Su Carroll rounds up the very best activities and things to do in February along the coastline.
1. LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Valentine’s Day and hints of a forthcoming spring are enough to put you in the mood for love. For me, the sights, sounds and smells of the sea have always made my heart skip a beat. At home, the sight of the ocean from Plymouth Hoe has always been special. It is a vantage point to wave goodbye to loved ones setting sail or where we wait to welcome them home.
Find somewhere to be with the one you love on Valentine’s Day (or any other day for that matter) that gives you a view of the water and a chance to escape from day to day stresses.
Here are some favourites to put you in the mood:
- Medieval Tintagel Castle (pictured) in Cornwall oozes romance – it is linked to the legend of King Arthur, and has breathtaking views with dramatic rocks that offer sheer drops with waves crashing on the shore below. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/
- Also in Cornwall is St Ives – home to many artists over the years attracted by pure, clean waters, blue skies and sandy beaches.
- The Gower Peninsula in Wales holds a special place in my heart (and reader, I married him). Unspoilt with panoramic views of the sea and a haven for wildlife.
- In Northern Ireland, an ancient volcanic eruption created the atmospheric Giant’s Causeway which is steeped in legend. So can see a similar landscape with the iconic basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Hebridean island of Staffa.
- In Edinburgh, Victorian resort Portobello has a beach with two miles of golden sand while Cramond beach offers views across to the UNESCO Forth Bridge.
In Tintagel, the National Trust are custodians of the Old Post Office. It was the first built property the Trust acquired in Cornwall, in 1903. Once a 14th century yeoman’s farmhouse, in Victorian times it was licensed to receive letters. There’s lots of interesting things to see and a pretty garden. tinyurl.com/3jh5k48c
2. HIDDEN ASSETS
Lonely Plant has identified Caithness and Sutherland as a top ten award-winning region for 2024. This far north of Scotland has a unique blend of history and natural beauty – explore the castles at Keiss and Dunrobin (pictured), discover the immaculate sandy beaches and enjoy the chance to glimpse hen harriers or golden plovers which thrive in the pristine ecosystem of Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve which has hopes of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here is Scotland at its most romantic – heather-clad hillsides, vast expanses of open countryside and the beautiful coastline which stretches for about 100 miles. It was once occupied by Picts and invaded by Vikings and you can find a lot of rugged scenery here, untouched by time. caithnessandsutherland.com
Brochs are huge round towers only found in Scotland. Just over a mile from Dunrobin Castle is Carn Liath – a drystone structure with a narrow entrance passage at ground level, a guard cell on the north side, and a stairway running up between the two walls. Although it’s only three metres tall today, it would once have been three times that height and at the heart of an Iron Age village, serving as a defensive structure. There are ruins of other village stone houses and outbuildings nearby. historicenvironment.scot
3. EXTREME WEATHER
Stunning images of the impact of climate change can be seen in Claire Cansick’s new exhibition, You and I Are Earth, her first in a public gallery. The Norfolk-based artist began a project in 2022, intending to chart climate change-related weather events.
Claire explains: “The objective was to record an entire year of (TV news and social media) reports, effectively freeze-framing the fleeting images we are fed through various media, allowing time for appropriate reflection of their serious nature and then collectively observing the entire picture of climate change over 12 months.”
The Firstsite gallery in Colchester is showing the entire collection of paintings in chronological order, with patterns of weather moving sequentially across the 40 artworks. In so doing, an emerging repetition and rhythm becomes apparent.
The exhibition acts as a stark reminder of the increasingly damaging effects of climate change.
After a summer last year which was scarred by wildfires across Europe and North America, accompanied by record temperatures and floods in countries across the globe, Firstsite’s presentation of Claire’s exhibition is especially poignant. Ends April 14. firstsite.uk
Nearby Brightlingsea is a charming seaside town with pretty coloured beach huts, lots of independent traders and a museum plus outdoor lido (both seasonal opening). The museum – which is free to visit – is in new premises in Station Road and is a great introduction to what the town has to offer. Why not try out one of the two trails it suggests? There’s the Town Heritage Trail for families and adults and the Bricklesey Mouse Trail for little ones. brightlingseamuseum.co.uk
Planning for next month? Browse our selection of things to do in March.
4. PAINTING PAINTERS
At the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter a new museum commission is on display. Local artist Janet Sainsbury, known for her contemporary approach to portrait painting, chose to study four women artists whose work is in RAMM’s art collection – two Exeter-based contemporary artists, Michelle Sank and Amy Shelton, and two artists with links to the south west, Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Gillian Ayres (1930-2018).
Janet met, photographed and sketched both living artists while she referred to historic photographs of Gillian Ayres and Barbara Hepworth to inform her sketches and create new portraits.
“I paint portraits of artists because I’m interested in their different paths and connections, how that relates to their inner lives and how that is expressed in their work,” says Janet. “All four artists are connected, for me, by a passionate determination and how they emotionally and instinctively respond to the world around them.”
