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A Shingle Beach, a Sea Defence

Updated on November 21, 2015

A Walk Along the Special Environment of a Shingle Beach

Ours is not just any sort of seaside because ours is a shingle beach which means a beach made up of rounded pebbles. It is a special environment, and it protects us. There are many fascinating facts about these very special places.

Shells and seaweed and stones
Shells and seaweed and stones | Source

A walk along our beach

I want to take you on a walk along our beach-without-sand and see all the reasons why I consider myself to be very lucky to live here beside it. It never fails to interest, amuse and refresh me. We can watch ships and boats, we can go beach combing, walk along the pier, have picnics, go fishing if we happen to want to. It can even be educational - but don't tell anyone.

Let's go through the garden gate (please remember to close it after you) and turn left. We could just as easily turn right but I want to take you past the castle. You wouldn't normally associate a castle with the seashore, I know, but this castle has guarded this section of the coast ever since Henry VIII had it built for that very purpose. It did suffer a bombing, in 1941, during the Second World War but it survived and there was no invasion. In fact that bombing did it something of a favour because the modern extensions were destroyed and restoration took it back to a more authentic state.

Castle with canon overlooking the sea
Castle with canon overlooking the sea | Source

So let's continue our walk

A sharp right turn takes you to the sea and the first thing you notice - no sand. We have a shingle beach, that is, it's covered in smooth stones and pebbles. You'll find seasides like this all around the UK, especially along the south coast but elsewhere in the world they are relatively rare. I'll tell you about why they are special later on, but for now, you'll notice that they aren't so easy to walk along. Keeps you fit though!

I've heard it said that some tourist publicity has exchanged a picture of sand for the pebbles in their pictures but I personally like it the way it is. Stones don't get tramped back home in the same way that sand does.

We have a small fishing fleet based here - the boats are winched right up on the steeply shelving bank of stones. If you are lucky, they will be off-loading their catch as we pass and you can buy the freshest possible fish directly from the fishermen.

Some of my photos of our seashore and surroundings follow.

Six people having a picnic,  sitting on the beach overlooking the sea
Six people having a picnic, sitting on the beach overlooking the sea | Source

Where we are in England

A
The seaside at Deal, Kent, UK:
Deal, Kent, UK

get directions

Position on the coast

Why is this sort of beach special?

Some facts

People, English Nature in particular, have described stretches of shingle as stony deserts. Vegetated shingle beaches, those that have plants growing on them, are really quite rare. As a result they are often given the status as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI for short!).

The plants that can grow on these pebbles are specially adapted to dry and salty conditions which other plants couldn't tolerate. When some plants start growing in the area, later on other plants arrive and colonise too. They become home to rare species of insects and plants and birds. You can see some of the early arrival plants behind the picnickers by the sea. It's too far away to see definitely but I'm guessing it's sea sandwort.

Sea sandwort, like most of these plants, has deep roots and the plant disappears completely during the winter. Also like many, it is edible. They say people survived the drought of 1555 by living off sea pea. Sea-kale is another of the edible species. See the Shingle Species Identification Guide (pdf) from Pevensey-bay.co.uk

I've never seen anyone picking any of these plants - I'm not even sure that it's legal to do so - but I have seen someone taking the fresh young shoots of wild fennel growing along the landward side of the coastal path. I believe, too, that you can find wild asparagus in some parts.

A final fact about this environment, one that makes it of special interest these days - it is a great sea defence. The waves push the pebbles up on the shore but then the sea water sinks down through them so the force of the waves is lost. You can see the effect of the waves pushing the stones along in something called longshore drift in one of my photos to come.

How is shingle formed?

Landslip at the chalk cliffs, the "White Cliffs" near Dover, at low tide
Landslip at the chalk cliffs, the "White Cliffs" near Dover, at low tide | Source

The short answer is that the pebbles come from cliff erosion. As you can see in this photo, the cliffs around here are liable to collapse, due partly to the action of the sea and as the result of frosts.

A large amount of material falls into the sea but most of it is relatively soft and not very resistant to the waves and currents, so it is washed away. But there is a substantial amount of harder material too, which in this area is mainly flint. Flint comes in varying sizes from small fist-size pieces to much larger blocks the size of several house bricks.

The flints are too heavy to be washed far away by the sea but they are rolled around, knocked against each other, and gradually they become the smooth pebbles we see every day.

Shingle in the making

A promontory of chalk on the sea front
A promontory of chalk on the sea front | Source

In some places you can find a small spit or promontory of chalk where you are able to see the erosion of the chalk around the flint which becomes detached and falls on to the beach or into the waves, there to be broken up and smoothed.

Flint embedded in the chalk rock
Flint embedded in the chalk rock

On sea defences and longshore drift

A dredger delivering reinforcements
A dredger delivering reinforcements | Source

By 2012, longshore drift had washed large quantities of pebbles along the coast and left some parts of our town vulnerable to the sea, so the powers that be decided we needed an extended sea wall and additional stones to bank up the shoreline. It took almost two winters to achieve the desired effect.

