A Cornish Beach Loses Its Sand

The winter storms of 2013-14 flooded homes here, destroyed sea walls and boats, and cut the Cornwall’s rail link to the rest of the country. It glued us to the 6 o’clock news. We’re all disaster hounds at heart, as long as we’re not underwater ourselves.

Our village wasn’t underwater. All the storms did was steal our beach.

Once upon a time, a village in Cornwall had a beach and everyone was happy. Children played in the tide pools, cafes sold ice cream, and the sun shone every day, or even if it didn’t we all remember that it did, and isn’t that almost the same thing? Drivers paid to leave their cars in the parking lot, and everyone but me called it a car park, as if the cars went there to enjoy nature and restore their souls. Then the storms came and took the sand.

In a tourist area, losing your beach is worse than the sun not shining, and the sun not-shines a lot here.

A neighbor of ours is a geologist, and she swears the sand’s just off shore. It’s being held hostage by the currents, or the angry gods of global warming, or sea creatures seeking revenge on our species. (You should probably understand here that this is not exactly the explanation our geologist neighbor gave me.) Now, revenge is probably justified but it’s inconvenient as hell. I mean, come on sea creatures, I know we’ve done horrible things to you and your kind, but couldn’t you do this in the off season?

No, they couldn’t, and here we are, at the height of the tourist season, and at low tide our beach is a strip of small, rounded rocks, a long stretch of green, slimy rock, then, at last, a strip of sand. And getting across that slimy bit is lethal.

A kid picking his way across green slime

A kid picking his way across green slime

Our neighbor swears the sand will come back, but not many of us want to wait. Like anybody whose loved ones are held for ransom, we’re trying to solve the problem in various and occasionally crackpot ways. We’re creatures of a high-tech culture, which is another way of saying that when something bad happens in the natural world, we think we should fix it. The sand’s gone? Well, we’ll just march out there and take it back, thank you very much. Or if not us, someone. All we have to do is activate the Sand Authority—that bunch of lazy bureaucrats sleeping off a nap when they should be out there Fixing Our Beach, in capital goddamn letters.

One suggestion (to the Parish Council, which unlike the Sand Authority actually exists) is to dig a channel through the green slimy patch, creating a path to the water. This means moving rocks aside. Huge rocks. Bedrock-type rocks. What’s under the rocks, though? Well, either it’s more rock, in which case we’ll have traded green, slimy rock for rock that will quickly turn green and slimy, or it’s birthday cake, in which case all current geological theories need rethinking.

The beach’s lifeguards aren’t thinking much about the birthday cake theory—they’re practical people and not interested in life’s Large Questions, in more capital goddamn letters—but they do worry that digging a channel could create a permanent rip current. What’s a rip current? A current strong enough to carry unwary swimmers out to sea. Now I’m no expert, but this strikes me as a problem. Wouldn’t the tourists be more likely to come back if we let them go to Spain for a season than if we let them get pulled out to sea?

But we want to Do Something, and digging a channel is Something. Sorry about all those capital letters, but this kind of battiness demands them. I can only hope an expert comes along and puts his or her flipper down. Or that we argue about it long enough that the sand escapes captivity and comes to rest once again on our shoreline.


Interested in what else the storms did? At Mount’s Bay, they revealed the remains of an ancient forest that is now underwater (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-26263856). At Dawlish, they undermined the railroad tracks so completely that they hung in the air like strands of steel spaghetti (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=storms+dawlish+line&newwindow=1&rlz=1C1SFXN_enGB503GB541&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=4DPaU9D0GcKO7QaGjIDICA&ved=0CFQQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=909). In Norfolk, they first revealed 800,000-year-old footprints—the oldest ever found in Europe—and then covered them back up (http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/news/earliest-human-footprints-outside-africa-found-in-norfolk.htm).

7 thoughts on “A Cornish Beach Loses Its Sand

    • What happened along the coasts probably wasn’t the worst of it. Miles of crop and pastureland were flooded–for months. I’ve always sort of loved a storm, but this winter really did take the fun out of it.


    • Your cry has awakened my slumbering conscience. I personally have seven grains of sand in the right-hand pocket of my favorite jeans, and I’m on my way to the beach right now to return them.

      I feel so much better.


  1. This comment came by email: “Didn’t realise Crackington’s beach is disappearing, ‘til I read it on your blog. I have a theory that someone is stealing your sand. Maybe Bude–they seem to do pretty well for themselves…! Your shops must be doing a roaring trade in beach shoes, though. Maybe you need lots of tyres, and a floating reef.”


Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.