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I am rather hoping that in this case you will forgive me for taking a second bite at this particular cherry. I rounded off this review last year by saying that once the sand sculptures were gone, you would have missed a "once in a lifetime opportunity".
Well in a sense that remains true. The Ancient Egyptian theme has gone, but the Sand Sculptures are back, with a vengeance. Bigger, better and, more importantly, under a vast cover this year. We had waited until the arrival of a Polish friend in order to visit this great attraction (which opened on 1st June) and we were not in the least disappointed.
In some respects last year I came away with the impression that the £6.00 (cash only - no cards) entrance charge was slightly marginal in value for money terms, we spent an hour there and I concluded by saying that, possibly against my better judgement, I had enjoyed the experience. This year I have to tell you that the £6.00 was money well and truly well spent - there was nothing "marginal" about it.
2006's "theme" is THE ROMAN EMPIRE. This has given the sand sculptors plenty of extravagant scope. We have great architectural monuments, superb animals and really lifelike characters from Roman history around the time of Christ.
Of particular amusement to me was the Honda Civic sculptured from sand, this was outside in the open rather than being at odds with the historic theme under the huge marquee building.
As with last years Sand Sculpture Festival, you follow a path amongst the sculptures, the first part of which is familiar history probably to most of us. As you walk back up the rear of the displays your attention is drawn by the humour of the sculptors who designed the displays. The second half is representing scenes from a Roman comic, but with amusingly modern twists thrown in.
An example of this is the four beautiful vestal virgins, looking so demure from the front in their full length dresses and headgear. We have almost forgotten their frontal appearance by the time we emerge facing their backs! The dresses are a "front"! The rear of these four beauties are naked, four different, but superbly rendered behinds and shapely legs and ankles. The more you study the sculptures, the more detail you spot. In the case of the ladies, our Polish friend pointed out the shoes that the final one was wearing - great big thick contemporary heels!
Immediately, having seen last years sculptures, I was impressed by the amount of superbly fine detail rendered on the various exhibits this year. Being indoors, the work is of course protected from the elements which, in this exposed position, on Brighton Sea Front at Black Rock, caused more erosion last year than the organisers had anticipated. Last year a team of sculptors was constantly "repairing" the sculptures, this year obviously that is not necessary.
The whole Festival is undoubtedly a feast for the eyes, if I had to pick one area of it as a highlight, it would be one of the much smaller "room scenes" - a Roman kitchen. Like everything else here, there is nothing but sand - everything, from the dog, through
the string of sausages which he's stolen, to the fruit in bowls is rendered in sand.
From the visitors' point of view, enclosing the main exhibits has turned this into an all-weather attraction. We were fortunate enough to visit on Sunday, when there was an England match about to kick off, the whole site was very quiet indeed - excellent for photography and for admiring the exhibits at a leisurely pace.
We spent at least twice as long on this site this year, almost two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Like us last year, our Polish friend had never seen anything like this and was suitably impressed.
I am not going to recover old ground by explaining how they build the sculptures, you can read that below. However as the Egyptian monuments are now long blown away in the wind, I am going to replace the photographs with some of the 140 I took in ancient Rome yesterday.
The devil may well be in the detail, but for me, here at the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival 2006, the pleasure was also very much in the detail. This is rapidly turning into a "Must See" event each year, I would strongly urge as many of you who can, to go along and see this, before 10th September, when the doors to the Roman Empire are closed and Ancient Rome, at least here in Brighton, dissolves into grains of sand.
That is now……
This was then……
You doubtless know how it is when you cannot get one of those annoying tunes or lyrics out of your head - well, here is mine:
"If you're into sand dunes and salty air………"
…..and here we are at the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival!
We discovered this rather unusual attraction quite by accident one evening when driving out of Brighton Marina. Over the bridge parapet we could see some ornamental white tents placed on the usually derelict Black Rock site. Unable to stop on the access road we carried on up to the sea front to see an unusually large number of people rubbernecking over the railings above Black Rock.
With myself, my wife and her 11 year old sister, Klaudia in the car I was out-voted in the "shall we stop and have a look debate".
Joining a group of perhaps 20 people already standing there we were watching the early building stages of what was to turn into "The Worlds Biggest Sand Sculpture 05 Festival" - that is how it was billed on the adjacent hoardings at least. Who am I to argue, after all until a couple of moments ago I had been completely unaware that such an event took place anywhere!
Being there at the start, so to speak, made the final visiting experience all the more interesting and rewarding. We stood that evening and watched the sculptors (male and female) forming the wooden staging, or carcass if you like, onto which the sand would later be modelled. From the size and complexity of this staging it was obvious that the end result was going to be on a large and impressive scale.
Ten days later and we are back at Brighton Marina, by now there are the very beautiful heads of large ancient Egyptian statues to be seen above the top of the tents and hoardings surrounding the site. From a construction point of view they had to build the tallest ones first, but from the marketing point of view it was an act of pure genius, until……
…..Brighton & Hove City Council spotted them and announced that planning permission would have to be sought for such a large construction and that, if refused, the whole lot would have to be pulled down. Without one single ticket paying visitor having seen it!
