Sound and vision blog

11 posts categorized "Sounds of our Shores"

10 May 2016

Marconi and the Lizard

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During the summer of 2015, the British Library, the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland invited members of the public to record and share their favourite coastal sounds. Sounds of our Shores focused on the entire coastline of the United Kingdom, from the Isles of Scilly to Orkney, and received more than 650 submissions over 3 months covering natural history, entertainment, transport and industry.

As part of the project, the National Trust commissioned musician and producer Joe Acheson to create a composition inspired by the history and nature of Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula and Guglielmo Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Station. Here Joe writes about the experience.

Lizard Point is the most southerly point of the UK mainland. In 1900 radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi built a hut there to experiment with sending radio signals over long distances. Marconi’s hut received the first ever ship-to-shore SOS signal.

Last summer I spent a week on the Lizard as part of the National Trust’s first ever sound artist residency. My new EP, Marconi and the Lizard, was the product of that summer residency.

Marconi and the Lizard

I spent a sunny day on The Lizard in June 2015, and luckily recorded a nice dawn chorus in the best season. The week when I returned in August saw almost constant heavy rain, high winds, and regular storms, with foghorns and big waves; all great sounds but they make recording outdoors difficult. Whenever there was a break in the weather I set off on a bike with a bag of microphones to find sheltered coves and fields, ducking behind stone walls and boulders to record crickets in the long grass away from the strong wind, and clambering around slippery cliffs and rocky shorelines trying to get clean recordings of birds, streams and waterfalls.

The EP features the natural sounds of the Cornish coastline - wind, sea, grass, insects, birds, rain and waves. They’re combined with man-made sounds, like the sculpting of the rare local Serpentine stone on a lathe, launching the RNLI lifeboat, weaving lobster pots, lighthouse and ship foghorns, stacking empty 'bongos' (large plastic containers for storing fish on a boat) and fishermen chatting over radio out in the bay.

Joe Acheson Credit National Trust Steven Haywood

© Steven Haywood, the National Trust.

The rest of the sounds come from inside Marconi's hut or over the airwaves - vintage spark transmitters and morse code receivers, lots of radio noises picked up through aerials on his historic sites at Lizard Point and Poldhu, and a few archive recordings from local sound and radio enthusiasts such as a radio transmission from an amateur satellite in orbit, reporting back its temperature and battery status in a robotic voice.

I have taken all these recordings and sifted through them, like searching through old records looking for a sample, waiting to hear a pitched sound I can use for harmonies and basslines, and rhythmic fragments that can be extrapolated into pulsing layers of textures and beats.

Some of the sounds on the album have recently disappeared from the Lizard, like the old lighthouse foghorn that has been replaced by a long electronic beep that bounces around the cliff-faces. I was the last to record the now-decommissioned spark transmitter in the Marconi museum.

The sounds have been minimally treated so that they mostly remain identifiable as a raven, a cricket, a spark or a gust of wind. Some sounds only reveal their musical qualities when slowed down - like the meadow stream which at half speed unveils melodic patterns of tiny pitched droplets. Despite the fact that there are no sounds created by synthesisers or computers, the music sounds quite electronic - probably because I didn't set out to make abstract soundscapes; I like finding patterns and rhythms and combining them to create music with pulse and energy.

On the Lizard I discovered that most of the natural sounds have complementary tempos and pitches, which fit together naturally at their original speed. It’s similar to how birds have evolved their unique calls to remain distinctive in the cacophony of a dawn chorus, with each species taking up their own tiny bandwidth of the frequency spectrum and using complex rhythms to further stand out in the soundscape.

Like the food philosophy 'what grows together goes together', nature has evolved its own sound mix.

