Sunderland Point


Maggie B Dickinson

Based on a true story.  I had a similar version published in Northern Life

Sunderland Point
Sunderland Point looking inland towards the Bowland Hills

When it comes to secrets, the tiny village of Sunderland Point leads the field.

Growing out of a peat bog, lashed by westerly gales, cut off by the tide twice a day – and with its only claim to fame being a disappeared cotton tree and a poor slave’s grave – this far flung corner of Lancashire, at its soggiest, was not her idea of a romantic venue.

Jack Denton who looked a lot like Zac Efron, danced after the fashion of Bruno Mars, had a cheeky grin and a superb physique which nudged six feet four inches tall.  As a serial charmer he had a rare gift in one so young for enthralling listeners with his vast knowledge and amazing jokes.   Maddy and her friends who went clubbing at Mojo’s in Lancaster idolised him.

When he first chatted her up Maddy had pretended to enjoy long country walks, bird watching, local history and even studying ornamental fallpipe brackets.  She would have professed to like anything at all in order to get a date with Jack: even tofu and lettuce.

The lunch period seemed a strange time for their date but, as it happened, it provided a jaw-dropping moment when Jack pulled up in a brand new Lamborghini Aventador at the door of the offices where she worked.  Her boss whistled and, turning to his secretary said  ‘A cool half million there.  The guy must be loaded.’

Sambo's Grave
Sunderland Point. The footpath to Sambo’s Grave.

As they approached Sunderland Point a warning sign about the tides showed itself next to a large board of details, just after The Globe Inn in Overton.

Jack was impatient and they passed it far too quickly for Maddy to read the timetable.  The sky looked threatening as he revved the accelerator and literally took off over the causeway with the car’s mega-speakers belting out an up-beat base that competed with the throaty engine.   ‘We need to know when the tide comes in,’ squealed Maddy.  ‘Don’t worry,’  he laughed, ‘I’m sure we’ve plenty of time.’


Mrs Green went out to fetch the sandbags for her doorstep.  The next tide would be exceptionally high according to the Met Office warning and already the causeway had become submerged.  Running in her direction was her neighbour Joe, pointing furiously towards a red car parked on the shore down below her garden wall.

‘Whoever owns that is a bloody idiot.’ he said.  ‘It’s worth a few bob, an’ all.’

‘I’ll fetch the chains,’ said Mrs Green, ‘otherwise they’ll never see it again.’ 

Maddy’s new white boots had sunk into the mud on the narrow path which headed across the tiny spit of land leading to its western shore.  The rain, which had started gently enough, was now spearing them horizontally and her tights, valanced by a belt posing as a skirt, gave little protection from the biting wind which had suddenly whipped up.

‘Nearly there,’ yelled Jack, over his shoulder.  ‘You’ll find it fascinating.’

Sambo's grave, Sunderland Point
The grave, its mementos and the memorial plaque

The simple headstone, with its back to the sea, was surrounded by mementos to Sambo who was buried in unconsecrated ground. Reverend Watson, a schoolteacher, raised sufficient money in 1795 to erect this memorial to the poor soul and also wrote an elegy which is quoted on a plaque.  It has become a shrine, despite its location, and the cared-for grave bears wooden carvings, painted stones, toys and wild flowers.

Jack read Reverend Watson’s elegy with the panache of a thespian.

Full sixty years the angry winter’s wave,

Has thundering dashed this bleak and barren shore,

Since Sambo’s head laid in this lonely grave,

Lies still and ne’er will hear their turmoil more. 

The skimpy denim jacket had become sodden and she was shivering uncontrollably.  What on earth was Jack thinking about, bringing her to this bleak outpost?

Full many a sand bird chirps upon the sod,

And many a moonlight elfin round him trips. 

A lengthy clump of hair, freshly crimped that morning, fell forward and as she brushed it away the back of her hand sported remnants of black mascara and ochre eye shadow which had now vacated the true areas and were adorning on her cheeks.  Very soon the tarantulas glued to her eyelids would drop off.

Full many a summer’s sunbeam warms the clod,

And many a teeming cloud upon him drips.

Maddy’s weak bladder was aggravated by trickling taps, baths a-running, rivers flowing, and oceans lapping shores.  Torrential rain was on the same menu.

But still he sleeps – till the awakening sounds,

Of the Archangel’s trump new life imparts.

Then the Great Judge his approbation founds,

Not on man’s colour but his worth of heart. 

Jack fished in his pocket for a stone on which he’d painted “Sambo. RIP” and placed it ceremoniously on the grave.

‘I need to spend a penny,’ said Maddy.  ‘Are there any toilets in the village?’

Jack pointed to a stile which gave access to the shore.  It was littered with synthetic flotsam, jetsam and the excreta of large dogs.  The debris was eerily overseen by the ugly mass of Heysham Power Station.  Unaccustomed as she was to the great outdoors she squatted downwind and relieved herself, wetting the back of her legs and her silk briefs into the bargain.

‘It’s wonderful, isn’t it,’ said Jack, when she returned to the grave.  ‘Sambo came here in 1736 as a captain’s servant.  They say he died of a broken heart because he thought his master had left him.  It’s more likely he died of some sickness he caught in his new surroundings.  I’ll show you Upsteps Cottage, where he breathed his last, it’s on the way to the cotton tree.’

Upsteps Cottage where Sambo died

Maddy’s teeth were chattering at the speed of a football rattle as Jack set off energetically back up the path which had now become a quagmire, but Maddy, in an effort to catch up, tripped on a stone and crashed headlong into the mud.  Seriously winded she lay there for a moment in the cloying wet bed where she had come to rest and as she shouted ‘Jack, help me,’ she realised from the blurry view of the eye-level grassy bank that her contact lenses had abandoned her pupils.

They grovelled in the mud with twigs, Maddy mentally juggling her bank balance, until they decided the lenses were lost for all time and set off for Upsteps Cottage and the cotton tree.  On the way Jack gave a running commentary about the tree, regaled her with more tidbits about Sambo, and laughed a lot at the full frontal mud she sported.

Before they even got to the cottage it was obvious that the tide had reached the land and was washing dramatically up onto the track and headlong for the properties which flanked the shore.

Jack burst into a run and from a distance Maddy saw him freeze, throw his arms in the air, and direct a string of obscenities towards the heavens.  His body slumped against a wall down which he slithered, coming to rest on his haunches.  As his head fell forward he simultaneously cradled it with arms, effecting an embryonic pose of Oscar-winning proportions.

Maddy leaned round the buildings to where she could get the view, albeit a hazy one, which had turned him into a diva.  There, at the end of a long chain, the Lambourghini was bonding with the ocean on which it was floating.

‘Your car’s getting wet.’

Jack stood up wearily and wailed  ‘It isn’t mine.  I’m a car mechanic.  It’s been in for a repair and I offered to check it out in my lunch break.’


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