I’m concentrating on turning out the perfect sandcastle from Laura’s small pink bucket when I feel a sudden, unaccountable cold sensation at the back of my skirt.
Only when I realise that it’s also a very wet sensation do I swivel round to check the advancing line of the tide. In best pantomime tradition, it’s behind me. It’s taken me by complete surprise, as if playing an oceanic version of Grandmother’s Footsteps.
Our planned sand palace for Laura’s toy dog, Candyfloss, is fast segueing into a water park. But are we downhearted? No, we are turncoats. We immediately set to work making a river, digging a trench from the water’s edge to the rocks a few yards further up beach. We are the antidote to King Canute.
“Come on, sea!” Laura coaxes. “You can do it!”
On this broad, shallow beach on Skye, we’re on to a winner. Our labours are soon rewarded. Laura is disproportionately joyful; I do not reveal how startled I am by how quickly the tide has encroached.
It is a sobering reminder of man’s powerlessness against the forces of nature. Against the almost primeval setting of the vast, bleak landscapes of the Cuillin hills, it’s not hard to feel small and insignificant – but it’s also exhilarating.
What’s more, it’s a useful educational experience for Laura. I’m hoping an hour or two on the beach will counteract the hours misspent watching her favourite television programme, Sponge Bob Square Pants, set at the bottom of the ocean and defying all laws of nature. In Bikini Bottom, life carries on much as on dry land – only sillier. Repeated exposure colours your perception of reality.
Even I find myself pleased to spot a starfish (as in Sponge Bob’s best friend, Patrick Star) when we take a glass-bottomed boat ride a couple of days before. On the kelp beds beneath the Skye Bridge, there are numerous sea urchins – beautiful, fragile, spiny domes in ethereal shades of mauve, pink and flesh. “So why are there no sea urchins in Sponge Bob?” I wonder, before I can stop myself.
Paddling in the warm shallows at Glenbrittle, I scoop up a tiny crab in one of Laura’s plastic spades. What’s the first thing I think of? Mr Crabs, the miserly fast-food entrepreneur who is Sponge Bob’s employer. I really need to get out more.
Finally, Queen Anticanute’s work is done.
“I’ve made a rock pool!” she rejoices, waving her spade.
Promptly abandoning her post to let the tide demolish her sandcastles, she skips off to romp through the shallows with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy, kicking and jumping about until she’s dappled with saltwater splashes.
Picking up her abandoned turquoise fleece to save it from the encroaching tide, I take shadowy snapshots against the westerly sun, vicariously enjoying her childlike pleasure in the sea.
She’s not really dressed for a dip, but in budding rock-chick style is wearing scarlet pedal-pushers beneath her new black “Stonehenge Rocks!” t-shirt. Her thick dark blonde hair has been dragged into a plait down her back to guard against the tangling effect of today’s strong winds, currently buffeting her daddy along the top of the Cuillin hills behind us. I wonder how long it will be before she’s a rock-chick in earnest, jaunting off to Glastonbury with her boyfriend. But for now I capture these moments in my camera in hope of freezing the passage of time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I espy four young German boys clambering over the black rocks that line the bay. I hope they have an eye on the tide and will not be cut off from a safe return.
Time and tide, my friends, time and tide.