Marconi and the Lizard (TruThoughts) can be downloaded in full at

21 March 2016

Sea Inside Us All: celebrating the sounds of our shores

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Last year, the British Library, the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland ran a three month sound mapping project that encouraged members of the public to go out and record their favourite sounds from around the British coastline. 'Sounds of our Shores' received over 600 recordings that covered everything from waves and wildlife to amusements and industry, and helped tell the sonic story of the British coastline during the summer of 2015. At the end of the project, musician and sound artist Martyn Ware was invited to create a composition based on recordings submitted by the public. Here, Martyn speaks about his own relationship with the coast as well as the various themes represented in his specially composed piece, 'Sea Inside Us All'.

Martyn Ware Brighton beach

When Mike Collins from The National Trust asked me to create a long-form piece based on over 600 recordings from the public of the British coast, my first reaction was one of joy…a chance to create a virtually ‘symphonic’ work in the style of a ‘slow radio’ impressionistic experiential sound/dreamscape.

I love the coast of the UK – having had the good fortune to travel all over the world, I can honestly say there are very few countries that can compete with the beauty and diversity of our coastline.

Last year I was commissioned (as part of an online art project entitled One And All) to create a 3D soundscape based on sounds that I collected via a specially built beach hut (which was transported to Seaham in Co. Durham, Orford Ness in Suffolk, and Porthgain in Pembrokeshire), designed to record peoples reminiscences of the sea whilst looking out through a small square porthole to the horizon. The responses we got were incredibly varied, but one common theme emerged – that the coast is a place of contemplation and largely carefree joy – and that people are much more aware of their sonic environment in proximity to the sea.

I also created a 3D soundscape which was installed at Somerset House last year with the hypnotic visual accompaniment of Ben Wigley’s film. We even brought the bruised and battered beach hut to the Thames riverside – it has now become a kind of ‘Tardis’ and it has assumed a character of it’s own (particularly as we encouraged people who visited to graffiti the inside with drawings or comments about the sea!).

For 'Sea Inside Us All', I’ve incorporated some contemplative and gorgeous longer stretches of soundscape with no human presence – from rainscapes to foghorns, from clifftops and birds to shingle being thrown around by giant waves, fisherman’s equipment clunking around in the wind, rockpools gurgling, and simple wavescapes at night.

But the solitude and peace of the coast is counterbalanced by the joy and chaos of busy seaside towns. This is a particular passion of mine, as our only annual holiday every year when I was a child was one day on a working men’s club charabanc trip, usually to Cleethorpes, Skegness or Scarborough. That one day symbolised total freedom and joy – no worries re money – just for one day. The donkeys, the sandcastles, the football, but most of all the penny arcades and the rides, the ghost train in particular… and our one and only trip to Blackpool was like Las Vegas compared to our normal days out – the Grand National ride, and the massive pleasure park…


Another theme that emerged from the recordings was all the recreational events that happen at the seaside – coastal steam railways, morris dancing, the thrill of classic aircraft at seaside airshows, boat trips for bird watching, fishermens songs on a fishing trip, market traders selling the fish, fiddle playing on a drinking session, or simply a cup of tea and a cake out of the rain!

But the real heart and soul of the coast is embodied within the many enthusiasts whose passions are multifarious – descriptions of different seaweeds, a lifeguard describing her work in great detail, the ‘twitchers’ describing the ever-changing natural environment (rather like sentinels on behalf of us all), the clear and present love that many, many people have for the coast is completely evident in these recordings.

My son Gabriel Ware had recorded some orchestral pieces about the sea previously for a project in Liverpool entitled 'The Crossing' (a 30 minute piece about a trip to New York and back on an imaginary Cunard liner – but over 175 years also!) – so I asked him to write some music for 'Sea Inside Us All'. His compositions perfectly embody the wistful calm and serenity of the coast.

In today’s ever-increasingly time-poor world, it is also evident that trips to the coast are an opportunity for families to reconnect in a less-sensorially cluttered environment.


