started drifting away, they set off at a brisk wade towards the distant bungalows. The leader of the party was determined to keep his fishing tackle dry, and at one point, almost nothing could be seen of him but the arms doggedly keeping the prized equipment above the waves. For the two younger men, it was an extremely valuable life-experience, which stood them both in very good stead- but it's not a way of learning that can really be recommended.
In my book "Parton Party On", sampling one year per decade from the history of the village where I live, I reported on a rescue at St. Bees in 1965, involving courageous and decisive action by a Parton teenager named Alan Coyles. The Coyles family have had a bungalow at Nethertown for generations, and seven years later, on Saturday 5 August 1972, Alan's father, local councillor Oswald Coyles, was walking along the beach when he saw a worrying situation. Three girls had been cut off by the incoming tide, and one of them, a 13-year-old from Cleator Moor, was not able to wade back to shore- worse, she panicked when one of her friends went back out to help her. The first newspaper report of the incident [Whitehaven News, 10 Aug 1972] states that her father then arrived and tried to get out to her, but failed; however the Coyles family state that the father was not present [another news report, in the West Cumberland Times & Star, 12 Aug 1972, states that a Mr Nolan of Cleator Moor took part in the rescue, so he could have been mistaken for the girl's father]. Oswald ran and fetched his two sons (although Alan was now grown up and married, this was a family holiday) and Alan swam out to the girl. She was unconscious, so he gave her the kiss of life on the way back, and his brother Gordon helped get her above the tide line. Oswald Coyles (and, if I've interpreted the news reports correctly, Mr Nolan) forced the water out of her, and gave her artificial respiration on the shore. The men then carried her up to Nethertown Station, where the ambulance arrived some 20 minutes after the alert. The News states that she was kept in West Cumberland Hospital for two days, though the Times & Star states she was "not detained". [My thanks to Gordon's wife Marjorie and to Alan's wife Barbara, for providing eyewitness information via Marc Coyles]