Naturally this turned into another masterful advertising tool, anybody who had not seen or heard about the sand sculptures being built in Brighton now knew all about it. The council had little option but to fast track the retrospective planning application. The Sand Festival opened, as billed, 14th July.
I am jumping the gun a little here, returning to that second visit of ours, we were sufficiently curious to engage one of the coach drivers in conversation. Coach driver? Oh yes, at 7.00 in the evening there were three mini-coaches queuing up to take the tired sand sculptors back to their accommodation.
Our "informant" was actually surprisingly knowledgeable on the subject. He told us that the sculptors were from Holland, most of them travel the world building sand sculptures. Those of you familiar with Brighton beach will know that all this sand was certainly not home grown! He went on to explain that the sand, although only available in Blackpool in this country (they were not prepared to donate it to Brighton!), had been imported from Holland. To be precise it comes from the mouth of the river Maas at Cuyk in Brabant. They then brought it by barge across the North Sea and into Shoreham harbour - the final part of the journey being completed by road, 500 lorry loads!
I was curious to know what would happen to over 10,000 tons of sand after 11th September when the Festival closes. To that question he had no answer!
The sculptures are modelled over the top of the wooden forms using only a mixture of sand and water. The sand is compacted densely, very hard work for the sculptors. Once modelled the sand sculptures are very weather resistant, rain is useful in that the sand naturally absorbs water, remaining stable, in periods of extended dry weather they would need to dampen the sand periodically to save it drying and crumbling. The actual modelling is much like working in stone, very painstaking and highly detailed.
The Sand Festival opened, my parents in law arrived from Poland. It rained torrentially for a week. Would the magnificent statues that we had so admired from above, survive the deluge and high winds? On the Friday evening the rain stopped and so we decided to go to the Marina again for a closer look.
I was a little taken aback at the entry price - £6.00 each, £4.50 for the child, £31.50 for the five of us, including the excellent little guide book. I was doubly shocked as, very unusually these days, credit cards were not accepted. The entry therefore literally cost us every penny we had between us.
Never mind, we comment, we are about to share in a unique experience. I can hardly believe that I am saying this, but an hour later
Pictures of Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival, Brighton
Well we arrived in a Honda..........but I didn't park it here
I actually found myself agreeing that we had enjoyed our moneys' worth!
What did we see in that hour? This really is a case of a picture being worth a thousand words - Ciao only allow us seven here so I will also attempt to give you a quick talk around tour of Ancient Egypt on Brighton sea front.
From the entry point of this 40,000sq ft site you follow a numbered route which takes you through some familiar sights and legends of Ancient Egypt. Some will be thoroughly familiar to you, such as the Pyramids. I am no scholar on this subject and I would be inclined to assume that most of you actually know far more about Egyptian Gods than I do. The Gods give the sculptors plenty of scope for showing off their skills, an example being Anubis, a man with a jackal head - he was the God of embalming!
Following the Gods you discover the sphinx guarding the great pyramids. As you continue along the route you will pass wonderfully detailed temples, lavishly detailed with hieroglyphics. You cannot escape the legend of the valley of the tombs here either, breaking into the tombs is said to unleash the curse of the mummy. Inside the tent at the far end of the site you will see the most detailed work - the evil spirits come alive! Well as alive as can be when modelled in sand!
Leaving the tent and spirits behind, you are now entering the world of the Nile, Egypt's lifeline. Here you will see many associated images to do with trade, fertile land and even the animal life of this area. The children will want to look out for a large crocodile here - indeed he is Sobek, another God, a man with the head of a crocodile. This would not be Egypt without Cleopatra making an appearance, reigning in 58 BC from the age of 10, she took her own life when 39 by encouraging an Egyptian cobra to bite her.
The sculptors can be seen working all the time as on-going minor repairs have to be made, this in itself is fascinating to watch.
To make the best of these very impressive sculptures I would thoroughly recommend spending £1 on the guide book. Using the book, in conjunction with the work on display here, during the course of an hour I learned more about this period of Egyptian history than in 16 years of schooling.
Re-entering the entry tent to make your departure you will find various souvenirs on sale, all I have to say rather expensive - supposedly real Egyptian merchandise. My luck was in! We had, remember, spent every penny we had on coming in here!
If, unlike us, you were not around to watch the building of this rather unusual attraction they have very thoughtfully put a picture wall up showing the building stages. I found this rather more interesting than the adjacent Egyptian merchandise.
The overwhelming impression left is of the extraordinary skill of the craftsmen who produced this work. If you are sufficiently interested and would really like to learn how to do it, they run courses at the Zandacadamie Zoetermeer, contact Inaxi Holland in The Hague for details!
Words are definitely an inadequate way of reviewing this particular attraction, I would encourage anyone who has the inclination to do so, go and see it, after all once September 11th passes another once in a lifetime opportunity will have passed with it.
The Sand Sculpture Festival is open daily untill 11 September 11a.m. to 8 p.m.