Category Archives: Cornwall

Re-charging the batteries at the coast

Clambering over some awesome rocks, revealed by a low tide, on Crackington Haven in north Cornwall on a breezy winter’s day reminded me that time spent at the coast can be a real tonic. For most Brits a trip to the seaside is a summer activity travelling to crowded coastal towns or packed beaches, full of a real buzz.  But going to the seaside out of season can show you the coastline in a new light.

The beach at Hunts Bay

Listening to the waves is a lovely way to feel calm and relaxed

I have always been a massive fan of the UK’s coast. As a kid I spent many a happy hour pottering around Dawlish Warren in Devon and more recently rock pooling with my son and daughter is probably top of my coastal pops (there is something so relaxing and joyful about staring at a small pool of water to find some crabs lurking in the seaweed or small fish swimming at speed to find cover).

A winter trip to the coastline (and we’re never really that far from it) is a must to keep you topped up with fresh air through the shorter days as the arrival of spring can be almost smelt with the blossoming of nature. It’s also somewhere where you can just do nothing in particular, wandering along sandy beaches, collecting shells or sea glass, or staring out to sea. Yes the British climate can make a day at the seaside an interesting one but kiting yourself out with waterproofs and warm cloths prepares you for almost anything.

Cycling along the Camel Trail to Padstow was a real battery charging experience. The light seemed to change every minute as the tide started to flow in the creeks and upstream and the calls of the wading birds created a wonderful soundscape to the pedalling. My daughter’s rosy cheeks summed up the simple joy of cycling by the seaside.

Spending time at the coast is magical and the unpredictably of the weather adds some spice to those days out. Winter time with the low sun and the thought of a wood burning stove in a local pub after a coastal walk is just as good and probably more atmospheric that a day at the coast in the height of summer.

A rain-soaked memory bank

I’ve just finished reading ‘Rain’ by Melissa Harrison. It’s a book that searches out those rain-soaked memories that lurk deep in your memory bank as you hungrily read the pages.

Weather has been a long-held fascination for the people of these islands. As Harrison points out it’s shaped the way that we live and the way that we think about our identity. Our countryside, our system of farming over the last 10,000 years and the wildlife that calls the UK home are all dependent on the weather.

As an island on the western edge of mainland Europe at the mercy of the full forces of the Atlantic and sweeping weather fronts you’d kind of expect this to be the case. Talking about the weather can help fill the voids of the awkward conversational moments when we run out of things to talk about. We’re always in a slight state of anxiety about what the weather will do today. The only predictable thing about the UK weather is its unpredictability.

The great thing about this is that it’s never boring on the weather front. We might not have the sun-baked summers of southern Europe or the sheet-white winters of northern Europe but this diversity of weather means that it plays such an important role of shaping our daily experiences, whether the journey to work or a summer holiday.

Years ago I remember visiting the sea cliff masterpiece that is Bempton on the Yorkshire coast. As we arrived to catch a glimpse of the seabirds at this RSPB site, storm clouds gathered in the distance. Despite the impending downpour a family, in true British bulldog spirit, was getting ready for a picnic. They were going to have their neatly cut sandwiches and a cup of tea whatever the weather. This speaks, for me, to something at the core of our national identity; shaped as much by our weather as any grandiose national narrative. We are what the weather throws at us; sculpting and creating beautiful landscapes and a total pragmatism in character, which is very British.

In many parts of the world when the rain comes people take shelter. In the UK we carry on as normal. On a work visit to Snowdonia I remember standing in a blanket bog in the driving rain talking about this important habitat. I can remember it as though it was yesterday and it feels like your body will take weeks to dry out.  Only in the UK would this happen.

When I think back to my childhood or time with my kids now, it’s the wilder weather that springs to mind. Wrapped on a Cornish beach with crashing waves or splashing in puddles at Victoria Park in Bath on a deserted day. I just love the weather and we should all grow to love its inclement nature.