The selected sketches and finished paintings offer a fascinating insight into Janet’s artistic practice, illustrating a skill that combines both a bold palette and sensitive line, resulting in a unique style. Ends May 19. rammuseum.org.uk
Exeter is pretty interesting above ground, but you can go underground and explore the city’s medieval passages. Designed to protect the pipes used to supply clean water from natural springs outside the city, guided tours have been available since in the 1930s. There are stories of wars and sieges, plague and pestilence. Visit the visitor centre first to discover artefacts and see a model of the passages and a video fly-through. exeter.gov.uk
5. SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
It might seem an unlikely subject for an artist, but Hurvin Anderson’s love of the barbershop scene – which he first painted in 2006 – is at the heart of a major review of his work at Hasting Contemporary.
Salon Paintings will feature selected works from his celebrated Barbershop series, which depict the interiors of traditional men’s hairdressers and evoke a profound sense of history, memory and place.
“When I first saw the space, it was actually more about the mirrors,” says the 58-year-old Birmingham born artist. “I walked in. It was quite still. Guys were waiting. People were cutting hair. Then you’d turn around 90 degrees and there’s two mirrors behind you. It’s an odd atmosphere to work in. To have so much reflection. To see yourself constantly.”
Hurvin photographed the salon and used his images as the basis for what became a series of brightly coloured, semi-abstract works, featuring the typical paraphernalia of a barbershop, including the distinctive chairs, bottles, machines, large mirrors and posters. The barbershop has become a recurring theme of his work, one which he has regularly revisited. The show features his very first painting and initial studio drawings to a new large-scale drawing and a painting which is one of the largest works in the series. Until March 2024. hastingscontemporary.org
At Hastings they put the ‘fun’ in funicular with the East Hill Lift. Since 1902 it has been moving passengers from the beach to Hastings Country Park which overlooks the Old Town and Rock-a-Nore. It was in the park that Hastings resident John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, was inspired to test his invention. You can also see Stade, home to the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe. visit1066country.com
6. TRYING TIMES
Hull’s Streetlife Museum now has a permanent exhibition celebrating Hull sporting hero Clive Sullivan, and rugby in Hull. The Welsh rugby league legend played for both Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers, as well as Great Britain and Wales, and became the first black person to captain any national British side.
The display documents Sullivan’s achievements through items that have never been on show before. Clive died of liver cancer in 1985 at 42, just six months after retiring from the game. The exhibition also charts the history of the city’s rugby league clubs – and shines a light on Hull’s first gay and inclusive rugby team, the Hull Roundheads.
The museum is also home to over 200 years of transport history spread across six galleries. This immersive world of bicycles, carriages, motorcars, railways and street life showcases rare cars dating from 1897 which are part of the 1900 motor show, a 1940s street reconstruction and the original Cottingham North signal box which was moved to the site brick by brick.
Situated within Hull’s Museums Quarter close to Wilberforce House and the Hull and East Riding Museum. All are free to enter. visithull.org
A group of dedicated volunteers who are accredited White Badge guides are offering walking tours for visitors to learn more about Hull – and how the city has been shaped by its rich maritime history. The 2½ hour-long tours take place every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 11.30am (with a shorter 90-minutes Sunday tour at 1.30pm). Best of all, the tours are available free of charge – although pre-booking is essential. maritimehull.co.uk
7. PLAY TIME
Visit the world’s first ever museum dedicated to the history of childhood. Opened in 1955, Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood boasts an impressive collection of toys, games and artefacts relating to British childhoods. See fascinating and rare objects as well as toys you may recognise from your own childhood.
Amongst the displays you will find toys, games, clothes, books and dolls, dating from the 1800s to the present day.
Explore a child’s life at home, at school and at play. See blasts from the past like Muffin the Mule, the first star of children’s television and Radio Rex – a 1920s voice activated toy. Favourite toys which last the test of time are also on display including a Buzz Lightyear, the action figure from 2000 and a Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone from 1979. And don’t miss the dressing-up area and tee-pee in the imaginary play area which offers families the chance to play together. edinburghmuseums.org.uk
The Greyfriars Kirkyard may seem an unlikely destination, but it’s a mecca for Harry Potter fans as author JK Rowling is said to have been inspired by some of the names on gravestones here. Tom Riddell (died 1806) turned into Tom Riddle aka top Potter villain Voldemort. Other names that found their way into the books are Moodie, Scrymgeour and McGonagall – actually the headstone for poet William McGonagle. greyfriarskirk.com
8. EMPIRE EXPLORED
In Plymouth The Box art gallery and museum is exploring the theme of Revisiting History through Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture, End of Empire. Originally commissioned for the First World War centenary, it depicts two figures wearing brightly coloured suits. Their heads have been replaced with globes and they sit on a steampunk seesaw – a symbol of Victorian industrialisation.
