“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside” – or so the tune goes. When I found myself confronted with the front pages over the last week, exhibiting endless photographs of Britain’s beaches and the general flouting of lockdown; bikini-clad folk lying side-by-side and sweaty sunbathers whose towels are so close to each other that they form patchwork on the sand, I can tell you: there’s no place I’d rather be less.
I am not horrified by these scenes for the reasons you might expect. Of course, the dreaded coronavirus is much more likely to spread in these circumstances, but what makes my skin itch is the setting of these photographs because, as unpatriotic as it sounds, I hate a British beach.
Last year, there were 37 million day trips to the British beach.
To be honest, beaches and I got off on the wrong foot. My earliest memory of the English coast was a near my grandparents’ house in Devon, in a part of the county so unfashionable that it’s possible they lived there ironically. Our trips to the sea involved a “pebbled” beach – a tourist-friendly term which in actual fact means “bouldered”. In order to sit down, you had to move the hulking great boulders and make a trench of sorts. Even once the heavy lifting was over, it was only possible to relax into the rock pit for about five minutes before your bottom went numb.
Devon and childhood aside, even now when I now head off to golden sands, I’m afraid I can’t get to grips with our famed coastline.
For a start, the wind is a problem. Then for the food: I can’t begin to list the hours I have spent agonising over the merits of honeycomb vs mint choc. chip, the wafer shell versus the chocolate dipped cone – only for a breeze to pick up and my ice cream is destroyed by mouthfuls of sand.
Nor do I believe anyone in Britain, except for the odd professional surfer, has ever plunged into the sea without some serious cajoling. Call me high maintenance, but “it’s bearable once you put your shoulders under” is a far cry from “come on in, the water’s fine.”
Even getting to the shore is a bore. First comes the overpriced carpark, a place where it is mandatory to circle like a bird of prey before getting a spot, all the while umming and aaaing over whether people are just arriving or about to leave.
Once ready to go, there is the very British beach rite of passage that involves finding the perfect spot. This almost always requires climbing over a huge rock that is covered in seaweed; a rock so slippery that you hear the clonk of your head before you even attempt to climb the stone. Here, navigating this rock, is where your sunglasses fall off.
If it’s Hunstanton or home, I’d rather put a towel out on my living room floor. – Katya Edwards
While you may argue the beach has many other merits – piers and arcades I hear you cry – I defy anyone to go to these Grade I listed parts of our shores without immediately feeling like you have stepped onto the set of a horror film. The Victorian architecture, the spooky arcades coupled with the jaunty organ music they insist on playing: all of this makes for a setting so eerie that it could have been designed by Edgar Allan Poe himself.
I know I am in the minority. You only have to look at the photographs of our coastlines at bank holiday weekend to understand that we beach-avoidants do not hold with national sentiment. The facts further prove this: last year, there were 37 million day trips to the British beach. One in ten tourist visits British people conducted last year was to our own coastlines – a figure that rises to one in three in Wales.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand the need to get out of the house after being cooped up for so long. But if it’s Hunstanton or home, I’d rather put a towel out on my living room floor, switch on “A Place in the Sun” on the TV and eat my sans-sand ice cream out of a bowl.
Katya Edwards is a reporter for the Daily Mail.
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