Do you fancy a day at the English seaside? No matter where you live in England, you’re never more than 70 or 80 miles from the coast (a village in Derbyshire lays claim to be the furthest point from the sea). If you live in the Midlands, you likely want to at least make a weekend of it to avoid too much driving. But unlike some countries, the seaside is never far away!
That’s a good thing, because the coast has many benefits. In his book Blue Mind, Wallace J Nichols writes that the horizon is one of the few remaining places where you can literally ‘gaze into nothing’ (even parks have building views behind). Years ago, people would ‘take to the coast’ for a respite holiday to recover from TB, due to the negative ions. There is no doubt that a walk by the seashore can often make anyone feel better, even if you have no intention of going for a swim. People who take Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast walk start in Cheshire, then end when they paddle their feet in Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire Coast.
The coast of England, Wales and Scotland stretches for over 11,000 miles, plus of course there are also many islands and coves. It’s bordered by four seas: the English Channel looks over to France, the North Sea looks out to The Netherlands (or Scandinavia further north) and the west coast faces the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
The Way to the Sea is by Caroline Crampton, who was raised on the banks of the River Thames. An avid sailor, she sets out to the discover the course from the river’s source in a small Gloucestershire village, through London and out to the North Sea. She seeks out stories behind the unique landmarks like Victorian pumping stations to the marshy ground on eerie relics of past invasions. And shipwrecks still inhabited by the ghosts of the drowned.
Check check tide times, avoid sinking mud and be careful on windy days as the sea is powerful, and a ‘gentle wave’ could easily knock both you and a dog off your feet (dogs are not always good swimmers, and could get cramp). Dogs can also get heatstroke, so find a shady area.
One thing to be aware of is dog beach bans. Many beaches have now them now (sometimes seasonal). You don’t want to walk or drive to a beach, only to find that dogs are not allowed. Another thing to be wary of is seaweed. Dogs often like to play with the fronds. But once seaweed dries in the stomach, it expands and can cause a medical emergency.
It doesn’t get more traditional than a bag of salty seaside chips. However (a bit like people not being able to use ladders), apparently most chip shops are now banned from serving them in newspaper, due to hygiene reasons. Still, they are mostly sold in paper (always ask for the plastic bag to be left off – as well as being bad for the planet, it makes the chips go soggy).
Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries (The Simple Veganista) are nice with Julie’s own vegan aioli (a spicy mayo) or just use ketchup.
The main issue with chip shops is that most use palm oil. Ask your chip shop to swap to rapeseed oil (there are lots of wholesale suppliers) as this is friendly to orang-utans and more local too. There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil, and its use is causing havoc with native wildlife abroad.
Chuck Out the Chip Pan
Chip pans are the biggest fire hazard with almost 20 people killed or injured each year, due to kitchen fires (chip pans cause a fifth of all house fires). You can buy a compact digital air fryer to make your own chips at home, as a safer alternative. Ideal for small kitchens, it can ‘fry’ up to 450g of chips with just 1 teaspoon of oil (instructions included). If you do decide to keep your chip pan, here is advice from the Fire Service:
- Never fill a chip pan more than a third full with oil
- Use a modern safe fryer with thermostatic control
- Never leave chip pans unattended, even if the doorbell or phone rings
- Don’t cook with chip pans, when drunk!
- Keep the oven and hob clean, as less grease
- Dry the chips before putting them in the pan
- Test oil temperature with a piece of bread, before adding chips.
If your chip pan does catch fire, call 999 and have a clear escape route. Don’t move the pan and turn off the heat (if safe to do so). Never pour water, you’ll cause a fireball. Instead, smother with a kitchen fire blanket (can also be used for frying pan fires).
Frozen Chips from Supermarkets
You would think this was a no-brainer, but no. Of course you’ll have to recycle the packaging (even the cardboard microwave chips have plastic wrap?. But if you use them, do check the labels as some have beef dripping or milk. It’s quite bizarre reading the McCain website. Considering many people like to eat healthier these days, their page for vegans goes as follows:
Our roast potatoes, gastro chips, hash browns and mashed potatoes are not suitable for vegans. The roast potatoes are enrobed (?) in beef dripping or goose fat, and our gastro chips are enrobed (there it is again) in beef dripping, whilst our mashed potato contains milk, and our hash browns may also contain milk.
But (not to worry) as you can safely eat:
- Thin & crispy French fries
- Quick cook French fries
- Thin & crispy Southern fries
- Naked Oven Chips
- Home Chips
- Crispy Dippers (and so on, all crappy foods).
If you love your chips and don’t want to make them, there are a few better brands: Waitrose Duchy are made with just potatoes and sunflower oil (note to McCain) as are Potato Joe, farmed to Demeter standards.
French Fries from Fast Food Joints
McDonald’s French Fries elsewhere in the world are not vegan as they contain milk and ‘beef-like flavour’, whatever that is. Their website states that their fries here are OK, so why policy differs is unclear.
Make Your Own Chips
Likely the easiest way to make chips is to bake your own. They are healthier too with no oil, and very easy to make. You also have more choice, in that you can use sweet potatoes or even root veggies as the base, for more nutrients. These Baked Parsnip Fries with Mushroom Gravy (Full of Plants) are baked with rosemary and covered with a black pepper mushroom gravy. Keep mushrooms away from pets.
