The last place I lived in the UK before emigrating was on the North Norfolk coast, about 5 miles from a most pleasant beach. I would often just go there for on the spur of the moment just to walk on the sand or enjoy the seascapes. Before that I lived in a London suburb, and although a visit to the seaside needed to be planned, it was still only a couple of hours drive at most before I found a beautiful beach by the sea. In other words, to someone like me, brought up in a country where nowhere is more than 150 miles from the sea, it is incredible that my nearest ocean is something like 600 miles away.What you learn when you live at such a distance is that you do not need a sea to have a beach.
Last year I traveled to Sheboygan on Lake Michigan, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a beach that might have been at any resort location. Indeed, although it is called a lake, to me Lake Michigan certainly feels like a sea. At 118 miles wide it is a lot broader than the English Channel at Dover, where I was brought up. I’ve also come to see that a beach need not be just by a sea. Here in Missouri we have many rivers, the best known being the Mississippi and the Missouri, but that is not the end of the water story. The Ozarks provide a lot of water-based activities, and we recently went on an overnight stay at the town of Eminence, MO, which sits on a small spring-fed river called the Jacks Folk. This drains into the Current River, which in turn eventually becomes a tributary of the Mississippi. Here we had a cabin by the beach, only in this case it was a “River Rock Beach”, effectively a bar of river rocks with the water flowing around it.
There I was introduced to one of those activities I’d seen but never taken part in; if sitting on a chair can be considered an activity. The trick is to take your lawn chair and put it in the water so that your feet get wet but your seat doesn’t. I admit to being amused the first time I saw this, and it’s not something that would be advisable back on the North Norfolk coast, or you’d soon be either on dry land, or caught by an incoming tide. However, here on the river it is safe and strangely relaxing. The water was crystal clear and struck cold when I first walked into it, but not numbingly so, and after only a short time it felt fantastic. We walked for a while in the water, and then sat and watched the swimmers jump into the water and the canoeists paddle by. The river is not very wide, although too deep to wade across, and on the opposite shore what I assume was an extended family, with lots of different age groups, started to get together. One of them waded into the water, and soon he was followed by others one at a time, who took it in turns to skim stones along the water’s surface.
This activity of sitting on a chair in a river is not confined to river beaches either. A few miles from Eminence is Rocky Falls, a spectacular steep cascade waterfall, where the water splashes and jumps its way down a rock-strewn slope. The whole area is one of great natural beauty, and as we waded through the pool at the foot of the falls we were enchanted by the stream running into the surrounding trees. In this pool a family was playing, and, yes, they had set up some lawn chairs in the pool, together with a sun shade to help keep them cool. The beach here was river stone too, and I made a mental note to get better footwear for the next time I come out playing in the water.
Because most of the beaches I have found are on the riverside, it is not surprising that they are rocky or simply pieces of land abutting the water. However, there are also some beaches on the many lakes in Missouri and most of the ones I have been to are man-made and composed of sand. My mind reacted to the term “man-made”, but merely because back in my North Norfolk experience the sand it anything but controlled by man. However, in this setting it can work well, and one great example I found was in St Joe State Park.
St Joe has a number of lakes and two sandy beaches, as well as many other activities. Here, being man-made is a distinct advantage, and the planners were able to provide for parking, toilets and even changing facilities right by the beach. The day we went to the beach the temperatures were in the mid 90’s (mid 30’s Celsius) and the sand was HOT to walk on, but the beach gently shelved out into the water, which was cold and refreshing. The swimming area was marked out by floats on the water, making it safe from the fishing boats and other lake users. No one had chairs in the water here, and maybe this is only something you can do where the beach is made of rock. However, sitting on our beach towels on the shore was still a relaxing thing to do, and full of the feel of a summer’s day.
I had to ask myself, did I miss the sea? It was certainly different to sit on a beach and look around at trees for as far as I could see. However, there is just something magical about being by the water in the sunshine, whether that water is an ocean, a lake or a river. Summer is what you make it, and life really can be a beach.
Derek was raised on the UK's South Coast, and has lived in London, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the East Anglia region of England. He is now a resident of St Louis, Missouri, USA. He is an author and blogger, and you can also follow Derek's adventures on his blog and Facebook page.