All these elements combine to create a beautiful and emotionally engaging piece of work, which will transport you to another world by the sea – a world of fond reminiscence and happy times, of enthusiasts, of natural sonic majesty and beauty and of simple human pleasures, but most of all children and families at peace with the world, with all their senses fully engaged. That is why we all feel so much more alive at the coast…

So put your headphones on, relax and drift way… or try listening whilst in a busy city or commuting – it works!

Martyn Ware 14th March 2016 

To whet your appetite, here is a five minute excerpt from 'Sea Inside Us All'

Sea Inside Us All excerpt_Martyn Ware

The full length version is available on audioBoom here.

08 September 2015

Waves, Skylarks and Halyards: the favourite seaside sounds of BBC coast presenters

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Everybody has a favourite coastal sound. That special sound that brings a smile to the face or a warm glow to the soul. For some it is the ever present sound of the sea while for others it's the song and calls of our coastal wildlife. Whatever it may be, sound helps us form some of the strongest memories we have of our times at the coast.

A group of people who are no strangers to this are the presenters of the acclaimed BBC series Coast. We spoke to some of the presenters about what the sounds of the coast mean to them.

Nicholas Crane

Nick Crane

Favourite Coastal Sounds_Nick Crane

The Changing Sounds of the Coast_Nick Crane


Tessa Dunlop

Tessa Dunlop

The Magic of Iona_Tessa Dunlop


Mark Horton

Mark Horton

Favourite Coastal Sounds_Mark Horton

Lost Sounds of the Coast_Mark Horton


Alice Roberts

Alice on cliff

Favourite Coastal Sounds_Alice Roberts

Thinking about Sound_Alice Roberts


The UK's Favourite Coastal Sound

A few weeks ago the Sounds of our Shores team asked the public to vote for their favourite UK coastal sound. The results are in and we're delighted to announce that the sound of gentle waves breaking on a sandy beach won with flying colours.

Adam Long, a photographer based in Sheffield who recorded the winning sound, says:

“I’ve been visiting this corner of North Wales several times a year since I was a small boy, and so it feels like a home from home. The recording was made at a spot which is a favourite for an evening walk, and was made in spring before the summer crowds. The sea was almost mirror calm, and I was pleased to capture the gentle sound of the breaking waves and the fulmars on the cliff behind.”

Sounds of our Shores runs until 21st September so you still have a couple of weeks to get out there and record your favourite coastal sound! Full details on how to take part can be found here.


Many thanks to Coast co-creator Steve Evanson for providing these interviews

18 August 2015

Sounds of Steaming ‘Doon the Watter’

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Steve Evanson is a Co-Creator of Coast, the hit BBC TV show that celebrates our love affair with the UK shore.  Coast has run for 10 years, becoming a global brand with Coast Australia and other spin off series.  As we pass the midway point of the Sounds of our Shores project, Steve shares a day trip down the Clyde in classic Victorian style, and reveals his favourite coastal sounds.

I was a student in Glasgow in the 1980’s, but only recently did I realise a long cherished ambition - a voyage down the Clyde on the world’s last sea going paddle steamer, the PS Waverley.   

The tradition of a trip ‘Doon the Watter’ began in 19th century when Clyde-built steamships first started to ferry Glaswegians on excursions out to the Western Isles. Stopping off at the charming resort towns like Largs and Dunoon, the Clyde then widens out to open sea as the Isle of Bute comes into view.

The majestic scenery speaks for itself, but what makes this a truly magical experience for me is the rhythmic sound of the steam driven powerplant. 

Built by Rankin & Blackmore Engineers, at their Eagle Foundry on the Clyde, the prime mover of the Waverley is a 2100 horsepower, triple expansion steam engine, gloriously open to full public view.  Crowds gather to savour the sound and smell of this wheezing beast as it effortlessly drives the massive 18-foot diameter feathering paddle wheels.  