Cheesy Chilli Oil-Free Fries (Minimalist Baker) are vegan-friendly and fat-free too. Made with nutritionist yeast and optional cayenne pepper.
Vegan Fish & Chip Shops
Suttons & Sons is just one of many shops now offering vegan fish and chips. Made with banana blossom, you can also order ‘tofish’, scampi, vegan prawn cocktails, ‘fish’ cakes, vegan sausage and ‘steak pie’.
Take a stroll along an English seaside pier and take in the view, or just enjoy a bag of chips. England has many piers, although some of them have been storm-battered and no longer function as piers. The earliest ‘pleasure pier’ was on the Isle of Wight, and many well-known piers exist today in Brighton, Wigan and Southend-On-Sea. By 1914, Britain had over 100 piers, which have been regarded as the best examples of Victorian architecture. Two are Grade 1 listed, and the pier at Weston-Super-Mare is the only one on earth, that is linked to an island. National Piers Society say that just over 50 remain.
Pier Review is a book in search of the great British Seaside. With a clapped out car and not enough cash, Jon and Danny recruit Midge (a man they barely know) to be their driver, even though he has to be back in a fortnight to sign on! Together they take a funny and nostalgic look at beaches, amusement arcades and friendship on the road, visiting 52 piers in 2 weeks. One eccentric road trip – before their seaside youth disappears. A peculiar journey from the landlocked Midlands, to see surviving pleasure piers in England and Wales.
The first stop is Weston-Super-Mare which is the nearest pier to the Midlands, and often called ‘Birmingham on Sea’ for local holidaymakers. Other piers visited include:
- Isle of Wight
Only in England would a man wear a handkerchief on his head, put on a pair of socks and then slip into a pair of sandals! And why not? If it’s comfy and keeps your head from getting sunburned, all for the good. Pull up a deckchair and discover nice beach sandals, to go with your socks. Above are Freerangers open sandals.
But as this is England, Naturally – no animals are harmed. All of these sandals are made from vegan-friendly materials (and not plastic either – as that would not be very beach-friendly, would it?) All of these brands are made from partly-biodegradable Microfiber, which lets your feet breathe, whilst avoiding leather.
These shoes are also very easy to clean with a damp cloth, and should last you years. Quality vegan shoes are mostly sold online, so get your feet measured at shoe shop, to avoid the hassle of returns. They are all made from kind and sustainable materials. It’s good to let shoes dry out on alternate days so they last longer, so invest in two pairs, and they should last a long time.
Many people believe the leather industry is a by-product from the meat industry, but this is not usually the case. The leather tanning process is not just cruel but also mostly very polluting to the planet, and for the tanners. And most brand name shoes are made in the Far East, which has very little animal welfare (or human rights) laws.
Freerangers (Newcastle) offer 21 colour choices for their vegan sandals. There are traditional open sandals with adjustable straps and roller buckles for easy adjustment, handmade to order. Or for women, choose from various styles and your colours of choice, all with padded insoles and shock-absorbing flexible soles. They even make shoes for odd-sized feet!
Vegetarian Shoes (Brighton) offers a nice range of ethically-made summer sandals in bright colours. These are mostly ‘Birkenstock-style’ sandals, some with toe posts. Lightweight and comfy due to the contoured footbed, these are easily adjustable to quickly slip on and off, with an added comfort foam layer, cork and rubber midsoles and a cushioned grippy outsole.
The Cornish Seaweed Company sells sustainably harvested items that you can find in stores. Not everything is in zero waste packaging (like the salt) but most is. Seaweed is simply algae that grows on rocky shores around our coast. Never let dogs eat seaweed (they like the taste or to play with the fronds) as it can expand in the stomach as it dries.
Although widely eaten in Asia, seaweed here of some types if edible, and has iodine (talk to your doctor, because most people with thyroid problems can’t eat it, or it will be iodine overload). For everyone else, the naturally salty taste is a good way to reduce salt, and ‘make the taste of fish’, without actually eating it. We have around 700 species (black, pink, green) but not all are edible, and most can’t be seen above ground.
Leave harvesting to professionals who ‘give seaweed a haircut’. Pulling seaweed from the roots is like digging up a tree by the roots. Galloway Wild Foods writes ‘It’s a rockpool to you, but a universe to a shrimp!’ The different types of seaweed include:
- Sea spaghetti tastes like mild salty asparagus
- Kelp (kombu) has a salty, sweet smoky taste
- Dulse is used to make vegan bacon!
- Sea Greens is often called ‘Chinese fried seaweed’
- Irish Moss (carrageen) is used to replace gelatine to make setting agents. It’s popular in beauty products and so nutritious that people used it to survive, during the Irish potato famine.
We all know that a good beach hut costs the same as a small house, but many people continue to buy or rent them. It’s understandable. How lovely is it that you can go to the seaside in any weather, boil the kettle and then look out to sea from your own little pastel-coloured kingdom?