We don’t want a rubbish coast

There is something very sad about seeing a beach littered with pink plastic bottles. Last week Poldhu beach in West Cornwall became the latest victim of stuff floating around in our seas. Yes this might have come from a container that disappeared over the side of a ship but it’s symbolic of our often casual attitude the oceans.

poldhupollution Steve Haywood

After an overnight high tide last week National Trust staff and volunteers were met with hundreds more pink detergent bottles washed up at Poldhu and Gunwalloe in West Cornwall. Over a thousand were cleared from Poldhu beach this morning, and the local opinion is that numbers are increasing not tailing off. The pink bottles are now also being found in Mount’s Bay, to the west of Poldhu.

Marine waste is a big issue. Our seas are full of the stuff. And the impact can be felt in terms of how our beaches look and the wildlife that calls the seaside that we all love home. Think of the last time that you were at the coast and some of the disregarded rubbish strewn along a beach. I remember being on a beautiful beach in south Pembrokeshire which was full of disregarded fishing nets; not a great experience for families and potentially lethal for seabirds.

A few years back the Head Ranger on the Farne Islands tweeted a picture of a seabird that he’d found tangled in a balloon. For this bird it would get a second chance but for many others they don’t. The picture quite rightly provoked a lot of concern about what is happening along our coastline.

Teams of coastal Rangers and volunteers help to keep our beaches clean. Their tireless efforts mean that we can enjoy beaches free of litter and sometimes potentially nasty surprises. The beach cleans that happen on a regular basis are a good indicator of the sheer volume of rubbish and the scale of the problem.

We can all do our bit to make sure that our waste footprint along the coast is zero (if there are no bins just take it home and don’t casually chuck your rubbish somewhere that people might not see it). And there needs to be more of an effort by Government to make sure that marine litter is reduced and that shipping and boats think about how they deal with their rubbish.

It really is rubbish to find a favourite beach or a spectacular stretch of coastline blighted by litter. Loads of people are keeping our coast special by helping to clear it up and we need to make sure that we’re not adding to the problem.

 

Life’s a beach

This week Trip Advisor released a list of the best twenty five beaches in the UK. We are spoilt for choice on these beautiful islands with some of the best beaches anywhere in the world.

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Four of the beaches on the list are places I know well – three of them owned by the National Trust (Godrevy, Rhossili and Barafundle). They’re all pretty different but resonate in terms of what makes a good beach.

Top of my pops would be Barafundle in Pembrokeshire (number 14 on the list). We spent a day on this beautiful beach last summer. My memory from that day is swimming in the cold August water and feeling so alive and refreshed; an experience you can’t put into words. And the kids loved the sand dunes slipping and sliding over them. This beach could be in the south of France and I remember taking a relative from Australia there and she was blown away by it.

Then there is Porthminster in St Ives (number 5 on the list). One of four beaches in this wonderful Cornish town. What a beach. Not that big but a great spot. We spent many an hour body boarding and jumping into waves last summer. On the penultimate day before we left for week two in Wales, we were on the beach alone before 9am as the cold morning air swept in. Hot chocolates were the order of the day.

Across the bay from Porthminster is Godrevy (number 22 on the list). A classic Cornish beach, ideal for surfing and where the tide races in. The rock pools are great and the low beach is a great atmospheric place what ever the weather. Its a beach to blow away the cobwebs and feel the full force of the Atlantic: magical.

And last but not least is the majestic Rhossili on Gower (number 3 on the list). What a beach. Every time I visit it I’m blown away. Three miles of pure golden sand, steep downland and a sense of total connection with seas. Standing on the footpath to Worms Head and looking along the beach has to be one of the best views in Western Europe!

All of these beaches reflect something really deep for us Brits: that strong and lifelong connection with the sea. We need the sea and the feeling of the sand between our toes. Its what defines us and has shaped our identify.

They are places to dream, they are places to switch off and they are places to play and have fun.