Muscular pistons propel the ship at a surprisingly brisk top speed of around 20 mph, but that still leaves plenty of time to indulge in a ‘wee swally’ in the bars below deck. Booze has always played a part in these cruises along the Clyde. In 1853 the Forbes MacKenzie Act outlawed the opening of Scottish pubs on a Sunday. However, pleasure craft were exempt, so thirsty workers flooded onto the cruisers on their day off, and the floating bars have been busy ever since.  Heavy drinking on the steamships is said to be the origin of the phrase 'Steaming Drunk', shortened in Glasgow simply to ‘Steamin’.


After a couple of hours in the bar, Victorian drinkers disembarking on the Isle of Bute were relieved to find, right on the quayside, probably the most magnificent toilets on our coast. The majestic Public Conveniences on Rothesay seafront have been restored to their full porcelain glory. The Gents are a sight to behold - women and children are welcome to explore too for the price of ticket.  The thundering roar of ‘The Deluge’ chain flush loo now echoes around empty ornate urinals. But once the mighty whoosh of The Deluge drowned out the sighs from generations of grateful Glaswegian shipyard workers standing in stalls. 

The sounds of the working coast aren’t the beautiful calls of nature you’ll find on windswept cliff-tops or secluded beaches, but that’s why I take those noises of humanity to my heart.  They speak to me of our relationship to the sea, how we’ve made it our home and it’s nurtured us in return.


Now we’ve been given the chance to vote for our favourite sound of the coast, so please listen to the wonderful Top Ten contenders put together here.

Much as I love the melancholy call of the seals or the clattering chatter of the Kittiwakes, my vote goes to ferries on the Mersey…

The bells and horn sounding in the fog are both a warning and a comfort, a reassurance and a call to adventure.

Please vote for your own favourite from the Top Ten before 27 August 2015 … make your vote count!


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. 

11 August 2015

Vote for the UK's favourite coastal sound!

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Whether it’s the sound of waves rolling on to golden sands, seagulls crying from the clifftops or children playing on the beach, we're on a mission to discover the UK’s favourite coastal sound! Drawing from some of the finest recordings submitted by members of the public to the Sounds of our Shores project, we've come up with a list of 10 sounds that in some way represent an aspect of the UK coastline. From nature to industry, transport to entertainment, these evocative sounds immediately transport you to the coast, having the power to bring back treasured memories or instantly calm the senses. 

So what have we chosen? Here's a breakdown of the 10 sounds that have been selected for this public vote:

1. Children playing on Brean Sands

 2. Dredging oysters at Brightlingsea 

3. Gentle waves at Trwyn Llanbedrog 

4. Ghost train ride - Palace Pier, Brighton 

 5. Kittiwakes at the nest

 6. Mumbles raft race

 7. River Mersey ferries in the fog

8. Seagulls and waves at Black Bay, near Monreith 

9. Seals calling and snorting on Raithlin Island 

 10. Singing Sands, Eigg, Scottish Hebrides

To take part in the vote to find the UK's favourite coastal sound, simply complete the Sounds of our Shores online poll here. We'll be announcing the winner in early September so make sure you register your vote before midnight on Thursday 27th August.

Sounds of our Shores runs until the 21st September so there's still plenty of time to record and upload your favourite coastal sounds. Full details of how to take part can be found here.


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015.

28 July 2015

Coastal Memories

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A couple of weeks ago, Paul Nichols wrote about the sounds of Norfolk's Blakeney Point, where he works as a ranger for the National Trust. We now hear from fellow ranger Kate Martin, who is based in the formby area, as she describes her favourite auditory memories.

I think hearing and smell are the two most evocative senses we have as human beings. One single sound can transport you back to a very specific place and time and can even make you recall the exact feelings you had at that moment. The coastal landscape of the UK is full of these sounds for me, and hearing any one of them is guaranteed to make me smile wistfully if I happen to be away from the coast.