Both suits are made from ‘Dutch wax’ textiles: an Indonesian batik printing technique which was pioneered by the Dutch in textile mills, imported to Africa in the 1800s, and claimed as their own by the Ghanaians and Nigerians.
The globe heads represent the two ‘sides’ in the First World War: the British-French allies and the Austro-Hungarians and Germans. The seesaw swings slowly, constantly rebalancing; a striking visual reference to a global conflict that shifted the balance of power and which saw the demise of four once dominant empires – German, Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian. Until June 23. theboxplymouth.com
There’s no point in visiting Britain’s Ocean City without getting out on the water. Plymouth Boat Trips run the passenger ferry that crosses Plymouth Sound from Stonehouse to take you to Cornwall near Mount Edgcumbe, or head out from the Barbican to Cawsand (from Easter) on the new service that links the Barbican, Royal William Yard and Mount Edgcumbe. There are loads of fishing trips, short day cruises (a favourite is Dockyard and Warships) and river trips up the Tamar. plymouthboattrips.co.uk
9. TICKET TO RIDE
Liverpool is still on a high after hosting Eurovision in 2023. Now a new art installation has been unveiled in the world-famous Cavern Club (pictured) that explores the connections between the Beatles and the countries competing in the Eurovision Song Contest last year.
The Cavern played home to The Beatles 292 times between 1961 and 1963. The project, simply titled The Beatles and Eurovision offers 37 facts that directly relate The Fab Four to each of the countries taking part in the competition last summer.
The 10ft-wide fact-filled artwork situated next to the iconic stage in the club aims to provide a focal point and photo opportunity for visitors. The project is the brainchild of Cavern Club managing director and lifelong Beatles fan Bill Heckle. Ends May 5. cavernclub.com
2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the release of the Beatles debut studio album Please Please Me and a visit to Liverpool will show you where it all began. Head for the Cavern Quarter which includes The Cavern Club, a Beatles Museum, tributes to Cilla Black and John Lennon and take a look at the Liverpool Wall of Fame. Just around the corner on lower Stanley Street is where visitors can find Eleanor Rigby, sitting alone reading a copy of the Liverpool Echo. visitliverpool.com
10. DIVE DEEP
A new exhibition at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard delves into the extraordinary tale of the HMS Challenger Expedition over 150 years ago. Worlds Beneath the Waves reveals how the Challenger Expedition in 1872 forever altered our understanding of the Earth’s ocean.
Created in partnership by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the National Oceanography Centre, the exhibition shows how the Royal Navy is still at the forefront of scientific discovery, collecting research which helps us understand our changing ocean – on which human wellbeing depends.
The exhibition features the voices of the men and women at the forefront of marine biology, and provides opportunities to explore scientific ideas through interactive exhibits, getting up close and personal with the famous Boaty McBoatface and the chance to create your own AI-generated sea creature.
HMS Challenger spent four years exploring uncharted waters across the globe discovering an array of bizarre and wondrous creatures, and discovered the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on the planet, revolutionising our understanding of marine biology, geology, and oceanography. End March 2025. historicdockyard.co.uk
The Nature Reserve at Portsdown Hill is home to wildflower meadows and wildlife-rich habitats where you can find birds such as yellowhammers, whitethroats, and peregrine falcons. Most of the extensive chalk grassland on this ridge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. At 430ft above sea level, you get magnificent views of Portsmouth and towards the Isle of Wight. visitportsmouth.co.uk
The Gone Wild festival – a success at Powderham Castle near Exeter for three years – heads for the Norfolk coast and a new venue at the Holkham Estate. Co-founded by Bear Grylls (pictured) and former Royal Marine Officer Oli Mason, the festivals will provide action-packed adventure, rewilding and live music over four days, delivering incredible experiences with over 100 activities included in the ticket price.
These range from archery, abseiling, survival skills, axe and spear throwing, to tree climbing, break dance workshops, foraging walks, shelter construction, raft building, rock climbing, wild swimming and SUP experiences.
Music at Gone Wild Norfolk will come from Example, Sam Ryder, Reef, Scouting for Girls, and McFly.
“It’s always been our ambition to open a second UK site and I’m so excited to announce that Holkham Park will become our east of England home,” says Bear Grylls. “Just like Powderham Castle in Devon, it’s set in thousands of acres of parkland close to the coast, with deer, mighty oaks, a walled garden, and stunning views. It’s a perfect formula that allows us to provide amazing experiences on land and on water.
“Our goal is to get families spending time together in the outdoors. There’s a reason Gone Wild is the UK’s fastest growing family festival. Where else can you learn how to light fires, go climbing, throw your mum down a 50-foot mud slide, then party together while watching great bands?”
Gone Wild Norfolk August 8-11. Powderham is over the Bank Holiday weekend two weeks later. gonewildfestival.com