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The humble sandcastle is emblematic of the traditional British seaside holiday. And yet, when I visited Scarborough as a child, it was not my brothers and I who were the main sandcastle builders, but my mum.
Above: No sandcastles for me – apparently I liked to draw random circles in the sand (from the author’s personal collection)
Sidenote: Can you spot the Marvel’s chairlifts in the background?
My mum’s sandcastles were elaborate affairs – a huge mountain of sand was surrounded by a fortress of small castles, and crowned with a singular form on the top. This uppermost castle usually ended up with a flag of some kind piercing its roof, and a deep moat around the outside was filled with seawater. The outer walls and entry road were painstakingly patted into place. On every seaside visit this formula was repeated to a high degree of accuracy.
But what, you might ask, has this got to do with any of the former seaside attractions investigated here?
Well, firstly, sand is part of the language of the seaside, and all of the attractions are inevitably tied to Scarborough’s status as a seaside resort. I wanted to find a way to reference more general themes of the project. Childhood is another example – playing with sand is something many of us did as kids, whether that be at the seaside or in a sandpit.
Above: Playing with sand is more commonly a childhood pursuit (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
Secondly, I wanted to find a material that would effectively represent the decay of the chosen attractions. Sand is malleable, but also incredibly fragile. One of the things I love about sandcastles is that, when the day ends, the sea washes them away, and the beach is smoothed out, like a fresh canvas for a new morning.
When I visited the Marvel’s site last week, I was struck by how swiftly Nature had erased many traces of the amusement park’s existence. I like the idea that no matter what we build, Nature always reclaims the land back eventually. Whilst there is a sadness to be found in the dereliction, and in some cases, redevelopment of old attractions, there is also a sense of rebirth and recovery. After all, building an attraction arguably violates the natural world, and when it fades away, plants, trees and animals return.
Enough philosophy for now.
More about the sandcastles!
Above: Experimenting with sand (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
I began by simply experimenting with the sand, and the bucket and spade (bought from the seafront at Scarborough of course!). I also used various props to reference former attractions – such as the cardboard water chute sign above and chocolate coin wrappers as stand-ins for the Hispaniola doubloons.
Above: Signs and symbols (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
I enjoyed the lines, shapes and texture of the sand, and the process of constructing, destroying and reconstructing castles – repetitive gestures that mimicked both my mum’s methodical building processes and the ongoing history of development, redevelopment and dereliction that has characterised many of Scarborough’s attraction sites.
Following initial experiments I developed the idea further by creating crumbling sandcastle memorials to each attraction, complete with a handmade flag featuring a fragmented image of said attraction.
The strength of these sculptures lies in their temporary existence. In moments the sand starts to turn to dust, and slowly but surely the primitive structures cave in. They never last for a long time, like, say, a grand old painting in an art gallery. In a way they are like the memories I’m exploring – fragile, temporary and always changing.
Above: The crumbling memories of long lost attractions (Copyright: Stories From Scarborough)
I plan to develop this idea further once I arrive in Scarborough, possibly on the North Bay – mainly because this is nearest to the majority of the attractions I’m researching, but also because this is the beach I always played on as a child – more often than the louder, busier South Bay.
Making sandcastle memorials with real Scarborough sand would be so much more meaningful – perhaps I could even hold a memorial service for all the long lost attractions. Perhaps.