The holiday season is at its peak and the beach beckons. Whether you’re opting for windswept days out in Wales and Cornwall, electing to lounge stylishly in the Venice Lido, or choosing sun and sand on the shores of the Mediterranean, the same priorities and rules apply.
Whatever the location, there are certain items that are indispensable for a day on the beach. Bring plenty of sunblock, spare hats, towels, hand wipes (useful when the sand is glued to your fingers). If you’re not scrambling for an elusive (and sometimes expensive) deckchair or sun lounger, come with raffia beach mats, inflatable sunbeds and old towels.
If you’re headed for sandy beaches remember that the white sand magnifies the sun’s intensity. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are at their strongest during the hours between 10 am and 4 pm, so limit your time in the sun during this period. Keep a beady eye on all the members of your party and if you see any sign that they’re beginning to burn, brandish your sun cream and apply it liberally – always be generous about letting other people use it.
It’s also a good idea to bring a caftan or cover up, so you can protect yourself during those dangerous midday hours.
You will need to be extra vigilant of children in strong sun and extremely diligent about applying sun block and proffering hats. You must also ensure that they have plenty to keep them amused – buckets and spades are perennial favourites, but bats, balls and frisbees will also be popular. If you’re encouraging your kids to play beach games, make sure that they do so well out of range of other sunbathers who may not appreciate being deafened by high-pitched screams or showered by wet sand.
Keep a close eye on your own, and other people’s children, when they are playing at the water’s edge. The sea might look benign, but currents are strong and innocuous-looking waves can pack a powerful punch.
Try and ensure that there is a shady spot where young children can curl up for a siesta – having fun on the beach can be exhausting.
If you’re bringing your own picnic, or maybe catering for a larger beach party, remember that bamboo or plastic plates and cups will withstand sea air better than paper. The emphasis should be on finger foods (eg cold roast chicken, Scotch eggs and pork pies) and you’ll need to make sure you have plentiful supplies of paper napkins and rubbish bags. A simple alternative is to make lots of delicious sandwiches – crabmeat, crayfish or prawns will give a suitably nautical flavour.
Beach barbecues are an option if you’ve found a remote location where dense clouds of charcoal smoke won’t disturb neighbours. Bring a portable barbecue and prepare skewers and marinade meat the night before; they’ll keep fresh in a cool box. If you’re lucky you might be able to buy fresh mackerel or sardines from a local fisherman and grill them – the ultimate beach food.
Whatever you’re eating, copious amounts of ice-cold drinks are an absolute must, so bring a cool box with plenty of bottled water, fruit juice and fizzy drinks for the kids. If you want to turn it into a real party, you can pack wine and beer. Alternatively, you can blend spirits (eg rum or vodka) with concentrated fruit juices (eg orange, cranberry) and freeze overnight.
It’s wonderful to take a walk along the seashore and to keep your eyes open for beautiful pieces of driftwood or shells. Rules vary from country to country concerning what can be taken away from the beach, so it is worthwhile checking before you start piling up your plunder.
In Britain you can take shells and driftwood home with you, but you should never take any shells away with you that are inhabited by living organisms. Be aware that seashells are an important part of the coastal ecosystem – fish and hermit crabs use them as hiding places or temporary shelter, they anchor growing algae, counteract coastal erosion and are used by birds for nest-building. For these reasons, you will need to be discerning about what you appropriate.
In some parts of Britain, you may be lucky enough to find fossils. If you do so, it is legal for you take them away but if you find an exceptional or rare specimen it is considerate to report your find to the scientific community.
Sea glass comprises pretty fragments of glass that have been subject to natural weathering processes, giving them a frosted, jewel-like appearance. It is fine to take sea glass away; just be cautious around glass and if you find any sharp fragments as you walk along, remove them, and dispose of them, as they might be hazardous to other beachcombers or children.
Behaviour on the beach should be governed by consideration for others.
Respect other people’s space and ensure that noise is at a minimum; try to space yourself out as much as possible and at the very minimum keep at least a towel’s width away from the next encampment. Shake towels out with full consideration of the wind direction. Try not to stare, or ogle, at fellow sun bathers – particularly if they are struggling to dress or undress discreetly.
Music should only be played through headphones, never speakers. Team sports should be reserved for quiet, unpopulated stretches of sand. Respect the coastguard and take note of any signs or flags.
Swimwear should protect your modesty, so avoid anything that goes transparent on contact with water. Cover-ups, such as sarongs and T-shirts, should be worn in shops, bars and restaurants, so ensure you’re semi-dressed when not on the beach itself. You may be proud of your beautiful tan, but preening and strutting in front of other tourists will make you very unpopular.
Female tourists abroad should be aware of the prevailing customs of the area and observe the locals. Never trespass on local sensitivities by being the first to discard your top. Only bare all in secluded areas, and never be the only one in your group to do so.
On departure, clear up all rubbish. That means taking rubbish away, not burying it under a few pebbles or a thin covering of sand. Prepare beforehand by bringing capacious rubbish bags, and if you’re confronted, as is often the case, by an overspilling bin when you reach the promenade, take your rubbish away with you; dispose of it in the first available bin or take it back to your home or hotel. The beach should always be left in a pristine state.
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