Thursday, 16 November 2006

The infinite coastal run

Shh, keep this quiet and don't tell anyone, but this beach is in Northumberland. I'd rather not have everyone bringing their towels and windbreakers, spoiling our view thankyouverymuch.

The picture is of Meg on a Saturday morning about 10:45 on Druridge Bay beach. If you look carefully enough, you might just be able to make out a man with his dog in the distance. Otherwise the beach is ours. How could this not lift one's spirits?

In my personal opinion Northumberland has the best beaches in the UK. They're long, golden, relatively litter free, dog friendly, broad, and above all very 'beachy' in a beachy kind of way.

I particularly enjoy early morning runs along Seaton Sluice beach. It's not often I get the chance though, as there has to be a specific convergence of weather, tides and weekend mornings being free for me to get the chance. Tomorrow (according to BBC weather) may well be one of these lucky days. check in tomorrow to find out if it was.

The last time I ran on the beach there was a dense mist which gradually burnt off as I ran. It was eerie at first, running along the sand, 'thump thump' on the wet hard sand. The sea, muffled by the mist whooshed quietly to my right. I felt closed in and a little claustrophobic. This felt odd as really what attracts me to the coast is its openness and infinite nature.

I'm sure that this is why they 'speak' to many of us. Why else do we spend so much money on holidays to spend them on beaches? Apart from the fact that people tend to wear very little clothes on them, I think it's got more to do with fractals. Bear with me here whilst I get geeky;

"a fractal is a shape that is recursively constructed or self-similar, that is, a shape that appears similar at all scales of magnification and is therefore often referred to as infinitely complex." Source: Wikipedia

In human language, a fractal shape is something that can look like it repeats itself, irregardless of how close or how far away you are to it. The shape of a tree is a nice example. Stand back and look at the tree. Go up to it and snap a branch off it. When you look at it you can see the overall shape of the tree repeated in the branch. Now, snap off a small bit of the branch with a twig off it. You can still see the overall shape of a tree.

When fractal mathematics are represented visually they can produce the most beautiful shapes. They often remind us of structures found in nature, like our stick. We seem to be naturally attracted to these shapes. Check out these flickr images of fractals to find out if you are too.

Coastlines have strong fractal characteristics. Check out this picture of a river delta. Beautiful isn't it? Incidentally, it reminds me of the human blood circulation system from GCSE biology (another fractal shape example!). Now, check out the second image. Remarkably similar isn't it. This image though is 10 square feet of Northumberland coastline. These recursive patterns repeat themselves all over the place in the natural world. This fills me full of awe and definitely lifts my spirits just thinking about them.

This is one of the reasons why coastlines lift my spirit. I can't wait for my run now...

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