Thursday, August 12, 2010

Around the coast

Britain is a coastal country. This is well known. You can rarely be more than 50 miles from the sea. For some people in some countries the idea of being 50 miles from the sea would be as good as being on the coast.

One man, Nat Severs, is, as I blogged before, currently walking the entire coast of the UK at the moment. That’s 7,000 miles. A long way. He’s now heading south, after many months of northward walking, in and out of the endless inlets of the west coast of Scotland, and eating up the miles as heads back to the starting point of Portsmouth, where he began on January 10. It’s all massively impressive and if you want to know more, then go to his website and read more. Most impressively, have a look at the map of his journey and see each individual days walking he did.

Complementing this blog I am here writing at this very moment, is a book I recently read by another previously blogged topic, Paul Theroux, in which he travels around the UK coast, not as literally as Nat, but close enough, following the same clockwise route through walking, buses and, of course, trains. I read it last week as I rattled home on the First Great Western train to Truro out of Paddington, at one point, always the best bit, passing the sea, mere waters from the sand filled with walkers, dog owners nad fisherman. It seemed very apt to be reading of his trip around this very coast some twenty five years earlier when Britain was at war with Argentina.

Theroux’s trip is marked with heavy sarcasm, almost resentment of the places he sees, not always, but often, and his distain for the UK holiday industry of Butlins and the like, of people in box cabin caravans in fields is clear throughout. He sees no better future for the UK coastal future, predicting a continuation of such drab, bleak holidaying of citizens enjoying cheap, regimented fun.

Yet, he was wrong. The UK coast now is fancy, expensive and much sought after. I’ve seen my home town turn from a sleepy sea side place to a growing tourist trap filling slowly with the same chain stores as anywhere else, Costa, Nero, FatFace, and the like. Yes, some areas are untouched by this gentrification, but many are not, and it’s interesting to think that in the 1980s as Britain was a drab, soulless place (through Theroux’s eyes) that seemed to be falling into further disrepair, it has now become home to the likes of Rick Stein filling towns like Padstow and Falmouth with expensive fish and chip shops, growing numbers of arts festivals based around the water and shoreside apartments used by city workers for two weeks a year, if that.

It's interesting to imagine the various futures that people imagined in store for Britain throughout the 1980s, or before, as we do now. Where we imagine, perhaps, failure, continuation of stagnation, it can offer be quite the opposite.

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