“The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper. I cannot quite make it out.” — Annie Dillard
Beach is best
We really do like to be beside the seaside. In spring this year, the British Psychological Society studied 2,750 people to look at the effect a person’s environment has on them. The seaside beat both the countryside and urban parks as it contributed the most to levels of wellbeing. There was no clear reason, although many cited the play of light on water, the sound of the sea and happy childhood memories.
If you want to supersize your beach experience, the world’s longest beaches are in Brazil and Texas. Praia do Cassino stretches from the southern Brazilian city of Rio Grande to the border with.
Uruguay, some 1,581 miles (2,545 km) or about as far as London to Moscow. Padre Island is the second largest island in the US (after Long Island) and is essentially a sandbar, 1 13 miles (182km) long, off the southern Texan coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Ninety Mile Beach in the North Island of New Zealand turns out to be only 55 miles (88km) long. This miscalculation probably dates back to the early missionaries who reckoned to travel 30 miles a day on horseback. Because the beach took three days to traverse, they assumed it was 90 miles long, but horses walk much more slowly in sand.
In 1934, King George V ordered 1,500 tons of sand to be taken from Essex, barged up the Thames and then dumped onto the mud flat between St Kath arine’s steps and the Tower of London. “Tower Beach” could hold 500 people at a time, and was usable for five hours at low tide. Between 1934 and 1939, half a million Londoners sunned themselves there. Despite interruptions during the war, it was in use until 1971, when fears over pollution forced it to close. It is now accessible two days each year for the National Archaeology Weekend.
Not to be outdone, Birmingham opened a city-centre beach in 2007, in the redeveloped Bull Ring Centre. It had real palm trees, lots of sand, deck chairs, ice creams, beach football and volleyball competitions and a huge BBC screen. Like a Brummie Club Tropicana, all that was missing was the sea.
A more low-key London beach was installed at South Bank last summer, to celebrate the 6 0th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. Several other cities now install summertime beaches, most successfully Paris Plages, on the Seine near the Louvre and at the Bassin de la Villette.
Sand is generally formed by quartz crystals (silicon dioxide) being slowly worn down, but there are other sources. It can be made by bigger rocks disintegrating or from dissolved minerals forming pellets (in the way limescale forms on a kettle). Sand is also produced by exploding volcanoes as molten rock shatters in the air; and by meteorites which enter the Earth’s atmosphere. These melt and then solidify into tiny grains as they cool.
Much of the beautiful white sand on coral beaches comes via the excretory system of the parrotfish. Parrotfish feed on coral, which is broken down and emerges from them as grains of white coral sand.
The world record for the biggest stick of rock was set in 2000 by Coronation Rock, whose giant
sweet clocked in at 424.5kg (equivalent to 10 five-year-old children). All rock starts life as a gigantic roll of stiff sugar syrup, with layers of different coloured toffee used to make the letters. The whole roll is then coated and put through a machine which stretches it out and cuts it into the traditional thin pink sticks.
Technically there aren’t actually any birds called “seagulls”. It is just a casual way of referencing any of the gull family (Laridae). Gulls evolved more than 15 million years ago and there are around 25 different species. Herring gulls are the most familiar in the UK: they’re the chip-stealing scavengers. In 2007 an Aberdonian herring gull called Sam took the snaffling to another level and began visiting the local shop to help himself to bags of Doritos. The oldest herring gull ever recorded was 49 years old.
There are about 900 donkeys working on UK beaches. Weston-super-Mare’s famous donkeys have been working since 1886 and the business is still run by the same family. Dark-coloured donkeys are preferred for beach work as they don’t suffer with sunburn.