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Land, sea and sky

In his new book, The British Beach Guide, Ian Brighouse brings us a cross section of beaches on which he asks the all-important question; what does the beach mean to you?


Words by Rosie Cattrell


Having spent the last twelve years journeying around the UK’s coastline, from the edges of Scotland to Cornish shores, Ian Brighouse set out to discover exactly what the beach meant to the individuals he came across on his travels. During this time, he documented their responses and collected over a thousand filmed answers for his website. In a series that celebrates the elemental power of the beach, where land, sea and sky come together, Ian’s beach interviews showcase its profound effect on people who share their perceptions and recollections in the narratives that Ian has carefully collected over the years.


These narratives have formed the basis of Ian’s new book, The British Beach Guide, featuring 130 of Britain’s beaches. On his journey, Ian has learnt how the beach means different things to different people, whether enhancing creativity, decisiveness and energy, being restorative and settling as part of a routine, a reference point through generations, freedom or just fun.



In celebration of us as island people, each of us drawn to the very edges of the UK, it’s only natural that The British Beach Guide should have a chapter on Cornwall’s beaches. Best known for surfing and the arrival of long sets of waves from the Atlantic, with astonishing granite headlands, one’s gaze is naturally drawn to the power of the sea on the Cornish coast. “There’s a sense of space on the north coast beaches like Crantock, Watergate Bay and Constantine Bay,” says Ian. “You’ll find fishing villages and coastal communities tucked away in the lee of the prevailing winds on Cornwall’s south coast. The transient and resident bird life is exceptional on this coastline too, along with a wide variety of marine life around the whole Cornish coast.


“The beach is a wonderful place for us all to enjoy. Its ever-changing nature, whether on a daily or tidal basis or through the seasons, guarantees an element of anticipation and excitement in any beach visit. You just don’t know what you’ll see and who you’ll meet when you go to the beach, meaning that you’ll always have a different answer to the question; ‘what does the beach mean to you?


The British Beach Guide by Ian Brighouse is published by Whittles Publishing, June 2023. Copies can be ordered from manonabeach.com/book

 

Crantock


Crantock beach is large and unspoilt. It is a National Trust beach with a large car park behind the tall dunes. If you look back to the beach from the end of either headland, the scene is theatrical, charismatic and wild.


The beach itself maintains a breeze, even on the apparently stillest day and this gives any walk here an invigorating feel. The River Gannel runs to the sea across the beach, covering treacherous tides at its confluence with the Atlantic.


On a wild day, to crouch in the lee of a rocky outcrop down by the water on East Pentire, as the wind howls above, is quite an experience. Only inches from the pounding Atlantic breakers, the early morning sun explodes out of the clouds to the left in golden shafts, lighting white horses on the storm-tossed waves. The sound is elemental, indescribable; unexpected walls of white water rise rhythmically between the torn rock at your feet. More than most, this is a beach that stays in your mind’s eye long after you’ve left it.


Richard – “It means peace and quiet, solitude at times, a chance to get away from everyday problems, I suppose. We live in a city. It’s a very busy lifestyle and now and again it’s just great to be able to get away from it all, to walk the dog on the beach and it is a beautiful place.”


Wenna – “The beach means coming home, to spend some time with my Mum and the dogs. It’s funny how you miss it so much when you’re not around, so I try to soak it up while I can.”


Elaine – “If ever I feel stressed, I just walk to the top of the sand dunes and look down onto glorious Crantock beach and the stresses melt away.”



 

Porthcurno


This is one of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in Cornwall. It sits below the Minack Theatre, which is carved into the cliffs above. Standing at the head of the beach is the tiny cable house designed to help to send telegrams to America.

There are very impressive square blocks of granite in the western cliffs, almost pink in certain light. In high summer I remember a calm sea shining silver, the breakers almost translucent as they arched and fell on the golden sand. Visitors milled about.

You could sense the pressure lifting from their shoulders as they walked the beach or sat gazing out to sea. They couldn’t have found a finer spot. This is a magical beach in any weather and season, nestled on a finger of land by the wide Atlantic Ocean.


Jan – “The beach means everything to me. We are always drawn to the beach. We come down here as much as we can. All of the time that you are working hard, you are part of the big machine. As soon as you come back to the beach, you realise there is a lot more to life than just work.”


Jane – “It looks really lovely. The tamarisk is coming out now and the honeysuckle is just starting to come into leaf. There are primroses all around the edge here, a few gulls flying, very peaceful.”

Liz – “The colours of the sea at Porthcurno never cease to amaze me – the white sand is made up almost entirely of tiny, 30,000 year old seashells which extend well below the water line, giving the sea a bright turquoise colour – you could be mistaken for thinking you are in the Caribbean. Having travelled the world during my time with British Airways, Porthcurno beach is hard to beat!”



 

Porthmeor


Backed by the popular Tate St Ives gallery, this is the most well-known St Ives beach, with the best surf. I recommend the view from the headland below St Nicholas’ Chapel, showcasing the depth of the beach’s bay and its place on the edge of the town. There’s a great walk round to the west from here.


There is a rural, almost primeval feel as you make your way along towards Zennor and Morvah, part of wild Penwith. I remember one winter visit. The morning sun was low. It lit the waves out at sea but hadn’t yet reached the sand. The contrast was striking, highlighted by the white foam of the surf against the dark, golden sand. The white sea spray against the black rocks created a dramatic contrast.


On another occasion it was a bright end to the day, with the sun starting to sink in the west over the beach. There were still plenty of people on the beach, but the beachside cafe was full and well-heeled partygoers promenaded, anticipating the pleasures of St Ives in the evening.


David – “It’s just a place where you can always be at one. You don’t know where the gap ends between the land and the sea. It’s just really peaceful. It eats into your soul. You don’t know where it comes from. It’s just an elemental dynamic. There is nothing more powerful than the sea.”


Jane – “I get drawn back to the beach because of its mysteries and its possibilities, so it has something almost magical about it. I just look beyond the sea and maybe think, maybe dream about what there might be.”




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