Tag Archives: Coast

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.


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.


Rock pool heaven

“Dad, I’ve caught a crab, I’ve caught one, come quickly”. The sound of my excited 8 year-old daughter rock pooling on Bantham beach in south Devon as the first crab of the day is scooped up and popped into a bucket.

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

There is something magical and timeless about rock pooling. As the tide drifts out a secret and accessible marine world is revealed, firing the imagination and creating a real sense of adventure. All sorts of creatures are trapped in little watery bolt holes. The coming and going of the tides sculpturing the rocks into perfect little places for sea water to get trapped for a few hours until the next tide comes in.

I’ve always loved looking in rock pools. They can evoke powerful memories of days spent at the seaside.  You can get lost in the hunt for crabs, small fish and lovely little shells, vacated by their residents. And with the unpredictability of the British weather its one of those activities that you can do, come rain or shine.

Armed with a bucket, spade and ideally a net you can have hours of fun exploring these little watery worlds along the coastline. Kids and their parents clamber and climb over the rocks looking in little shallow pools or deeper water where you have to compete with seaweed to find anything.

For me the architecture of rock pools is fascinating. From the steep sided rock pools of north Cornwall at places such as Godrevy or Porthmeor in St Ives to some of the low-lying pools in south Devon at South Milton sands. Becoming an honorary marine biologist for a few hours you’ll need some patience and a good dose of luck. I love the sitting and watching part, looking for the slightest movement from beneath a stone or behind some seaweed.

It was great watching kids fanning out along the rock pools, collecting their temporary treasures that will be returned to the sea, and then sharing their finds with other children; comparing notes of where they’d found things or heading off in little groups to search for more. You can never really get enough of rock pooling and every place that you visit is different enough to reveal something different.

Making waves

A few weeks ago I went on a walk along the southern side of Gower. The sky was full of heavy cloud and there were small glimpses of better weather in the distance.

This coastal wander was dominated by the soundtrack of the sea and in particular the waves. At different spots you could tune in to the repetitive and reassuring sound of the waves lapping against the limestone cliffs or the tidy little beaches. Sometimes the sound was very faint and it was a bit like when you’re listening out for the claps of thunder when you’re counting the length of time between the bangs.

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

As we joined the old route into Swansea – a kind of cross between a footpath and drovers lane – you could hear the waves before you could see the coastline. The small wood either side of the path was filled with the sweet melodies of birdsong and as you descended from the hill-side the sound of the sea grew in intensity and clarity. And then through an opening you reached a beach – littered with stones from the old quarry. Hunts Bay is a sheltered little spot and the waves sounded just like you’d imagine waves would always sound.

Arriving at a beach like this took me back to the days of GCSE geography. This small bay with its stones and little summit before falling away into the sea is a lovely spot.

When on the beach I recorded the sounds of the waves. The full-on sound of the waves on with the direct impact on the sand and stones and then also the sounds from a sheltered spot next to the limestone cliffs. There was a clear difference in the sounds of the waves even though they were only a matter of metres apart.

For World Listening Day (Saturday 18 July) this year (the theme is water) as part of the sounds of our shores project we want as many people as possible to record the sounds of waves at noon. This will create a lovely snapshot, a kind of sonic postcard, of how waves sound and what differences that there might be. It will be interesting to see how the size of the stones affects the sounds of the waves or the nature of where the beach is – it might be a big open flat beach or a small narrow beach surrounded by sand dunes.

The sound of waves are so intrinsically linked to the sounds of our shores. There is something timeless and comforting about that sound as you first reach the coast – whether to spend a family day at the beach or walking along a coastal cliff.

A sonic postcard from the coast

Close your eyes for a minute. Think of a favourite place on the coast. Tune into your memory soundbank and start to imagine the sounds that fill the airwaves. It could be the sounds from the days spent at the coast as a kid when the day felt like it would never end. Or it might be a trip to a seabird colony clinging to the cliffs and creating an intense wall of sound.

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

Seaside towns are full of fascinating sounds

There is something really powerful about the sounds of our shores. Our sensory experience of being by the sea can fill our life with powerful memories.

This summer the National Trust, British Library and the National Trust for Scotland wants people to record sounds from the whole coastline of the UK – helping to crowd source a sounds of our shores coastal sound map. And it’s not just the wild stretches of coast but the 15 per cent of coastline that is developed too – villages, towns and cities; ports, urban beaches or classic seaside towns.

It’s a project that aims to capture a snapshot of how our coast sounds and also a chance to reflect on the changing relationship that we have with the coastline.

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

The tapping of a bucket to create a sandcastle is a powerful sound of childhood. Me on a beach in Devon with my Gran

In the last century the relationship that we have with the coast has been transformed. It has shifted from a place of work to a place that we go to play. Yes there is vibrancy still to the working coast – busy fishing harbours and mega sized container terminals – but for most of us it about those special places that we like to visit time and time again.

Recording sounds couldn’t be easier and it’s a great way of creating a sonic equivalent of a postcard or photo. And best of all the sounds that make it up on the coastal sound map will end up in the British Library Sound Archive (one of the biggest in the world no less).

So this summer use some of your screen time to record the sounds of our shores. You’ll be helping to crowd source for a project that will capture the sounds from the UK coast for future generations to hear.

Saving our shores

50 years ago today the Neptune Coastline Campaign was launched by the National Trust. Unbeknown to the founders of this campaign it would over the course of five decades transform the ownership of the coast around our shores.

Whiteford Burrows on Gower in South Wales; the first ever site acquired by the National Trust as part of its Neptune Coastline Campaign

Whiteford Burrows on Gower in South Wales; the first ever site acquired by the National Trust as part of its Neptune Coastline Campaign

The coast is deeply embedded in the DNA of the National Trust. Its first ever patch of land was a small coastal cliff near Barmouth in north Wales. There were some key acquisitions in the following three decades: the stunning Blakeney Point in 1912 and the one and only Farne Islands in 1925.

Yet it was 1965 that led to a game changing direction of travel for the Trust on the coast. The concept behind Neptune was very simple and had a clear call to action.

The coast was under threat from development and industrialisation and to save hundreds of miles of the beautiful coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland a major new fundraising appeal was launch.

An initial target of two million pounds was unveiled in the late spring of 1965 and in the subsequent fifty years tens of millions of pounds has been reached thanks to the support of people from across the globe. A group of geographers from the University of Reading helped to map the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland on a scale not seen since the Doomsday book; giving the Trust a clear sense of which bits of coast needed to be saved.

This has been a truly people powered revolution allowing a conservation charity to take its coastal ownership from just over 200 miles to 775 miles today (that’s ten per cent of the coast of the three nations). Since 1965 the Trust has been acquiring an average of around one mile of coastline every month including the world famous White Cliffs of Dover, much of the gorgeous Gower in south Wales and much loved Wembury just outside Plymouth.

At Studland in Dorset a big donation to the Trust coastal campaign by the Bankes family (the biggest in the charity’s history) meant that this special place was secured for future generations to enjoy. Pockets of development had begun to pop up and there is no doubt that Sandbanks would have spread westwards across the mouth of Poole Harbour. A million people every year now come to Sandbanks, a classic British beach.

We have a deep connection to the coast in the UK. As island nations the shoreline has shaped our identity and every year there is a mass migration to the coast for bucket and spade holidays or walking along the coastline. It’s a very sensory place: the touch of the sand between your toes, the sounds of our shores and the smell of fish and chips.

Time and time again we’re drawn to the coast and we put a very high value on its importance to us (think how many people have something from the coast in their house). It would be a very different place if it wasn’t for the crystal clear vision of the founders of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

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.