I started manonabeach® tentatively via YouTube in September, 2011 and put the website up in December of that year, as it started to become popular. From its origins in Cornwall, the project has now become national, featuring additional beach visits to Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorset, Sussex, East Lothian, Fife, Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, The Highlands of Scotland, the Isles of Skye, Mull and the Outer Hebrides, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and The Gower, as well as Northumberland, Yorkshire and North Wales, including Anglesey. Through the seasons, manonabeach® returns to each region, building a picture of beach life through the year. There are now over 2,000 films on the website and manonabeach.com has developed into a fully fledged e-book, out of its beginnings as a daily blog. The website is a place where you can enjoy beach visits and a flavour of the beach when you’re not there, all built around beach goers’ answers to the question
“What does the beach mean to you…?”
The series celebrates the elemental power of the beach and its profound effect on people who enjoy being where the air, land and sea meet. The beach means different things to different people, whether enhancing creativity, decisiveness and energy, being restorative and settling, part of a routine, a reference point through generations, freedom or just fun.
In the narrative interviews on the site, you can see and hear people re-present their emotions, perceptions and recollections, all drawn out by the enhancing effect of the beach. manonabeach® is a construct, a passive Everyman, whose role is to bring qualitative findings directly to you, letting you draw your own conclusions from them.
Each beach page, accessed via a national or eleven regional maps, has details of facilities and features, a dog-friendly button, a Google map and bathing information.
The project has a well-being focus, as most viewers are urban and familiar with the beaches that I feature, but are missing the enhancing effect of these places. Through the website, viewers are reminded and often surprised by the wide range of stimuli on offer, where the air, land and sea meet. It’s a tonic, a pick me up at the end of a working day for some. 24% of the site’s visitors are in London and manonabeach® is watched in 138 countries. manonabeach®’s anonymity means that viewers aren’t troubled or distracted by the presence of a personality or celebrity. It’s almost as if the beach goer is talking directly to the viewer.
So what answers have I had to the question “What does the beach mean to you…?” There have been 635 different responses, in 1.080 interviews. Every answer has been meticulously recorded. Overall, the top five responses are:
- Dog walking
- Peace / calm.
I’ve divided the findings into six categories, with each category’s top five below:
Emotional and spiritual
- I love it
- Being near the water / the sea.
Livelihoods and occupations
- Economic pressure
- Economic benefit
Friends and family
- All generations
- Peaceful / calm
- Relaxing / chilled out
- Wide open spaces
- The sea
- Ever changing
- Seasonal changes
Occupations and activities
- Dog walking
It’s clear from the viewing figures that people prefer the unspoilt, undeveloped beaches and there’s clearly a link through the generations that’s important to people. The most popular beaches on the site are not necessarily those that you might expect or that are best known and the subject of the heaviest marketing by tourism agencies. With due deference to the non-Cornish regions, who have only featured since October 2012 or even more recently, here are the top ten most viewed beaches at manonabeach.com:
1. Rinsey Cove, Cornwall, here
2. Holywell Bay, Cornwall, here
3. Polly Joke, Cornwall, here
4. Kynance Cove, Cornwall, here
5. Cley-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk, here
6. Covehithe, Suffolk, here
7. Southwold, Suffolk, here
8. Aldeburgh, Suffolk, here
9. Porthilly, Cornwall, here
10. Crantock, Cornwall, here.
There are regional characteristics that distinguish beaches and may inform the attraction in each place. Long granite headlands feature in Cornwall and West Wales, with the sea often viewed close up from the side, whereas big skies and bird life, including migratory, have a resonant impact in Norfolk and Suffolk. Man’s relationship with nature is starkly visible through the string of lighthouses up the North East coast of Scotland, while the picturesque golf links of East Lothian and Fife, along with North East Scotland, Suffolk, Sussex and Cornwall’s inshore fishing communities and Cornwall’s surfers and wild swimmers highlight the wide diversity of beach use.
The beach is a wonderful place for us all to enjoy. Its ever changing nature, whether on a daily or tidal basis or through the seasons, guarantees an element of anticipation and excitement in any beach visit. You just don’t know what and who you’ll meet there when you go to the beach, meaning that you’ll always have a different answer to the manonabeach question “What does the beach mean to you…?”