Whilst completing my quarterly accounts last week my eyes wandered from the computer screen towards the window and the wonderful view of the North Sea. The spring sunshine was glistening on the waves and the sky was an amazing blue. It served as a reminder as to how lucky I am to have a home and a business so close to the sea.
Feeling mentally refreshed and having now completed the accounts my thoughts wandered back to the sea and a question "What is it about the sea that makes us feel so happy?"
All my favourite memories as both child and adult involve the sea and beaches in a variety of locations around the world. From childhood these ranged from Lindesfarne, Druridge Bay and Bamburgh Castle to Skegness and the donkeys at Cleethorpes (no, maybe not the donkeys!) to the north Norfolk sand dunes around Brancaster to Millom and Haverigg just south of the Lakeland Fells and finally, of course, the incomparable North York Moors coast. From my later years I remembered holidays to the Isle of Wight, Sicily, Dubrovnik; visits to our family half way round the world in Fremantle and our second home in Cyprus.
In my mind's eye all the childhood memories involved lots of warm sunshine, that tangy smell of the sea and shorts/swimming costumes. I dug out some old photos and family cine reels (now on DVD of course!) which brought a lump to my throat. There were fabulous shots of much loved but long gone relatives all enjoying the seaside, but the sadness was soon replaced with a wry smile. To my surprise all the adults appeared to be wearing jumpers and long trousers and shivering in deckchairs. Mum is wearing a black vinyl raincoat; Dad has long hair and bell bottoms - how very 1970s.
As the photos stretched further back through the generations there are more sights to behold. Grandma in a Guernsey sweater (never a jumper!) and silk neckerchief on the beach at Scarborough; Granddad with shirt sleeves rolled up and tweed trousers smoking a pipe (who knew?) somewhere on the south coast of England; great grandparents/uncles/aunts in their 1930s finery at Robin Hood's Bay.
So, back to the question "What is it about the sea that makes us feel so happy?"
Simply being out in the open countryside is not enough. It has been scientifically proven that the closer you are to the sea the better you will feel. The sound of the waves can alter brain patterns making you feel more relaxed; sunshine increases seratonin levels which improves mood and decreases stress; salty sea air has negative ions which accelerate oxygen absorption and clears away the impact of city pollution. All these combine to improve our physical and mental well being and make us more active - think bracing walks along cliff tops, digging for Britain in the sand, scouring the rock pools for limpets and, for the braver ones, swimming in the sea.
It is no accident that a visit to the coast was prescribed by doctors from the 17th century onwards leading to the growth of our many UK seaside resorts. In late 19th and 20th century industrial Britain factory holidays were always taken in the nearest seaside town. The rise of cheap airfares may have given us overseas travel and package holidays, but everybody heads off with the same objectives in mind - rejuvenate, relax, spend time with family and friends and, ultimately, feel better about ourselves.