footsoldiers of the coastline

An understanding of the sea in its eternal turmoil and its effect on the coast is something that lies within the very foundations of sea angling. How the tides come and go on a daily basis, where they reach their peak and their furthest retreats are essential knowledge for consistent success. This knowledge is perhaps the first practical lesson we learn and it can take a great deal of time to fully comprehend the enormity of the ocean, its actions and its consequences.

Growing up in a seaside town complete with beach, harbour and rocky headlands, I became familiar with the associated dangers from an early age. A coastline that at a glance appeared to be like any other had lessons to teach and over the course of time, teach them it would. 

An old pair of trainers seemed the ideal set of footwear for exploring, they’d do the job- surely. But oh how they failed and the bruised legs, arms and every other limb soon became testament to this early oversight. I remember a Monday morning in school recollecting a weekend session with a pal and laughing hysterically at our bruised selfs flailing amidst the muddy boulders that were like glazed ice to our pathetic sneaks and their smooth soles. 

Walking boots soon took their place and we learned not to fall over; not quite so much anyway. Mud flats that were equally capable of sending you on a first class trip to face-plant city were also overcome in time by adopting a skating type posture that enabled us to cover some ground. Thin crusts of sand that at a glance appeared solid and harmless would break up under foot, sometimes sending you knee deep in to the sticky stuff. Not life threatening in itself, but if you lacked just a reasonable level of fitness, you might struggle to pull yourself free. And with a rapidly advancing flood tide, this is where the danger potentially lies. 

In fact, our approach to the coast in general soon became honed and with much practice, we attacked it with confidence and vigour. 

Those boulders that initially put us on our butts and involved a lengthy, carefully trodden negotiation were soon floated over as a regular person would tread a suburban pavement. The composition of mud could for the most part be assessed at a glance and so crossed safely. We learned how to interpret the terrain here and we benefitted greatly.

But the much spoken of tidal range found in the Bristol Channel was always a source of great fascination and this was to be our toughest learning curve. Weston-super-Mare hasn’t earned the nickname Weston-super-Mud for nothing and any visitor to the town will more than likely have witnessed the town beach high and dry. Thick mud that spans the length of the bay is revealed when the tide retreats some half a mile away, which in itself must be some kind of shock for visiting holiday makers. Travel a couple of miles north of Weston and you’ll find Sandpoint, a long finger like rock peninsula steeped in angling history.

There’s probably no finer place to witness the incredible strength of the tide than here and a walk out on to the tip during the ebbing stage of a spring tide will reveal a terrifying torrent of rushing brown water which is an incredibly audible experience, as well as a visual one. 

So what exactly is the point to all of the above? As an angler, I’ve witnessed all of the curve balls that this landscape deals us, been educated the tough way at times and learned to adapt to the environment. Because let’s be honest- education is where it’s at. The sea and the coastline is a mean beast and it can’t be beaten, it demands respect- so it’s little wonder that visitors here who are none the wiser to its dangers find themselves in all kinds of trouble. Had I not taken an interest in sea angling and effectively used the coastline as a playground from an early age, chances are that I too would be green to any of the above dangers. 

Each year during the Easter Bank holiday weekend, the first unfortunate victims come to the fore in the shape of vehicles parked upon the sands of Brean and Berrow. What appears to be a safe and convenient place to park can be flooded by the incoming tide in a matter of hours, as the vehicles occupants set off on foot for the day having taken little notice of the warning signs placed strategically along the length of the beach. This sets the theme for the rest of the holiday season and rightly or wrongly creates much merriment for the local community. 

Other signs that clearly state that deep mud is present are brazenly disregarded by those fortunate to be driving a four wheel drive vehicle that claims to be able to reach the summit of Everest. Tractors and tow ropes tell another story as these all terrain reveals are revealed as anything but, much to the anguish of their ignorant drivers who previously showed a total disregard and chose to ignore those warning signs. During a recent session on Brean beach, I made a mental note of warning signs and general information that’s available to the visiting public, of which are plentiful. So why do they choose to ignore them?

I can only conclude that without first hand experience of these dangers, they presume that this is the kind of thing that only happens to others. But boy, what an expensive lesson to learn. 

The cliff tops of the adjoining Brean Down, that heads the beach to the north, are incredibly sheer. Signs are in place warning of the obvious dangers of a perilous drop, but again, the signs warning to keep dogs on leads are ignored and many animals have been lost over the years. 

Perhaps the most common occurrence along this stretch of coastline is that of visitors attempting to reach the water on foot, often unaware that the tide is ebbing faster than they can negotiate the mud flats. 

Wading through knee deep mud is an exhausting business and under the heat of the July sun, dehydration and cramp can make the task nigh on impossible. Standing still in one spot is the easiest way to become stuck fast and sure enough, this scenario is one that occupies much of the RNLI, the coastguard and beach ranger’s time. 

Again, the warning signs are in place- they are simply ignored. 

So, what can we as anglers do to help the situation? Firstly, vigilance is key and should we witness members of the public heading for potential danger, we should tell them. Chances are that they will appreciate the warning and will be more likely to listen to a person than read a sign. 

Make them aware of the tides and give examples of anything you have witnessed. As anglers we will be viewed as ambassadors of the coastline and as such have a duty to keep an eye out for those who may not be quite so learned in its ways and means. Not everyone wants to be sociable when they’re out fishing and I fully accept that many of us partake as a means of escaping people and crowds. But at the same time, we are a valuable asset to those authorities who’s day to day job keeps those very visitors safe. If we take on the unofficial role of foot soldiers and offer assistance when we can, it can only be a further enhancement to the image of sea angling, which in a day and age where that perception can be questionable, is a very positive thing. 

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