sounding out the coast

In the last month I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the Dorset coast, for work and leisure. Like millions of other Brits I love going to the seaside: it’s a place where you can feel alive and at one with the natural world and the elements.

The clanking of the chain ferry is a re-assuring sounds on the Dorset coast between Sandbanks and Studland

The clanking of the chain ferry is a re-assuring sounds on the Dorset coast between Sandbanks and Studland

These last few trips have got me thinking about the sounds of the coast. Our relationship with the coastline of the UK is shaped by a deeply sensory experience. All of our senses are heightened when on the coast whether it’s the touch of sand between our toes or the smells of fish and chips making us feel hungry after a busy day building sandcastles.

There is something interesting about coastal sounds. Ask people about a sound of the coast and most would say waves, sea gulls or perhaps children laughing on the beach. And yet the coast provides a rich tapestry of sounds if you tune in to them. You’ll need to block out everything else but you can quite quickly build up your own unique and very personal soundscape.

I tried this approach on Lyme Regis beach and the impact was amazing. The sounds of the poles for wind breaks being hammered into the ground, the masts of the yachts in the harbour flapping in the wind and hum of fishing boat engines as they returned to harbour. Yes there was lots of familiar and re-assuring sounds – my daughter yelping with delight as she ran in and out of the water or the tap, tap, tap of someone building a sandscastle – but it was a lesson in how you can see the world anew using your ears.

My second trip to the Dorset coast was based around Sandbanks, a highly developed part of the south coast. A boat trip around Brownsea Island saw the wind whipping through the boat, the noise of the chugging engine and the chatter of people talking; there was lots of competition for your attention but you got a sense of the place through the sounds you heard.

And then there was the intense and almost industrial sound of the clank, clank, clank of the chain ferry as it takes people between Sandbanks and Studland. This short trip is repeated hundreds of times a week and sounds reflect the journeys made to work, school and the beach.

The sounds of the coastline and the memories that we have of them is shaped by our relationship with the coast. The sounds of leisure and day trips tend to dominate our sound memory banks yet the daily life of people going to work or working on the coast is an important part of the soundscape that follows the contours of the British coastline.

So next time you’re at the coast trying tuning into the world around you and you might be surprised by what you hear.

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One response to “sounding out the coast

  1. I remember it well from the 70s and 80s. First time was escaping from a snowbound Swanage where we’d been stranded for two days until the road to Sandbanks had been cleared.

    Sandbanks was shrounded in sea mist, and we couldn’t see the other bank. Eventually the ferry came looming out of the mist, but it wasn’t until we we half way across that we realised how short a distance it covered.

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