From Everest to Embleton, it’s a mountain of plastic, paper and polystyrene

Sheilagh Matheson walks on an award-winning beach but has to pick her way through a wasteland of rubbish. 


Roll up, folks, for a British gastronomic treat.

Above we see what the Northumbrian shore can deliver when we scavenge along the award-winning Embleton Bay beach.  

FEAST your eyes on a starter of mouth watering cracked plastic coffee cup dipped in machine oil

DEVOUR a mains of polystyrene gnocchi wrapped in indissoluble blue twine 

and RELISH a mille feuille of Malaysian pneumatic tyre pulled straight from the sea.

Yes, just look at this pile of rubbish, collected from this gorgeous bay. It’s one of the best beaches in the UK.

It’s an exceptional bit of coast. And, yet, it’s typical of the coastline around Britain, with trash left behind by visitors and washed up by the tide. The debris isn’t immediately obvious in Embleton. But once you start spotting it, there’s a lot more than you think, with bits of plastic poking up from the sand, that bright blue twine snared in the dunes, and God-knows-what embroidering the seaweed.

The waste in the photograph was collected during two walks from Low Newton to Embleton and back, a distance of about 1.5 miles. It’s all there isn’t it? The plastic, polystyrene, paper, glass – no surprises, except for the rubber tyre and the shovel (below) which admittedly, will come in handy next time I feel an overwhelming desire to build a sandcastle.    

You could be forgiven for expecting the stretch of this beach to be pristine because Embleton Bay and Low Newton have no commercial enterprises, apart from the Ship Inn. There are no fish and chippies, supermarkets, cafes, nor ice cream vans. Nothing except people trying to get away from it all by exploring an expanse of sea, sand and dunes. 

There aren’t even any litter bins, presumably because they shouldn’t be needed. 

But if this load of rubbish is what lies on Embleton beach, it makes me wonder what is found in more populated resorts. And idly speculate on where it all comes from. But, of course, we know where it comes from. From us, that’s where. Us.


Wherever humans go, we leave a mess…. from Everest to Embleton.

Litter pick-up schemes may a good way to raise awareness, except that the participants are the kind of people who probably wouldn’t dream of leaving waste behind anyway. Elsewhere, I’ve seen sea front cafes offering free drinks to anyone who collects a child’s bucket of rubbish. But what’s really needed is more self-control over what we use, how we use it and then dispose of it. The rubbish I collected, for instance, had a surprising number of those little plastic straws found on childrens’ drinks cartons. 

In 2017, readers of Countryfile Magazine voted Embleton Bay as Beach of the Year. The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide gave it the highest rating. I always feel lucky to be there, especially when the daytrippers, dog walkers and holiday makers have all gone and we have the whole beach to ourselves.

It’s hard to imagine a time when a walk along Embleton Bay didn’t mean looking down to pick my way through rubbish, instead of gazing at the horizon or at the silhouette of the ruined Dunstanburgh Castle which towers above the sea. But Australians never anticipated the Barrier Reef slowly dying, the coral choked by filth and pollution, and Nepalese Sherpas didn’t expect Everest base camps to be awash with mountaineers’ detritus. It happened there, and it’s happening here. Be warned.

Rant over.