One such sound is the piping call of the Oystercatcher. On hearing that high pitched “peep-peep” I am about 4 years old, standing on the steps outside of the cottage that we went to for our summer holidays on the Solway Firth in Galloway. I can feel the sun beating down, I can smell the coconut- scent of the gorse bushes that grew behind the beach and I can hear the cry of the oystercatchers as they move around the bay, searching for mussels and limpets on the rocks or tasty worms and other morsels buried under the sand.

Another more recent auditory memory comes from the wonderful Sefton Coast, where I am lucky enough to work as a National Trust Area Ranger. This sound has unfortunately been lost in many areas where it used to exist, but it still hangs on in a few precious locations in the UK. The sound is the unmistakeable call of the Natterjack Toad, which always reminds me of a well-worn ratchet being wound round and round. The toad can only be heard on warm nights between April and the end of June, and due to its nocturnal serenading it has earned the local name of the ‘Birkdale nightingale’. This sound reminds me of sitting on my front step in Formby with my husband and my border collie Lottie (and most importantly a chilled glass of white wine) at around 11pm on a balmy May evening, listening to the distant call of the male toads trying to attract a mate in the breeding pools. The most amazing thing is that these breeding pools are approximately 1km from where we were sitting, pretty impressive for a creature 7cm long!


A view of the sand dunes and beach at Formby, Liverpool (National Trust Images / Jemma Street)

I could go on for a long time listing coastal sounds and the places they remind me of, such as the babble and squabble of guillemots and South Stack on Anglesey, or the ethereal cry of grey seals and the Lizard peninsula. However the final sound I will leave you with, which is probably the most common in my day-to-day job, is the sound of an Area Ranger unintentionally crunching sand between her teeth after a day’s work on the wind-blasted sand dunes  - nice!

Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. Full details on the project and how to take part can be found here.


22 July 2015

The Sounds of Brighton Seafront

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David Hendy is a media historian and professor of Media and Communication at the University of Sussex. Formerly a radio producer for the BBC, he has a deep interest in the relationship between humans and sound, in particular how these relationships can help us understand human experiences throughout history.  In 2013, he wrote and presented the 30-part Radio 4 series ‘Noise: a Human History’.

Our relationship with the coast has certainly changed over the years, and as a historian I think that studying sound can be a really useful way of reflecting that. Places like Brighton and other south coast towns were pretty small in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period: Brighton itself was a fishing village in decline, a working environment. However, by the end of the 18th century there was a growing fashion for sea-bathing, which resulted in more and more people visiting the area, but also in new kinds of sound. On the beach here in Brighton, for example, you’d probably hear the sounds of bathing machines being dragged up and down the shingle, sometimes pulled by horses. 

This leisure industry really took off in the 19th century once you had the railways facilitating day-trippers, but also when you started to have the notion of a ‘weekend off’ from work. Londoners would come down in their thousands upon thousands, and they were in search of fun. So all these towns like Brighton and Margate had to compete with each other to attract them through entertainment. This meant piers, funfairs and penny arcades, open-air theatres, bandstands. 

Nowadays, those have been added to by things like volleyball courts, bars and nightclubs, which continue to attract so many people in the high season that one of Brighton’s alternative monikers is ‘London-by-Sea’.  But really these attractions are all just the latest modern versions of something that’s been going on for over 150 years. The sounds might have changed, but people have been coming to these places to have fun – and sometimes quite raucous fun – for generations.

Personally, it’s that whole mix of sounds that I like about the coast. If you come down to Brighton and you lie on the beach and shut your eyes, you’ll hear an incredibly rich tapestry of sounds: the waves act as a baseline, on top of which you have other natural sounds like the wind and gulls, but also that element of people enjoying themselves in the cafes or the arcade. When you visit the coast you might have a rough idea of what you’re going to hear, but it’s the way in which those ingredients vary from place to place and from time to time, season to season, which makes the coast endlessly fascinating.

