Beachcombing in Kent

With a coastline that's the meeting point between the North Sea, The Thames Estuary and the English Channel, no wonder Kent is a treasure trove for beachcombers....

“Kent has a unique position in Britain. Our coastline is the meeting point between the North Sea, The Thames Estuary and the English Channel. This means that all kinds of different objects from these waters find their way to our beaches,” he explains.“Then you’ve also got several towns, specifically around Thanet that have been major tourist destinations for years. Somewhere like Margate has been a tourist spot since 1735, so people have been leaving items onthe beach or in the sea for nearly300 years. In Margate alone I’ve found key fobs, personalised ringsand tokens with the names of Victorian businesses on them.”Although beachcombing is often seen as something to do in the summer, largely because the good weather makes a trip down to the coast more appealing, it’s actually something that can be done all year round. But, as Phil explains, some times are slightly better than others.“I find that spring tide is the best time to go out beachcombing. These tides do occur in the spring, butnot just then. The term spring-tide means those times of year whenthe gravitational effects of themoon and sun are in line, causing higher than average high tides,and lower-than-average low tides. “Unusually low tides can reveal all kinds of treasures. Ironically, some of the best spring tides do occur in the spring, but at any time of year these tides can expose interesting finds.”Another good time to go beachcombing is following a storm. Not only do storms churn up the seabed, releasing long-buried items but, says Tony, they can also reveal items hidden on the beach for decades.“This happened a few years ago following a severe storm that hit Margate. Around Newgate Gap, at the site of the old bathing station (which had long since been torn down), my son and I found a small, sand-filled crater that had been revealed around the stump of the station’s central post.“Using a trowel we dug out thehole and found many coins in layers as we dug down to about three feet,” he says. “Most of the coins werepre-First World War and weremore than likely lost by people using the bathing station at the time.In total we found 176 coins, the oldest being an 1889 florin.”In recent polls two Kent beaches, Westbay and Herne Bay East,featured in the top 10 locationsfor beachcombing in the UK. But although these might be among the best nationally, because of its unique position most of the county’s coastline offers something for beachcombers.Local artist, Steve McPherson (above) found that the beach where he grew up near Margate was a treasure trove for a budding beachcomber.“I found all sorts on the beach; bits of dolls, jewellery, hair clips even a gas mask. Some of these have been left behind but other bits have probably travelled for miles,” he says.“One thing I did and still do sometimes find is Baltic amber, which has obviously travelled some distance. You get all kinds of different sizes and the colours are beautiful, ranging from clear to normal amber. I’ve even found bits of white and black amber.”Although beachcombing was a childhood passion, it was something that stayed with Steve as he grew up. So it was perhaps inevitable that at some point he would begin to incorporate it into his work.“I always wanted to start usingthe materials that I found while beachcombing,” he explains.“In the end, what inspired me was marine plastic. Some of this is easily identifiable, such as, dice, forks and parts of old dolls. Other plastics thatI use are less identifiable. These are just bits of plastic that have been worn by the sea and faded by the sun.“At first sight the things I’ve collected seem to have no worth. And yet to me each has a story. When you think of a piece of plastic that’s found on a beach, not only are you linked to the person who threw it away you are also linked to the people who made it, possibly thousands of miles away.“The same is true of somethinglike a doll. No obvious worth, butat one time this was a child’sprecious toy,” he adds.“That’s what my marine plastic work is about: illustrating the way in which something found on a beach can have a deeper resonance than is assumed at first sight.”One touching aspect of Steve’s beachcombing, but not something used in his work, concerns those rarest of finds, a message in a bottle.“I’ve found a few of these over the years. I always make sure that I reply to the letter that’s inside. When I was a kid, I would have been overjoyed to think that someone had found my letter and bothered to reply, so that’s why I do it. It’s one of the most enjoyable things a beachcomber can find.” My daughter’s initial excitementa few years ago has since become infectious and now no family tripto the beach is complete withouta little beachcombing. It’s awonderful way to spend an afternoon.The only downside for me itmy children’s discovery of howmuch I hate seaweed. From their cheeky grins I know that inevitably some of it is going to land on my head, because witnessing my horrified reaction is almost as much fun as the beachcombing itself.   

