I am deeply cynical of awards. Perhaps it’s because over the years I have been involved in various schemes, be they for music, tourism, entrepreneurialism (should be an award for just spelling this), young entrepreneurs, business, literature et al. Some are beyond reproach, meticulously fair; some are politically driven; and some are outrageously decided. Equally, I have known a whole raft of organisers of such schemes, and they vary from the impeccably scrutinised to the outright sullied.
So, when an award is bestowed I am driven to find out how the judging was handled and what is at stake. The Sunday Times announced on 21st July their UK Beach of the Year is …………. Tenby’s Castle Beach. Great! Spread the word, social media it (well, you can message and text, so why not media as a verb?). But what has happened? Have I been seduced by proximity or bias? I thought it was time to test the process, so here goes.
“Over the past two months, Chris Haslam has made his annual pilgrimage around our shores in search of Britain’s top 40 beaches”, leads the Sunday Times article announcing the winner. So, we now know it is the opinion of one person who happens to be the paper’s “chief travel writer”, based upon his travelling around in July and June.
There are some criteria apparently: –
Water quality: good
Car park: £6
Dogs allowed: no
Beach huts: no
Wheelchair accessible: no
Now I happen to know the Castle Beach is wheelchair accessible, not wheelchair friendly, but beaches rarely are. Dogs are also allowed, albeit only on the very northern side, so as to enable dog owners to take their pets to Caldey Island via the ferries running from the low water landing pontoons at the beach. So the criteria don’t appear to be particularly important.
Who were the other contenders? Woolacombe in Devon (No 4), Alum Chine in Dorset (No 10), Felixstowe in Suffolk (No 9), Boggle Hole in North Yorkshire (No 2), Marloes in Pembrokeshire (No 3), Achmelvich Bay in Highlands (No 6). The one thing all these have in common is that they were the highest placed in their respective regions. Oh and another thing, they’re all very different. So how would you decide one is better than any other?
The Sunday Times journalist, Chris Haslam, goes on to write: “If you love the seaside, then you know the feeling. It’s nostalgia, anticipation and that never-quite-satisfied curiosity of coming to the edge of our island and gazing into the unknown.” Grand sentiment, perhaps, but it provides no explanation of any ranking system or marking process.
Chris also states: “When you spend a significant part of the year touring the British coastline, you can’t help but become sensitive to magic. You smell it on the air, see it in the reflections off the sea, hear it in the cries of the gulls and feel it crackling in the sand beneath your feet. On some beaches you hardly feel it at all, on others it comes in buckets and spades. Many beaches need to be utterly empty for it to be detectable. On others, the vibe is amplified by the upwelling of human happiness, and those with the most powerful magic work in all weathers.” So, he agrees, the beaches are all different.
I conclude that there is very little in this awards process that meets proper scrutiny, very little that seems fair, justifiable or even reasonable; that we could take the journalist or even the newspaper to task for allowing to sneak through some arbitrary process with a clear winner. Last year’s winner was Filey Beach Yorkshire, completely different again. The year before was Newquay, Cornwall.
There are other award schemes for UK beaches: the UK Beaches Guide Best Beaches of the UK – a top ten from which you can choose which is your personal best beach (of course you can do that anyway, regardless of anyone else’s top 10, top 100 or top 1,000; Trip Advisor names Bournemouth (second year on the trot); Big 7 Travel (a travel guide) – some polling of 6,105 of its readers revealed the best in the UK was Pedn Vounder in Cornwall. And you will all have your own favourite printed, social media’d, filmed authorities on beaches. So, there can be no real conclusion.
I remember when Barafundle was awarded some few years ago “the best UK beach for a picnic” and subsequent other ‘best of’ awards; within 12 months its secrecy was ruined and it is now so overfrequented few locals go anywhere near it in the summer. Which brings me to the best beaches in Pembrokeshire – I suspect elsewhere too – are those which will never be granted Hollywood star status. Why? Because we’ll never tell anyone about them. They are the genuine award winners and we are the few to celebrate them.