 I think a big part of people’s attraction to the coast stems from the fact that most of us don’t live near the sea these days. So when we do go to the beach, what we’re really trying to experience is a different landscape – and soundscape - to the one that we have in our daily lives. When we listen we are surrounded by sound - it’s a 360 degree experience - and we feel part of the environment in a way I don’t think we do when we simply look at something. In every day life we perhaps tend to take the sounds around us for granted, and I think one of the main virtues of this sound map project is the fact that it will help draw people’s attention to the kind of sensory experiences which we might usually overlook.  It will help remind us how precious these sounds are as part of our heritage, and how much we value them.

[Adapted from interview:]


Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from the 21st June to 21st September. Full details on how to take part can be found here.

15 July 2015

A Year of Sounds at Blakeney Point

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For many of us, coastal sounds are experienced sporadically during the year, either through the occasional day trip to the seaside or more prolonged bouts during periods of annual leave. For some though, the sounds of our amazing coastline form part of everyday life. Here, Paul Nichols, Seasonal Assistant Ranger for the National Trust, describes the changing sounds of Norfolk's Blakeney Point.

The year begins with howling winds battering the coast: churning up waves and sending them crashing onto the shingle spit. Once the wind drops however, the air is filled instead by the sounds of Blakeney’s resident birds: the gentle gurgling of Brent Geese merging with the soft 'wheeeo' whistles of Wigeon in the harbour. I will always remember my early days of working at Blakeney Point, and the moment when I first heard the calls of Shelducks wintering on the spit– a loud quacking sound like a ratchet being wound at high speed. I had never come across the noise until I joined the ranger team, but now I will always associate this sound with happy times working on the Norfolk coast. While walking along the beach I also often come across a flock of small brown birds, which explode into a white-winged blizzard as I approach. These are the elusive Snow Buntings, whose soft calls echo around the winter strandline along with that of their cousins – the Lapland Bunting. 


View south from nature reserve at Blakeney point, Norfolk (National Trust Images / Rod Edwards)

As Winter turns to Spring, breeding becomes the focus for birds on the Point. Skylarks serenade me through the dunes and remind me that summer is on the way, while Meadow Pipits make their ‘parachute’ display flights overhead, always accompanied by their high-pitched piping call. Stocky black-and-white Oystercatchers gather in large flocks to engage in fierce duels for dominance, rending the air with their ear-piercing ‘kleep…kleep… ’ battle-cries.

During high summer the harsh cries of our breeding terns and gulls can be heard, as they do their best to gather fish for their hungry chicks. The ‘ooooh’ sound of the Mediterranean Gulls always reminds me of village gossips getting hold of some juicy news, and provides an amusing backdrop to a summer stroll along the shoreline. While walking on the shingle it’s worth keeping an eye on where you put your feet, especially if you hear the ‘pu-whip pu-whip’ call of Ringed Plovers: they tend to lay their eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground, where they are camouflaged against the shingle and very easy to step on!

Visitors to the Point in late autumn or early winter could be forgiven for thinking they can hear the cries of a human baby – in fact it will be the cries of a silky Grey Seal pup demanding to be fed. Adult seals add to the cacophony with their melancholy wailing and snorting: females protect their pups by howling at other seals who get too close, while male bulls display their dominance to rivals by slamming their 400KG bulk into the ground.


A seal on a beach at Blakeney Point (National Trust Images / Joe Cornish)

Of course there is still plenty of birdlife around: Linnets twitter as they gather into large and vocal winter flocks, while from among the seablite plants growing on the salt-flats there comes the distinctive voice of a Reed Bunting calling for its mate.

These are only a few of the sounds that can be heard here on the Norfolk coast: you just need to open your ears and let them all flood in.

Sounds of our Shores is a three month collaborative project between the British Library, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland and audioBoom Ltd, running from 21st June to 21st September 2015. Full details on the project and how to take part can be found here. In the meantime, here are a few recordings of the Norfolk coastline that have been submitted by members of the public: