Belfast Telegraph

The day my family met dragons on a Cornwall beach

By Frances Burscough

A Burscough family mystery that has lasted most of a lifetime was finally solved this week. In order to explain, let me take you back 17 years to a summer holiday in Cornwall. I was still married back then; Luke, my elder son was four and a half and Finn, his wee brother, was just a baby of a few months old. The four of us flew into Bristol airport from Belfast and then hired a car to drive down to the south coast where we were meeting up with my entire family for a week-long gathering. My mum and dad were there, as were my seven brothers and sisters and all their husbands, wives and children.

It was the first time we'd holidayed together as a family since we were kids ourselves and as you can imagine it had taken a monumental amount of organising to get everyone in one place from the four corners of the British Isles. But finally we arrived at the picturesque Whitsands Bay Hotel overlooking the open sea, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the beach below was beckoning and we just knew it was going to be a wonderful week.

Now, I must admit I hadn't been looking forward to all that travelling with two youngsters in tow. To keep Luke entertained, I had brought a children's story book all about the myths and legends of Cornwall. It kept him riveted for the whole journey but he especially loved the one about the dragon which used to terrorise locals. I must have read and re-read it to him five or six times before we arrived. It kept him amused alright, but now of course he was convinced he was going to see a dragon on holiday.

However, his mind was taken off it the moment we pulled up to the hotel car park where he spotted his cousins Madeleine and Simon about to set off to the beach clutching fishing nets, buckets and spades. My sister Marie was delighted for Luke to tag along too, allowing us a free hour to check in to our room and then let everyone else know that we'd arrived in one piece.

About an hour later as I was chatting in the hotel lounge with mum and dad, Luke came bolting in through the doors, incandescent with excitement.

“Mummy, mummy, mummy, there are dragons on the beach!” he managed through bated breaths.

“Yes, of course there are, son!” I replied, winking at my mum knowingly.

So, after much persuasion (I was exhausted after all that travelling) I finished my coffee and then Luke dragged me by the hand down the steps to the sandy cove below. He pointed at a black glossy mound between some rocks that looked like seaweed from a distance, but as we got closer I realised the mound was made up of lots of small pieces of something-or-other made of shiny black plastic.

What the heck ...?

I kneeled down to take a closer look, lifted one up and, sure enough, it was a dragon. A miniature dragon perfectly moulded onto a standard Lego block. And there were hundreds of them, all identical, almost as though someone had taken a brand new box of Lego pieces and shaken it out onto the sand.

How bizarre! Luke was looking up at me, demanding an explanation. Mummys know everything, after all.

The best I could offer was that someone must have dropped them there by mistake.

So, we all filled our pockets, buckets and spades with the strange, unexpected bounty and for the rest of the holiday it was henceforth known as Lego Beach. The kids, of course, were in their element, because as soon as they grew tired of paddling, beach-combing and making sand castles they just grabbed a handful of Lego pieces and started building.

And so it remained, an unsolved mystery for 17 years. Of course, Lego doesn't interest them any more, so their collection (including all the bits we brought home with us off that beach) was stashed away years ago in a dusty box up in the loft where it remained forgotten. Until this week, that is!

My hawk-eyed sister Lucy spotted an article on the BBC news website: “The Cornish beaches where Lego keeps washing up. By Mario Cacciottolo.”

Oh my GOD! There it was, all explained in detail, the whole story, how, when and why!

Apparently a container vessel carrying a massive shipment of Lego to New York encountered very rough seas off the coast of Lands End in February 1997. As a result of the severe turbulance, half its cargo crashed into the sea. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The story is truly fascinating; not just for my family, but for anyone who is interested in the way the tides work.

This was a new Lego “concept” collection, inspired by children's adventure stories of castles, knights, pirates, dungeons and dragons. It seems that within a few days bits of the cargo had already started washing up along the shores of Cornwall and the first pieces to emerge were — you guessed it — the dragons.

This has been going on ever since. Every time there was a rough sea and a high tide, more pieces emerge from the deep. They are now collectors items too, with the black dragons being the most sought-after pieces of them all.

Here's a link to the article, just in case you think I'm making the whole thing up: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28367198

Check it out, it's a fascinating tale.

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