The Reading Room

Sea and Seashore

The Observer’s Book of Sea and Seashore…

Water has long held a sense of fascination and wonder for me. Time off is spent, wherever possible close to a water of some description and holidays further afield always find me gazing out to a see or waterway. There is something in a sea’s sheer vastness and its history of seafaring and exploration which ignites the boyhood curiosity in me, in literature the seas and rivers have provided us with many memorable tales from Moby Dick to the present day.

But for those of us who cannot sail or dive there is the comforting safety and pleasure of the shoreline, a place vastly underappreciated in what it offers both the human and natural world.

Above is my 1962 copy of Sea and Seashore, part of the wonderful Observer’s series and my invaluable resource to most things marine in and around the British Isles.

Compiled by I.O Evans for Fredrick Warne & Co Ltd, this compact book was the thirty first in the Observer’s series and kept up its wonderful tradition of mixing both black and white and colour photographs alongside pencil drawings and colour illustrations. Some two hundred and fifty pages in length, it is broken down into three main sections; The Sea, The Seashore and Living Creatures of Sea and Seashore. All of the sea’s main characteristics are covered from tidal surges to tides, currents, swells and the gulf stream in easy to follow text which serves as a very adequate overview for those not looking for a more scientific approach. That said, scientific names are given to (as stated) aid overseas visitors as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge for those who require it. For me, the balance is perfect.

Clearly the sea and the actions of its waters has an affect on its immediate landscape, the seashore and the way in which the seas forces carve out the rocks to form the cliff edges and the sands of the beaches. The author describes how such forces have altered the British coastline over centuries and will continue to do so, he writes of submerged forests and peat bogs as well as those parts of the sea which have risen from its depths such as the raised beaches in Scotland and given it was written more than fifty years ago I wondered what differences the author would have found today if he journeyed around our coastlines?

I.O Evans (1894-1977) was fascinated by inventions, history and geology as well as being an accomplished translator of the works of Jules Verne. A committed Christian with a fascination for science fiction he once went to investigate the tales of the Loch Ness Monster in the early 1950s. But no sea monsters exist within these pages, rather descriptions of common sea creatures such as corals, sea-anemones, jellyfish, sponges and lichens. Shellfish are also covered as are wading birds and fish.

Opposite is a wonderful colour plate for sea squirts which attach themselves to rocks and stones and feed from the food carried through passing currents of sea water which pass through their bodies.

The Observer’s books were an undoubted staple of my childhood in the 1970s and early 80s, they were ideal companions on my excursions in woodlands or fishing trips as well as fuelling my fantasies for owning the latest Italian super car or Japanese racing motorcycle. They excelled in educating in a clear, concise and often endearing way. We have since moved on to smart phones and a wealth of information seconds away from us (signal dependant) but these have a certain charm and usefulness. I also believe that reading a book requires more effort than speaking to Google or Alexa but then, if you are the type of person with the mindset to go out and explore your natural environment then you are more inclined to make the effort to read a book. These are certainly books worth reading.

See also:

The Observer’s Book of British Wild Flowers

The Observer’s Book of Trees

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