With this month’s epic snowfall already a distant memory, Gayle discovers she can still go sledging – on sand dunes!
It seemed like I was the only person in Scotland without a sledge.
Snowed in and unable to persuade my silly-tyred car to move, I watched with envy as friends, family members and colleagues posted pictures and videos of themselves sledging on golf courses, hills, parks and streets up and down the country.
Sitting at home with no way of getting my hands on a sledge of my own, I gave skiing a bash in a snow-packed field next to my house, but it proved to be a complete disaster.
The white stuff was just too powdery and I simply sank down into it.
Ironically, it wasn’t until the snow had melted and the big thaw commenced that I stumbled on a sledge I’d owned since I was a kid.
I found it as I was clearing out a garden shed, cracked and covered in dust and cobwebs, hidden behind an old chest of drawers.
While annoyed I hadn’t found this red plastic specimen earlier, I was determined to give it a run for its money whether or not snow was in the mix.
Being five miles from gorgeous Balmedie Beach, with its stunning sand dune system, I wondered if I might try it out there.
A quick search online revealed that, indeed, many others had attempted “sandboarding” or “sand sledging” there with varying degrees of success.
Most folk seemed to have loved it, and I didn’t find any references to accidents or bones being broken, which was reassuring.
Buoyed up by the idea of it, off I went last weekend for a recce.
Within a five minute walk of the car park, there’s a vast expanse of golden sand circled by dunes on all sides – a bit like an amphitheatre. And there were quite a few folk performing.
All were grinning from ear to ear and laughing, and while they were having heaps of fun, I was struck with a combination of fear and stage fright.
Some of the dunes are exceptionally steep and there was a fair bit of ice hanging around.
It didn’t help that a group of screeching young boys, full of bravado, were zipping down the steepest sections, some of them tumbling out of their sledges and rolling to the bottom, but thankfully emerging unscathed.
I feared I might make a fool of myself among all these confident lads, but then I spotted a lady who appeared to be well into her 70s having a bash.
She didn’t seem to have a care in the world, so I pulled on my brave pants, identified a slope with a very gentle gradient, and just went for it. Woohoo!
I soon realised I didn’t give a hoot what people thought – nobody was interested – and as long as I steered clear of the perpendicular slopes, I wouldn’t end up hospitalised.
As the morning wore on, my confidence soared and I found myself zooming down increasingly steep slopes.
I avoided the really big ones, reasoning my sledge, which is very, very old and cracked, and indeed tied together with bits of baler twine, had done me proud.
By some miracle, I managed not to tumble over or crash into people or dogs, although at one stage I did fear I was going to flatten a chihuahua that was blocking my path.
I’d reached full speed (it felt like about 60mph but it can’t have been) and I was cascading out of control.
I managed to swerve at the last minute to avoid the tiny dog, but it was a close call.
I’ll definitely return to the dunes for sledging fun again soon, although I’ve no idea what conditions to expect when (in spring or summer) there won’t be any ice to speed things up.
The beach is a fantastic place to visit, whatever you do there.
The sand dune system is the fifth-largest in the UK and is constantly shifting and expanding.
The dunes, held in place by marram grass, support a wide range of wildlife, including 225 species of birds.
Meanwhile, the beach is an exciting place for Second World War enthusiasts.
It was used as a bomb cemetery – unexploded bombs would be cleaned and detonated on the foreshore. Remnants of war defences can still be found on the beach, including concrete pillboxes and anti-tank blocks.
A wee request to anyone visiting the beach – please don’t park in the area dedicated to horse trailers and lorries.
There are loads, and I mean loads, of parking spaces if you drive through the admittedly scarily tight-looking barriers (yes, you’ll make it through in your van or 4×4) and riders will thank for you it.
I noticed a couple of horse lorries having to turn around and drive off, their plans for the day ruined, as a result of cars nicking their dedicated spaces, and that’s not fair.
After all, the beach is there to be enjoyed by everyone.
- Please observe government coronavirus safety guidelines in all outdoor activities.