Talk of the county:
The coast is common. Not just chips and arcade common, which is great, but vast swathes of open-to-all common space
Rowan Mantell has gone to the beach
‘Gone to the beach.’ ‘If I’m not here, I’m at the beach.’ ‘At the beach, back dune.’ They might be a little clichéd, or even pun-awful in the case of the last one, which I won’t be copyrighting, but I love the feeling behind those pieces of driftwood or ocean-smoothed stones, artfully hand-painted in shades of sea blue and sand yellow. Similar signs hang in countless coastal shops and cafes, so much more summery and descriptive than a curt ‘Closed.’
Every August an urge to throw off city clothes and conventions, to gather towels and costumes, picnic food and rugs, bats, balls and boules, washes over our island nation. We surge to the coast, wave after wave of families, couples, friends, people on their own seeking seaside solitude – focused on fun, fresh air, fish’n’chips and the far horizon.
The seaside is simultaneously a playground we’ve known and loved from childhood, a paradise of sun-kissed relaxation and somewhere mysterious and constantly changing.
I love the neither-land-norwater-ness of the coast, the intricate patterns of mud paths and creeks which wind through saltmarshes, the shining expanses of wet low-tide sand, the bubbling wavelets shimmering on to dry sand at high tide. Although I know that tide tables are worked out years ahead, I’ve never quite grasped how the alignment of earth, moon and sun commands the advance and retreat of so much water.
The tides rolling around our coast are as beautiful and mysterious as the daylight streaming across the sea from the east every morning and the molten sun pooling over the edge of the western water each evening.
In Norfolk our oldest human history is being uncovered along the coast, with Holme’s Seahenge, and Happisburgh’s 800,000-yearold human footprints.
More of those homespunwisdom signs ask us to take only memories, leave only footprints.
In Norfolk we can still leave footprints along much of our near 100 miles of coast – either by following the fabulous longdistance footpath which now holds almost the whole of the county in its cagoule-clad hug, or on our abundance of beaches.
Centuries ago almost every village had common land. Much of it has been taken from us in the course of 1,000 years – by Norman invaders, by the estateowners who fenced it in for their sheep, but the coast is being opened up to us. Its ownership is complex, but access for all via a national coastal path is a wonderfully simple concept.
The Queen actually owns more than half of our coastline, between low and high water lines, with the Ministry of Defence (that’s us all really) and local authorities (that’s us too) also having a big slice of the shore, along with the National Trust which buys coastal land to preserve it from development or modern-day enclosure.
Blessed with one of the loveliest and longest coastlines in the country, open to all for free, all the signs are pointing to a summer of sun, sand and sea.
‘We can still leave footprints along much of our near 100 hundred miles of coast’
ABOVE: Sign of happy times