Top Ten Places to See the Sea in the UK by Jo Ann Ferguson
The sea has had such an impact on British history. It has protected the country so well that the saying goes that the last successful invasion of England was in 1066 (though there have been a lot of unsuccessful ones, which explains the many castles and fortified sites along the shore). The sea currents affect the weather, so you have palm trees in Cornwall and even in northern Scotland. It inspired the formation of a navy that created a worldwide empire and a maritime fleet that made London a center of industry and shipping and finance.
And it helped create a tourist industry that still thrives today. What would 19th century bank holidays have been without a trip to Blackpool for the lower classes and to Brighton for the upper?
But views of the sea are unique in each region of the island. Some are busy with shops that sell tacky souvenirs and others are almost deserted. Let’s visit the top ten sites on my must-see list for the seashore.
- Dover. Those amazing white cliffs are a remarkable image, whether coming in from the continent on a ferry or approaching from the landside on foot. If you’re in good shape, definitely walk out to the cliffs and take the zigzag path down to the shingle beach. You’ll pass by an abandoned observation post cut into the cliffs. When we went down the cliffs in 2001, only two other people were attempting the walk at the same time. It’s not bad going down, but coming back up… Well, as I said, make sure you’re in good shape. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-thewhitecliffsofdover
- Brighton. The Prince Regent wasn’t the first to come to Brighton to enjoy the sea air and water, but he’s the one who put it on the map. If you go to visit the Royal Pavilion, take time to wander along the sea front. There’s the famous pier that was erected in Victorian times (called Brighton Pier by current owners, but known as the Palace Pier locally), and the beach is sandy and the site of many events. Here, like Blackpool, Great Yarmouth, Llandudno, and other seaside resorts, the idea is to entertain tourists and make sure they go home happy and with emptier pockets. Although these piers and resorts are after our time frame, visiting the piers offers a nice break from research. http://www.visitbrighton.com/
- Mousehole. Pronounced (Mouzel), this tiny town is tucked into a small bay in southwest Cornwall. Like Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, it is more open to the sea than to the land. It’s a sharp drive down into Mousehole, but it’s worth the trip. Don’t try to find parking at the base of the hill. Instead, pull off onto one of the streets that parallels the sea and follow signs to public parking. The town has a pub and a few shops. It’s a nice place to stop when you want to get away from everything else. Like in many places along Cornwall, the tides rise and fall a great distance. http://www.cornwall-online.co.uk/westcornwall/mousehole.htm
- Land’s End.
In the land of smugglers and wreckers, Land’s End will give you a clear view of how these criminals avoided capture. Windswept and wild, it refuses to be tamed…even by the tourist information center and obligatory gift shop. You can have your photo taken beneath a sign showing how many miles it is to your hometown. When we visited, we arrived late in the day after the crush of tourists had left. It was us and another family. We enjoyed watching the sun set into the sea. Dress warmly when you go to Land’s End, because the wind off the water is bracing even in early September when we were there and the sea should be at its warmest. http://www.landsend-landmark.co.uk/
- Tintagel. I know this is the third site in Cornwall, but this is a special place to view the sea. The legendary site of the castle where King Arthur was conceived, the headlands are as forbidding as Land’s End’s. Take special note of the wall raised during the Regency period when the romantic legends of King Arthur were as popular as they are now. Be careful on the stone steps because even on a non-rainy day they can be slippery with sea spray. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/
- Aberdaron. This is the small town at the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula (the finger of land that sticks out into the sea in North Wales). Like Mousehole, it’s a tiny town at the end of wandering country road, and the parking is atrocious. The beach is sand, and there are a couple of places to eat as well as a hotel with a patio that overlooks the shore. “Aber” means “mouth of a river”, and there is a small river trickling through the town. This is another place to watch the sunset. http://www.aberdaronlink.co.uk/
- Criccieth. This town is at the inner curve where the Lleyn Peninsula meets the rest of Wales. Criccieth has it all – an early Welsh castle “updated” in the 13th century, a beach, a lovely town. Look for the tiny RNLI building. The RNLI is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which was founded in 1824. The RNLI, staffed by volunteers, provides rescue services (much like the US Coast Guard) for ships and boats in trouble at sea. If you are in Tenby in southern Wales, stop in and watch their videos of how their shallow bottomed boats down the ramps and out to sea. Fascinating! Most seaside towns have a base for the RNLI. http://www.criccieth.co.uk/ http://www.rnli.org.uk/
- Grange-over-Sands. In the Lake District, this lovely town is a treat for the eyes. More Victorian than Regency as most seaside resorts are, it offers many shops to wander through as well as beautiful public gardens. Oh, and there’s a chocolate shop just in case you need a yummy fix. Unlike Barrow-in-Furness (not far away on the Furness Peninsula), it is a resort rather than a working class town. http://www.grange-over-sands.com/
- Lindisfarne. This small island known as the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is in the far northwest of England. The site of one of the earliest raids by Viking on English soil, it is separated from the “mainland” by a causeway that’s closed twice a day at high tides. Make sure you check the tide tables to know when to cross so you don’t get too up close and personal with the sea. The big tourist sites are the castle, the ruined abbey, and the abbey/parish church. This is a place where you need to think layers when dressing. We were there in mid-May, and it was COLD with the wind off the North Sea. If you have the time, stay during the day when the causeway is closed and most of the tourists have left. http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/general/welcome.htm
- Whitby. This town is my favorite seaside haunt…okay, maybe haunt is the wrong word because, in the novel, Dracula was buried in St. Mary’s Church’s churchyard in Whitby. Home of Whitby Jet, black jewelry used primarily for mourning in the Victorian era, the city wraps around both sides of its harbor. You’ll find famous fish and chips shops and quiet tea rooms, and lots of shops for visiting. Figure you’ll need a full day to see the town which counts Captain James Cook among its most famous residents. You can visit the Cook Museum as well as one for the RNLI. There’s a steam bus for a tour, and the gothic beauty of the Whitby Abbey ruins. http://www.visitwhitby.com/ http://www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk/ http://www.rnli.org.uk/who_we_are/the_heritage_trust/whitby http://www.whitbysteambusandcharabanc.co.uk/home.htm
So the next time you visit the UK, make sure you take time to stop and see the sea. You’ll be glad you did!
This article was written by a founding member of The Beau Monde, Jo Ann Ferguson, who also writes as Jocelyn Kelley.
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