Back in Victorian times, beach huts were portable ‘bathing stations’ on wheels, where people of wealth could be transported down to the sea and back, without losing their dignity for changing into a costume! Today, wild swimmers have no fear. They just get down to their cossies and jump right in – often at some ungodly hour in the morning, even on Christmas Day.
The man going round taking money for deckchair rental is likely a childhood memory. If you don’t fancy sitting on a towel, many people choose to hire a deck chair. Fine for the day, but not good long-term as they offer no spinal support and encourage the spine to curve. A few years back, Blackpool tourism suggested phasing them out, as they were ‘a reminder of the era of cloth caps?’, but the locals thought otherwise.
Other Edible Seaweed Finds
- Vfish Vegan Fish Sauce combines 3 different seaweeds with shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce, to produce a sauce with all the ‘fish’ flavour, but without the fish.
- Clearspring offers seaweed seasonings and agar-flakes.
Seaweed Makes You Beautiful
- Phoenix and Providence (Scilly Isles) offers (mostly) vegan and sustainable harvested seaweed beauty care, in zero waste packaging.
- We have many lighthouses in England, and not all are tall and cylindrical, with white and red stripes. We have circular lighthouses and even a short squat one! Many are now not in working use, but some are. Years ago, lighthouse keepers would live year-round to keep the gas light going, to warn ships of impending wrecks. Above and below are Little Difference Recycled Greetings Cards (illustrated by an artist who grew up on Isle of Wight).
One of the most notorious areas for shipwrecks in England is the Scilly Isles. It may look like the Caribbean to us. But any diver will tell you that lurking below are lots of ghosted shipwrecks, a testament to how dangerous the waters around these beautiful islands are.
Trinity House maintains most of England’s lighthouses, and if you visit their site you can meet them all. It also lists all of England’s light vessels (ships that act as lighthouses). The charity also helps support the seafaring community. The site describes exactly why lighthouses are different colours and shapes. This is due to local lighting and shape of the land.
So if the surroundings are dark (woodland), the lighthouse will be painted white, to help it stand out. The red and white background so familiar is usually due to being near white cliffs or rocks. Some lighthouses are short, so sailors can more easily see the beam. If nearby to each other, they must produce different flash patterns, so mariners know which is which.
The Scottish LightHouse Mystery
A long-forgotten mystery is still talked of, over the border in Scotland’s Flannan Isles. Many years ago, three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared from their charge, and nobody knew what happened. It was a complete mystery (a bit like that Peter Weir film Picnic at Hanging Rock, where the schoolgirls disappear without trace). There were stories of ghosts and aliens. Recently, it was reported the mystery had likely been solved: one of the men had been unfairly fined for his equipment washing away in a gale. It is now believed that fearing it would happen again, it was a tragic chain reaction that he was washed away trying to save it, and so were his two colleagues who tried to help.
How much do you know about these three common finds at the sea? We sometimes take things for granted, when we see them everyday. So let’s get to know the three most common items we can find at the beach.
Whether a beach is sandy or pebbly, usually depends on the local landscape. Sandy beaches are usually found in bays, where the waves have less energy, and the water is shallower. The colour of the sand depends on what it’s made from. In England, our sand is nearly always brown, due to iron oxide from broken down rocks. In Caribbean, the sand is pink due to coral or white in California, due to mineral quartz.
Children love to build sandcastles, and it remains on of the few joys of life for the younger generation, that the ‘press it, buy a battery for it and let it lose your imagination’ toy industry has not managed to get hold of and ruin. The best sandcastles are built with wet sand on cool days, as dry sand will just fall apart. Go for 50/50 water and sand for the best castles. Unlike clothing, plastic buckets and spades are unlikely to leach microplastics, but it’s still good to use alternatives if found. Plan Toys Sand Play Set offers a CE-certified set (12 months plus with supervision) that’s made with planwood (formed from compressing sawdust under heat). It uses up offcuts from the factory and looks like stone, but is a nice plastic-free alternative. The set include a bucket and different spades.
Pebbly beaches are often found near cliffs, which have higher-wave energies. The ocean water gradually erodes rough rock to make them smooth (a bit like old pirate bottles that are smoothed over time to make seaglass, often used for jewellery).
You should never take pebbles from the beach, because they form natural sea defences, to break the form of big waves. If too many are removed, this could cause coastal floods.
Seaweed is simply algae that grows around our shores. Don’t harvest slippery seaweed unless you know what you’re doing. Sustainable companies just ”give seaweed a haircut’, leaving the roots (seaweed is used in food and beauty use, but seaweed should not be consumed by people with iodine or thyroid issues). Leave seaweed be, as it forms an important part of the ecosystem. As someone once wrote ‘it may be just seaweed to you, but it’s a universe to a shrimp!’
Don’t let dogs eat seaweed or play with the fronds. Once dry, it can expand in the stomach and become an emergency.
Music Break: Old as the Sea
You likely remember the famous song a few years back from Passenger ‘Let Her Go’, but explore further. Michael David Rosenberg still lives in the city he grew up in (Brighton) and is a talented classically-trained guitarist. He kept his band’s name, after it disbanded. This is lovely, listen to the lyrics: