Sand in awkward places, a bracing if a little icy breeze and a dip in the water that causes teeth to chatter and lips and fingers to turn blue.

For generation upon generation of hardy Scots, summer trips to the seaside have been a welcome chance to shed outer layers, link arms to paddle in grey, chilly waters, complain about the price of a 99 cone, then head home with sand in their shoes and, if they’re very lucky, a touch of sunburn.

Now memories of those lazy, hazy and sometimes crazy days of the seaside in summer are to be revived with an inventive new collaborative art project which will connect Scottish beach holidays of years long gone with our own, more recent, childhood memories.

Entitled Splash Back, it will also reflect on how the 2020 pandemic sparked an unexpected revival in the good old Scottish beach break, as summer holidaymakers who might normally bask in baking foreign temperatures, instead set about exploring the golden sands of beaches much closer to home.

Work is now underway to gather a range of images, memories and other material for an entertaining sound and vision project which will tour seaside spots across Scotland next summer.

Echoing the light-hearted fun of a day at the beach, it is planned to house it within a wacky version of a Victorian bathing machine, a contraption which once transported elegant ladies from the sand to the water’s edge so they could enjoy a dip without the trauma of any flesh being seen.

HeraldScotland: Bathers at Gourock's outdoor pool (Photo: Scran)Bathers at Gourock's outdoor pool (Photo: Scran)

Instead of a traditional horse-drawn hut, however, the project’s ‘Marvellous Magical Bathing Machine’ is inspired by the ingenious and quirky style of early 20th century artist and cartoonist Heath Robinson, known for his illustrations of very improbable mechanical contraptions – including one delightful design for an airborne bathing hut attached to a small plane, which deposited swimmers directly into the water.

The project from art group See Think Make and designers getMade, will use charming images of beach life and outdoor swimming from fellow collaborators Historic Environment Scotland’s Scran archive to reflect Scots’ love affair with splashing around at the seaside, dipping in waterways, visiting Victorian lidos and tidal pools.

Using Monty Python-esque animations, old images will be nudged back to life, evoking the innocent fun of a day spent paddling in the waves in baggy bottomed and ill-fitting swimwear, with sunburned shoulders and, for the very sporty, impressive diving board displays at the outdoor pool.

Read more: Photographer Soo Burnell on capturing the still beauty of Victorian swimming pools

It will also feature up-to-date images and reflections gathered from today’s beach lovers, helping to illustrate how the restrictions on travel created by Covid-19 has sparked a fresh connection with open air swimming and holidays closer to home for many Scots.

Sarah Longfield, producer at See Think Make, said: “So many of us have memories of going to the seaside even if it was a bit windswept and a bit cold.

“We’d still get in the sea and, somehow, manage to get deep enough for the water to reach our waists before having to get out again because it was so cold.

“Of course, more recently there has been an amazing interest in wild swimming and people venturing into the water for sport and health benefits.

“But for a long time, seaside holidays, lidos and swimming outdoors were something for everyone.”

HeraldScotland: Mothers and grannies enjoying a seaweed hula dance at Seton Sands in 1958 (Photo: Scran)Mothers and grannies enjoying a seaweed hula dance at Seton Sands in 1958 (Photo: Scran)

While in their heyday beaches like Largs in Ayrshire and Portobello in Edinburgh attracted vast crowds of holidaymakers all summer long, the traditional summer break by the sea at resorts the length and breadth of the country was eventually swapped for cheap flights to Spain and the sun-kissed Costas.

Tidal pools, many built by Victorians and Edwardians who relished the opportunity to dip their toes into near freezing water, were abandoned.

Lidos and outdoor swimming pools – including Portobello’s large pool with its Art Deco buildings, innovative wave machine, diving boards and even Sean Connery on lifeguard duty – closed down and were eventually razed to the ground.

Even paddling pools, once a familiar feature of town and city parks, closed because of concerns over health and safety.

However, a shift towards reviving Scotland’s love affair with a bracing dip has seen a new wave of determined swimmers exploring the country’s waters, with wild swimming groups springing up across the land.

Meanwhile, a raft of community-led projects intended to restore once forgotten tidal pools has also emerged. They include plans for Pittenweem, where £270,000 is being spent bringing the long rectangular tidal pool back into use, and in Wick where volunteers have hopes to reinstate The Trinkie, a natural rock pool which emerges the Caithness stone.

The project is now calling for people to share seaside and outdoor swimming memories from days past and present, to help illustrate our connections to Scotland’s beaches, coastlines and waterways.

Eventually, Splash Back will culminate in a summertime spectacle that will bring the gathered stories together in a performance piece combining lights, sound, video and animation.

Read more: The tide is turning: bid to bring back Scotland's forgotten sea pools

“Unlike a Caribbean holiday, no one visits the Scottish seaside and expects perfection,” added Sarah. “It is fun mixed with adversity: the laughter and carefree combined with bracingly cold waters where only the brave venture.

“The ‘Marvellous Magical Bathing Machine’ will also be a receptacle for memories, gathering new ones from its visitors: a living archive, capturing tales and ideas in real time, right next to the sea. 

“Complete with lively hosts, dressed in vintage swimming gear and prone to occasional outbursts of synchronised swimming flash-mob dancing, the Bathing Machine will be an extraordinary sight: a little bit of magic that the seaside is so connected with. 

“There one day and gone the next.”