How To Enjoy (and Survive) England’s Beaches

You’re sitting in front of a fan and quaffing iced tea. There’s nothing on TV, save for the insipid talk shows and soap operas. The dog, sprawled out on the floor, looks as listless as you feel. Venturing out to the mailbox isn’t something you’re about to do; you’d barbecue your feet before you got halfway down the asphalt driveway. In other words, the highlight of your day will be the arrival of the air-conditioner repairman … if he ever makes it.

Or maybe you do brave the elements and go to the beach. Although there are roughly 937 other beachgoers, you’re optimistic about finding an unoccupied patch of sand larger than six inches in diameter. Having resigned yourself to a canned-sardine-type fate, you sit down for lunch. Whoops, a girl just put the “sand” in your “sandwich.” You later get to meet the child’s irate father because your Brobdingnagian foot accidentally pancaked her Lilliputian sandcastle. Finally, you trip over a robust woman who apparently shot the sofa to make her bathing suit.

Many people concur: The dog days of summer aren’t much fun. Staying at home can be a real bore and every beach in America is chockablock full. You might consider traveling abroad; maybe you have done so before. The United Kingdom has always been a popular destination for overseas vacationers, but there’s more than just Buckingham Palace and high tea. What most people don’t realize is that England has some beautiful beaches, and in the summertime, they’re almost empty.

As with any trip, the first step is finding out basic information to determine whether Great Britain sounds right for you. Travel agents can provide details about such matters as package deals, airfare rates and hotel accommodations, but do some independent research. You’ll learn much more by doing so. For instance, it’s advisable to find out general info about local tourist spots. Just remember the three magic words: “Plan in advance!”

Keep in mind some various factors when choosing a beach. First, pick the ones that sound most appealing and compare them. North Dover, for example, boasts a nearby market town, a blue flag resort, caravan sites and a functional washroom. Conversely, Saunton features dunes to explore, rentable Beach Villas and miles of breathtaking sand— although this beach’s only restroom facility is the “portaloos.”

Also consider the various amenities the beaches have to offer. Is the parking close-by? Is there an eating establishment of some sort, or perhaps a shop to rent beach umbrellas, deck chairs and other apparatus?

All travelers should be aware of—and prepared for—potential problems. For one thing, do yourself a favor and avoid renting the inflatable beach boats. You’d go drifting out to sea and, while some relatives might not actually mind, your immediate family would be devastated for hours.

Furthermore, when it comes to weather, plan for the worst; British summers are generally pleasant and sunny, but both brisk temperatures and storms have been known to interfere. Pack warm clothes, just in case. Remember, Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humor, so if the sky starts getting dark and ominous, look out. Just refer to this Handy Weather Chart if you’re not sure of the meteorological phenomenon you are experiencing and how to respond:

a)  Problem: Your sandwiches are wet and limp.
Possible explanation: It might be raining.
Solution: Decide to like soggy tuna sandwiches.

b)  Problem: Your Handy Weather Chart blows away while you’re attempting to figure out what the current weather is.
Possible explanation: It might be windy.
Solution: Watch The Weather Channel more often so that you’ll be able to recognize basic atmospheric conditions without a stupid chart.

c)  Problem: Your beach bumbershoot becomes airborne.
Possible explanation: It might be very windy.
Solution: Take shelter before the umbrella rod becomes a deadly projectile.

d)   Problem: Your spouse or child becomes airborne while desperately clinging to the abovementioned umbrella.
Possible explanation: It might be a tornado.
Solution: Wave goodbye, then take shelter.

e)  Problem: Your ugly red rental car with the ding on the roof is suddenly struck by lightning and is reduced to a smoldering mass of metal.
Possible explanation: It might be a thunderstorm.
Solution: Realize that what just happened could well be a sign from God and get on your knees.

f)   Problem: Your body gradually disappears into a sandy grave (sans headstone).
Possible explanation: It might be your son or daughter burying you in the beach.
Solution: Shout “Hey, you kids cut that out right now!” in an authoritative voice.

g)  Problem: Your feet are freezing cold, developing small icicles and being pecked by birds wearing nuns’ habits.
Possible explanation: It might be the South Pole.
Solution: Contact your travel agent immediately, tell her she’s fired and hope that one of the local bears will share his fish with you.

Time to be serious for a minute. It’s critical that people visiting British seashores be aware of a very real danger: Over the past few years, there have been more than 900 reports of bacterial and viral illnesses—in some cases, fatal—contracted while on a beach. Not one of those poor people left England with particularly fond memories. These beach-borne diseases are blamed on agricultural run-off and sewage pipes’ waste. Experts and scientists have cited outdated health standards, saying they’re too lax.

While many contaminated beaches have since been closed down, some have not. For your own sake, be diligent in looking for safety or health reports regarding the beach you are considering. Like the stupid pencil sets, sweatshirts and coffee mugs that no one ever actually uses, Hepatitis C and E coli are not good souvenirs!

Now that you’re fully aware that your sunny trip could result in disaster, including contracting an illness and dying a slow, painful death, it’s time to look on the bright side. There are lots of activities to disperse that newfound paranoia. Several unexploded mines, dating back to World War II, were discovered on one beach; those mines have been removed, but you can try to find another one yourself. Just don’t pick it up. Additionally, many places have sand dunes that you can explore. You could also surf, water-ski, take a swim or play cricket. If all else fails, take the advice of annoyed housewives everywhere and “go fly a kite.”

If that’s not your cup of tea, you are free to sit on a blanket like a beached whale and try to get a decent suntan. Be careful not to fall asleep for hours on end, or else you’ll turn an interesting shade of red and, upon arriving at the airport days later, your spouse and kids will be arrested by Customs officials for violating the rule about importing veggies. (Did your family really think they’d get away with attempting to smuggle the world’s biggest beet onboard by dressing it as a tourist?) That won’t actually happen, of course. If you get confused with a giant edible plant, it’ll be a tomato.

In the middle of summer, when nearly every state in America is blistering hot and there isn’t a quiet shore even remotely near home, don’t you think you deserve to deserve to be relaxing? The goal of a trip should not be to worry about taking care of a million minutiae; “vacation” means “get away from it all and have a good time.” This is why it’s worth the effort to plan ahead, be prepared and be well-informed.

You should now understand some of the pluses and minuses of an England getaway. Of course, not everyone would necessarily enjoy such a destination; there are hundreds of other places in the world to visit. Compared to the “beach crisis” in the States, though, Great Britain has a lot to offer, especially a distinct lack of crowds. Still concerned about the potential hazards? Don’t stress out; the climate is a bit cooler than what you’re probably used to, but other than sporadic showers and thunderstorms, the weather is harmless.

As for the contamination problem … be careful but don’t get neurotic. Just do some investigating using the suggestions mentioned earlier. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, not to mention a few thousand pounds sterling for the doctor’s bill!

You’re relaxing in England, and you have a dream about life at home. The sweaty dog’s distinct odor stinks up the room just as much as the trashy TV shows. You go out back to make some burgers. Even the “Kiss the Chef” apron doesn’t save the processed cow patties from certain death—namely a promotion to burnt-offering status—so you forget the idea and go out front for the mail. The driveway, wearing its own apron (“Kiss My Asphalt”), char-grills your feet to a lovely jet-black. You head off to the beach and, upon finding a spot, break out the tasty sardine sandwiches. Oops … make that “sandy-wiches.”

Then you wake up and realize you’re still in the United Kingdom. While you’re sitting on the sand, how about writing a postcard to your friendly neighborhood air-conditioner repairman? He probably misses you. Even more than you miss life at home. Yeah, right.