ONE OF the (very few) drawbacks of living in the Chilterns is our distance from the sea.
For those who love the sound of crashing waves and the smell of salt in the air, it can seem a long haul to the nearest beach (if you ignore Ruislip Lido, that is).
But if you find yourself dreaming about sandcastles and beach huts, it’s perhaps not quite as much of an expedition as you might think to dip your toes in the surf or hear the cries of the gulls.
Depending on your exact home location, an array of coastal resorts claim to be well within a two-hour drive, from Kent and Essex to Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset (where these pictures were taken).
Fancy a breath of sea air at Southend or Sheerness, Brighton or Bournemouth? Get your bucket and spade out.
“Humans are naturally drawn to the water,” Megan McCubbin tells us in Back To Nature, the new book she has co-written with stepdad Chris Packham. “Studies show that being near a water body – the ocean, rivers or lakes – has a positive impact on our minds, boosting creativity and lowering anxiety and stress.”
It’s this “Blue Mind” phenomenon which draws us to the seaside, but as Megan goes on to point out, we are our own worst enemies: the crowds descending in droves on popular resorts often leave tonnes of rubbish in their wake and local communities in despair.
Dorset litterpicker, beach cleaner and outdoors lover Anna Lois Taylor posted on Twitter at the height of the 2020 invasion: “So much litter. I’m done sacrificing my own time to clean up an area that’s repeatedly abused. We cleared it yesterday evening and returned today to find ourselves right back at the beginning. I cried all the way home.”
It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. At this time of year many beaches are in pristine condition, winter storms notwithstanding, and it takes little effort for all of us to try to follow the much-quoted travel mantra “take away only memories, leave only footprints”.
Now, more than ever, the concept of treading lightly on the landscape is crucial to our future existence. Yet our main roads are lined with litter and it often feels as if our countryside is under siege.
Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than at the seaside, where however remote the location the debris of modern living is washed in with the tide from around the world.
The bay in the north of Scotland where I played on holiday as a child looks as beautiful today as it did half a century ago, but keeping our beaches clean is a constant battle.
By all means let’s continue to enjoy the timeless allure of spending days at the seaside. But even better if no one can tell that we were there at all.