Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

By Andrew Adie

As Hartlepool braces itself for crowds of media and political analysts, the rest of the UK’s 7,723 miles of coast are preparing for a different influx, another bout of travel restricted staycationers.

I’ve been fortunate, post lockdown easing, to have several beach trips. A holiday to Cornwall and day trips to beaches in Kent, where we live. All have been punctuated by the same scenes: Warmly wrapped families eating ice creams in freezing conditions, surfers with looks of steely-eyed determination and dog walkers in their droves.

While we await to hear whether international travel restrictions will be eased for those with two vaccines, many look set to be ineligible or possibly unwilling to take the plunge on a foreign holiday just yet. So are we set to see a summer of rediscovering the UK’s glorious (and in some cases gaudy) coastline? 

In a nation where no one lives more than 84 miles from the sea, and in which 171 million annual visits are made to the coast each year, you could be forgiven for feeling that our beaches are already pretty heavily used.

Yet on several recent beach trips I’ve met people who claim they’re making their first proper UK coastal visit for years, in some cases decades. One couple claimed they always went to Spain and grudgingly admitted the Kent coastline was ‘ok’ before launching into a (slightly forgivable) tirade about the British weather. On another beach I met a man staring in a confused way at Saint Piran’s flag. After asking if I knew what it was (he was concerned it was a warning flag for sea currents) he confessed he’d never been to Cornwall as they always holidayed ‘in the sun’.

Anecdotally UK coastal holidays appear to be a divisive issue. Some adore memories of changeable weather, grit-filled sandwiches, and the slightly quaint pleasures of an amusement arcade or fish and chips on the pier. Others think it’s ‘boring’, cold and somehow doesn’t tick the boxes for a proper ‘escape from it all’.

However, as we move into May and look forward to the start of the summer months in just a few weeks’ time, for many of us holidays this year will be closer to home than they might normally wish for but there are many silver linings to that particular cloud (even if the cloud happens to last all day and produce intermittent rain throughout):

  • Around 128 UK beaches now qualify for Blue Flag status, in both urban and rural locations, so none of us are far from a shot of sea air and a pristine beach
  • Sea air is allegedly very good for your health with the negative ions helping your body absorb oxygen and balance mood-enhancing serotonin levels
  • With more than a third of UK adults overweight and 28% obese, exercise in the open air might, possibly, be something that we see a spike in as we move (hopefully) into a post Covid lockdown world? If it is then the UK’s 2.500 miles of National Trails (and may more footpaths) include miles of coastal routes, including the South West Coastal Path, which at 630 miles long is the largest single stretch in the National Trail network
  • And finally, in the UK we consume around 171 million litres of ice cream each year, and there are few occasions that benefit as much from a cone and a scoop than a day on the beach

While many will feel the ongoing imposition of travel restrictions more acutely than I do, will miss the link to home, to friends and family and perhaps to somewhere of special or spiritual significance, we are all perhaps going to be forced with varying degrees of enthusiasm to embrace a summer of exploring the coast and countryside of the UK.

Conde Nast Traveller recently published its list of top UK beaches, proclaiming that readers might be ‘pleasantly surprised’. While the National Trust has details of the 780 miles of coastline it looks after or alternatively almost everyone you know will have strong opinions on the best, tackiest and worst places to go for a coastal escape. It may not be as glamorous as a week on the Côte d’Azur and it definitely won’t be as balmy but it might just be more fun than staring at your back bedroom wall while wailing incoherently about your broken Zoom link. Enjoy!