“Kent has a unique position in Britain. Our coastline is the meeting point between the North Sea, The Thames Estuary and the English Channel. This means that all kinds of different objects from these waters find their way to our beaches,” he explains.

“Then you’ve also got several towns, specifically around Thanet that have been major tourist destinations for years. Somewhere like Margate has been a tourist spot since 1735, so people have been leaving items onthe beach or in the sea for nearly300 years. In Margate alone I’ve found key fobs, personalised rings and tokens with the names of Victorian businesses on them.”

Although beachcombing is often seen as something to do in the summer, largely because the good weather makes a trip down to the coast more appealing, it’s actually something that can be done all year round. But, as Phil explains, some times are slightly better than others." I find that spring tide is the best time to go out beachcombing.

These tides do occur in the spring, but not just then. The term spring-tide means those times of year when the gravitational effects of themoon and sun are in line, causing higher than average high tides,and lower-than-average low tides.

 “Unusually low tides can reveal all kinds of treasures. Ironically, some of the best spring tides do occur in the spring, but at any time of year these tides can expose interesting finds.”

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Another good time to go beachcombing is following a storm. Not only do storms churn up the seabed, releasing long-buried items but, says Tony, they can also reveal items hidden on the beach for decades.

“This happened a few years ago following a severe storm that hit Margate. Around Newgate Gap, at the site of the old bathing station (which had long since been torn down), my son and I found a small, sand-filled crater that had been revealed around the stump of the station’s central post.

“Using a trowel we dug out thehole and found many coins in layers as we dug down to about three feet,” he says. “Most of the coins were pre-First World War and weremore than likely lost by people using the bathing station at the time. In total we found 176 coins, the oldest being an 1889 florin.”In recent polls two Kent beaches, Westbay and Herne Bay East, featured in the top 10 locations for beachcombing in the UK. But although these might be among the best nationally, because of its unique position most of the county’s coastline offers something for beachcombers.

Local artist, Steve McPherson (top photos) found that the beach where he grew up near Margate was a treasure trove for a budding beachcomber.“I found all sorts on the beach; bits of dolls, jewellery, hair clips even a gas mask. Some of these have been left behind but other bits have probably travelled for miles,” he says.

“One thing I did and still do sometimes find is Baltic amber, which has obviously travelled some distance. You get all kinds of different sizes and the colours are beautiful, ranging from clear to normal amber. I’ve even found bits of white and black amber.”

Although beachcombing was a childhood passion, it was something that stayed with Steve as he grew up. So it was perhaps inevitable that at some point he would begin to incorporate it into his work.

“I always wanted to start using the materials that I found while beachcombing,” he explains. “In the end, what inspired me was marine plastic. Some of this is easily identifiable, such as, dice, forks and parts of old dolls. Other plastics that I use are less identifiable. These are just bits of plastic that have been worn by the sea and faded by the sun.

“At first sight the things I’ve collected seem to have no worth. And yet to me each has a story. When you think of a piece of plastic that’s found on a beach, not only are you linked to the person who threw it away you are also linked to the people who made it, possibly thousands of miles away.

“The same is true of something like a doll. No obvious worth, butat one time this was a child’s precious toy,” he adds.“That’s what my marine plastic work is about: illustrating the way in which something found on a beach can have a deeper resonance than is assumed at first sight.”

One touching aspect of Steve’s beachcombing, but not something used in his work, concerns those rarest of finds, a message in a bottle. “I’ve found a few of these over the years. I always make sure that I reply to the letter that’s inside. When I was a kid, I would have been overjoyed to think that someone had found my letter and bothered to reply, so that’s why I do it. It’s one of the most enjoyable things a beachcomber can find.” 

My daughter’s initial excitement a few years ago has since become infectious and now no family trip to the beach is complete withouta little beachcombing. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

The only downside for me is my children’s discovery of howmuch I hate seaweed. From their cheeky grins I know that inevitably some of it is going to land on my head, because witnessing my horrified reaction is almost as much fun as the beachcombing itself.