Many of the shorelines along the south coast are lined with rows of beach huts Worthing and Bognor Regis sea fronts are no exception. Beach huts are a quintessential characteristic of British seaside life and their beginnings can be traced back some 250 years to a time when no trip to the seaside was complete without a ‘bathing machine’. Apparently these vehicles were like beach huts on wheels drawn by horses who pulled them towards the sea so that the bather could step directly into the water without risking their modesty. By the 1890’s it became more acceptable to walk across the beach in a bathing costume and share the beach with members of the opposite sex and before long villages of stripy changing tents were erected on the Edwardian sands. Eventually bathing machines lost their wheels and our modern day purpose-built huts began to appear, constructed in a similar style and painted in bright colours.
Judging by my walk along the seafront with John, there are plenty of beach hut fans out there because all but one of the beach huts we saw were well maintained. A crowd of crows gathered on the top of their favourite hut and squawked their approval as we ambled past. When John and I stopped to sit on a bench, we got chatting to a nice mature couple resting in deckchairs on the patio of their own beach hut, all too happy to regale us with the joys of beach hut life. They offered us a cup of tea and a biscuit while we watched the jet skiers zooming around on the water and I gazed out to sea, wondering what kind of life lay beneath the shimmering surface.
There are some wondrous creatures in the sea like the Thornback Ray found in shallow waters all around England or the dolphin, a highly intelligent and social marine mammal located across the world. I looked at the fishing gear sitting on the shingle close by and wondered how many of the ocean’s dolphins and sharks were caught right at that moment in discarded fishing line or huge commercial fishing nets. These nets are often left behind by irresponsible trawlers and travel many miles across the deep, risking the lives of marine animals that become trapped in them. John showed me a video the other day of some kindly humans relaxing in their cruise boat somewhere near the equator when they spotted a sea turtle in distress and stopped to free it from its ropey tangles. Sea turtles are one of the earth’s most ancient creatures having been around since the time of the dinosaurs so I was pleased to see this little guy rescued to continue its legacy. Scientists estimate that around 26 million pounds of plastic travels from land to the sea every year contributing to massive floating patches of rubbish that kill one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals.
As John and I stood up to take our leave and head home, we thanked our generous beach hut hosts for their hospitality and made our way back along the dried grass pathway adjacent to the beach. John stooped down to pick up an empty plastic water bottle that someone had left on the ground and I contemplated the lovely afternoon we had enjoyed with this couple who represented a time of trust and simplicity which I liked. I also liked them because they gave me tea and biscuits and they clearly had taste, having spent a considerable portion of time stroking my fluffy black cheeks and admiring my plucky personality! Next time I go to the beach with John, I must remind him to pack a little picnic.