Morecambe Sandcastle Festival
I always thought the main ingredient of a sandcastle was sand. In fact I thought it that was pretty much the only ingredient. Ah, but that’s where I’ve been going wrong. Today we learnt how to do it properly, at a sandcastle workshop, on the beach at the Morecambe Sandcastle Festival, and love was on the menu. What’s love got to do with it? Apparently quite a lot..
All you need is love.. oh and sand and water
According to our instructor from sand sculptors Sand in Your Eye, there are two secret ingredients for a good sandcastle. One is love. The other is water. Yup. Really.
And it does seem to be true. Her sandcastles are miles better than my childhood efforts.
First the water
She demonstrates how she would go about making a castle from scratch, packing a tube with sand and water, pressing it down in layers. Lots of layers and lots of water. Sometimes maybe an inch of the stuff. Way more than I’d have put in.
“You can see I’m jiggling it around so that the sand particles wiggle about and stick together,” she says, pushing her hands into the tube up to her elbow. A few taps and she gives birth to a tall tower. Then with nothing more than a ruler and a trowel, she makes stonework and turrets. Or “castellations,” as she calls them.
“Actually they’re called crenellations” says Matthew, who thinks sandcastles are for kids. I check it out on Google because I’m more comfortable with a mobile than a bucket and spade. And it turns out they’re both right.
“Don’t eat the sand” she says. I’m guessing that’s not aimed at Matthew, but the toddlers amongst us.
Then, the love
“Imagine if this was a real castle. Who might live here? A princess? Or a dragon? How would they get into their castle? Or get from A to B?” she asks. Wow. I’ve never tailor-made a castle for an imaginary friend or tenant. I just used to dump them out of buckets in lines. Like a government programme of cheap starter homes. The quicker the better. But then my castles were all bucket shaped and totally devoid of love. Today on the beach at Morecambe, there are castellations and crenellations everywhere in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And today is just a practice. Tomorrow it’s the real building competition with a £50 prize for the best public entry. Families all over the beach are warming up. We’re a competitive family. And if we were to enter tomorrow, we’d need to have a chance of taking the prize. Stuart and the kids get stuck in, practicing their craft.
But not me. I’m now sure there are more secret recipes to the success of a sand castle, so I wander off to pick up more tips from the experts.
Sand Artist at work
In a corner of the promenade I come across Andy Moss, also from Sand in Your Eye. He is a professional sandcastle builder, when he isn’t carving ice sculptures. The two occupations seem at opposite poles but it appears the skills are interchangeable. Like surfing, there’s an international circuit, and he works it with a crowd of sculptors from Russia, Lithuania and Holland. Lithuania I can understand. But how many beaches are there in Russia? Today, Andy is making a giant hermit crab. But the crab is shy. Only the shell can be seen. Or is he just behind with the building?
“We’re always behind. Always pressurised by time and the knowledge that you’ve got to deliver the goods. Failure is not an option. But there’s a real sense of satisfaction when it all goes well,” Andy explains.
How do you get to be a sand sculptor?
“You learn the skills from another sand sculptor,” he says.
I tell him I suspected as much. So I’m on the right track talking to him?
“I guess so,” he laughs.
What’s the best sand?
“Builder’s sand.” he answers without hesitation. “Sand on the beach is old. It has been washed by the tide. The grains are spherical. Builder’s sand is new and easier to work with.”
So he always bring builder’s sand to the beach? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?
“Some beaches have good sand. Like Weymouth,” he grins.
King of the Sands… Cedric Robinson
My next stop in my quest to find out how to build a sandcastle strikes gold. I stumble across a little tent where the King of the Sands, Cedric Robinson MBE is launching his new book today; Time and Tide, published by Great Northern Books. I say ‘King of the Sands’ because Cedric is as close to Royalty as I’m ever going to get. He is the Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands of Morecambe Bay and has been leading people on guided walks across the local sands for half a century. He guides 10,000 people a year and has guided half a million people in total. Today’s an easier day; he’s signing copies of his new book for Father’s Day presents and when it comes to my turn, I tell him I have an important question.
How do you build a good sandcastle?
He laughs as though he’s never been asked that before!
“I’ve never made a sandcastle in my life, I’ve never had time,” he says.
I can see how that might be the case when you are leading hundreds of people a fair few miles across a bay full of sinking sand.
“80,000 miles. Some students from Leeds studied my walks and estimated I’ve walked the distance of twice around the world.”
So he’s walked twice around the world on a beach but he’s never made a sandcastle? How wierd is that? Especially for a ‘shoes off’ kind of person?
Shoes off. I tell my theory that the world is divided into two kinds of people. Shoes on people. And shoes off people. Does he walk in bare feet?
“I’ve done it barefoot all my life. And yes, I walk around the house without shoes.”
Do you like the feeling of sand between your toes?
Cedric chuckles. He doesn’t answer but I’m betting that’s the case.
I must move on
So far I have ‘love, water and builder’s sand’ as the secret ingredients for a good sandcastle. I reckon I need just one more tip to take back to the troops. On a small patch of ground near the clock, Jamie Wardley is making some kind of face.
Who is it? Eric Morecambe?
“Have you heard of Cedric Robinson?” he asks.
Heard of him? I’ve just been talking to him about his toes! Is that Cedric Robinson’s face set into Morecambe Bay?
“It’s turning out to be something like that,” says James.
Turning out? Lordy. Doesn’t he have a plan?
“Well I have a picture of his face.”
In your head?
“No, down there in my bag.”
That’s a relief. But then this is small fry for James. His last job was a seven metre face of an Indian. Did he have to put up scaffolding to reach it with his knife?
“You work from the top down,” he explains, getting on with making Cedric’s beach. That’s another top tip for my team. I wonder to myself if all sand sculptors make things that relate to sand and heat while all the ice sculptors make toboggan runs and Everest? Maybe that’s my final tip. To make something that relates to the sea.
Back at the beach
My family’s sandcastles are definitely relating to the sea. Stuart misjudged their proximity to the tideline and they’re now being washed away. The castle Hannah was building now has a moat. Thankfully her imaginary tenant was a mermaid so getting from A to B won’t be too much of an issue. And Stuart’s fish is swimming happily in the tide.
“You should have made it out of builder’s sand. Over there, on the prom. Next to the Hermit Crab and Cedric Robinson. The sand Cedric, not the real one. He’s in the tent signing books about sand,” I say. No one is listening, they’re all in mourning as their castles turn back into grains of sand.
Water and love. The secret ingredients of their castles turned out to be their downfall. It was easier in my day when we just used sand.