Adrian Woodhall sounds personally offended at the suggestion Britain’s coastline might not match up to the white sand and rolling blue wave variety on offer elsewhere.
“I think Britain’s coastline is completely underrated,” Woodhall argues. “I’ve travelled in the States from Florida to New Orleans and we were still driving through swamp and forest for 300 miles. You travel that distance round the coast of Britain and the change is dramatic – from the volcanic outcrops in Northumberland and North Yorkshire where you’ve got shales and slates to Lincolnshire where the sandstone and mudstone erode to form the mudbanks off Norfolk. From there, the hard puddles are washed out of the mudstones and end up forming on the beaches of Suffolk and Essex.”
As project director for the National Trust and for the year-long celebration of the nation’s maritime history, SeaBritain 2005, Woodhall’s passion for the coast he spent his childhood and working life exploring comes as no surprise, nor are his convictions unsubstantiated. The Coast Exposed photographic exhibition, on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until January 2006, showcases the beauty and diversity of Britain’s coastline, as well its relationship with the wildlife and people who inhabit it.
In North Devon, sheep are captured huddled together at Mort Point where tenant farmer David Kennard has adapted his business to show off his shepherding skills to tourists. On the Durham Coast, Horden Beach is gradually losing a thick layer of coal spoil while at Studlin Beach in Dorset, a warden has been photographed removing some of the 60 tons of litter left behind by visitors every summer.
The landscape is absolutely stunning in its own right but we also wanted to capture a bit about working and managing the coast,” Woodhall explains. “The coast is a changing, dynamic place – due to both coastal erosion and the way people use it.”
The exhibition is just one highlight of the SeaBritain 2005 calendar, a busy programme of events timed to coincide with the bicentenary of the nation’s greatest naval victory, the Battle of Trafalgar, and the death of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, whose tactics saved the country from the threat of invasion by Napoleon. Celebrations culminate on the Trafalgar Weekend, from October 21-23, when activities are planned across the country. Nostalgic talk of men in wigs aside, the main idea is to get people off the couch and onto the coast.
“The UK is a maritime nation; trade and industry have been important to the economy for hundreds of years,” Woodhall says. “Wherever you are in the UK, you’re never more than about 80 miles from the sea. We hope to open the public’s eyes to what’s on the coast – it’s not all about just having a small picnic, there’s a lot more going on.”
If ever there was an appropriate place to don a little white hat and butt-hugging bellbottoms, Portsmouth is it. As Britain’s primary naval centre, Portsmouth, with its harbour, museums, historic ships and royal dockyards, is the prime place to immerse yourself in maritime culture. The Royal Naval Base houses HMS Victory, Trafalgar’s triumphant vessel, as well HMS Warrior, Britain’s first armoured warship, and King Henry VIII’s beloved Mary Rose.
Portsmouth will also provide the setting for Trafalgar 200 events, including the International Festival of the Sea from June 30-July 3, when ships from 30 of the world’s navies will be gathered for the International Fleet Review on June 28. See www.trafalgar200.com.
There’s no better way to test your sea legs and take in the coastline than dangling from tall ship. Tall Ships Adventures offer experiences ranging from one-day sails off England’s coast through to 10-day jaunts across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. But make no mistake, this is no place for the deckchair sailor – being part of the crew means scrubbing toilets, heaving ropes and climbing aloft (that’s 36m up) to release and stow sails, and swilling more than your fair share of cheap rum at every port. The next departure is from Southampton Docks on April 30, visiting the northern French coast or the Channel Islands, before returning on May 6. Otherwise, head to Newcastle-Gateshead from July 25-28 when tall ships from 20 countries will race. See www.tallships.org.
With more than 250,000 shipwrecks believed to be lying around Britain’s shores, the English coastline is a prime place for wreck diving.
“Britain has been a maritime race for many hundreds of years, we have major shipping channels just off the coast and we’ve had two major wars so, inevitably, there are a lot of wrecks about,” says David Dixon, Britain Sub Aqua Club’s travel club coordinator. “Mile-for-mile, there are more wrecks off the coast of Great Britain than any other place in the world.”
Dixon recommends the Farne Islands for wreck diving and to frolic with the resident seal colonies. As one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the floor of English Channel off Dover and Folkestone is littered with hundreds of wrecks ranging from large merchant and naval vessels, to aircraft used as part of the D-Day landings. Off Cornwall, the HMS Scylla was last year sunk at Whitsand Bay to create an artificial reef. See www.bsac.com for independent diver reports.
Walk this way
Stretching 1013km from Minehead to Poole, the South West Coast Path is England’s longest National Trail. Based on a footpath established by Coastguards who patrolled the South West Peninsula on the lookout for smugglers, this popular route takes in the coasts of Somerset and North Devon, Cornwall, South Devon and Dorset.
The path hugs the coastline, providing spectacular views and diverse terrain. Expect sheer sea cliffs, rock coves, sea birds, wild flowers, waterfalls and sandy beaches.
See www.SeaBritain2005.com for a full list of events.