For months and months a dredger came to deliver a mixture of sand and stones which was pumped ashore.

Moving the shingle
Moving the shingle

The sand had to be removed from the pebbles (because, of course, our beach has no sand) and the remainder spread over the whole area. The sand was taken away, we know not where. Some say it was used on golf courses; some say it was offered to builders' merchants but refused because of the salt content; and some say it was used to make sandbags for flooding defence. The last is undoubtedly possible: certain parts of this country needed a lot of sandbags in the last winter's flooding.

At Eastbourne further along the coast.

Eastbourne has a very similar seafront with, admittedly a rather more impressive pier. Nevertheless, the procedure is the same and clearly someone else finds it as mesmerising as I did.

Sunrise

In the end we have our beach back and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Would you join me on a walk along our beach?

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    • profile image

      Snakesmum 

      5 years ago

      Really enjoyed your lens - I remember walking on shingle beaches in the UK as a child. We don't seem to have them here in Australia. It would be hard for me not to pick up a hagstone, as I seem to collect stones from places I've been! :-)

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      I'd love to, I miss the sea.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      I Think the shingle beach really is gorgeous. How truly unique it is.

    • PinkstonePictures profile image

      PinkstonePictures 

      5 years ago from Miami Beach, FL

      Love this lens. I'm originally from the UK and shingle, stone beaches are so much fun. You can find all sorts of "beach treasure", sea glass and unexpected items. My brother lives in Cornwall and I have lots of lovely memories from our lovely summer holidays at different beaches. Thanks for a lovely lens

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 

      5 years ago

      Beautiful photos. It's so nice to walk on the beach, even on a shingle one.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      5 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I love walking on the beach with kids, we pick sea glass, collect shells and rocks. I could spend all day just doing that

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      5 years ago

      "Shingle beaches are known as stony deserts." Today I learned something new and beautiful. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      I visited a shingle beach last year and have a couple of pictures that are very similar to the one of the shells left on the beach. Lovely lens!

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 

      5 years ago

      I would love to! I had never heard of a shingle beach. It's fascinating. Great photos. I'd like to taste the edible plants, too.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 

      5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I have heard about a shingle beach, but never seen one. How lovely. Thanks you! Blessed!

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 

      5 years ago from California

      Had pebble areas on our beaches in BC as a kid growing up. The rocks and shells were always interesting, with the broken sea glass. Should have appreciated it more though.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Yes, I lived in Seaford at the far end of the Seven Sisters Country Park from you in Kent. We had the same shingle beach and they are beautiful. I even found a Chalk Hill blue butterfly on the cliffs one day they are really rare and only found on these cliffs.

      I now live in Nova Scotia Canada with my wife whom I met in Riyadh Saudi Arabia.

    • Holly22 profile image

      Christine and Peter Broster 

      5 years ago from Tywyn Wales UK

      I really enjoyed reading your article. Beaches are fascinating places with so much to see if you really look. I also live near a beach in Mid-Wales which is sandy in parts and rocky in other areas and I never tire of going there to see what I can find.

    • kcsantos profile image

      kcsantos 

      5 years ago

      Beautiful! This is my first time seeing a beach without sand. Thanks for sharing!

    • Timewarp profile image

      Paul 

      6 years ago from Montreal

      I can almost hear the waves crashing on the shore! blessed.

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 

      6 years ago

      That's interesting. I never knew beaches without sand existed. I can't imagine it'd be a good idea to walk around without shoes, but it looks very pretty and would be a nice place to visit.

    • profile image

      Karen1960 

      6 years ago

      Looks lovely! We have a lovely beach here too, but can't match the variety of flowers you have along the shore.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      I'd be delighted to take a walk on your rocky beach. You've explained it very well and the photos are lovely. You might think about making posters and cards from your pictures on the Zazzle site.

    • esvoytko lm profile image

      esvoytko lm 

      6 years ago

      Those houses on Beach Street are gorgeous! You're so lucky to have this nearby.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      6 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I lived in Seaford in Sussex for over 15 years so your lens brought back fond memories of walks along the shingle. There are no sand beachs for miles, and I loved not dragging the sand back to the house. These beaches typically drop off quite rapidly and have back tows so are not easy to swim off.

      I loved your photographs well done.

    • SheilaMilne profile imageAUTHOR

      SheilaMilne 

      6 years ago from Kent, UK

      @spids1: I don't, no, but plenty of people do although some do wear canvas slip-on shoes. There aren't too many shells at all and the pebbles are very smooth from the action of the sea. You do see some hardy souls (soles?:) ) bare-foot.

    • spids1 profile image

      spids1 

      6 years ago

      Do you ever go swimming? I'd say the stones and shells would really cut up your feet.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 

      6 years ago from Somewhere in England

      I would love to. I've actually walked on quite a lot of shingle beaches and I like the crunching sound of footsteps, and the giant cement mixer sound the waves make as they churn the millions of little pebbles. I've liked this lens but really I love it. I'm going to add a link on my London Seaside lens.

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