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The "coast" is that part of a continent or an island which borders on an ocean, sea, gulf, or sometimes a large lake. The terms "coast" and "coastal" refer to the condition of being located on or near a coast.

In geology and physical geography, the term is used to describe the area which extends inland from the shoreline and is influenced by the maritime environment.

Coastal regions have always attracted human populations, originally for the resources provided by the sea such as fish and shellfish (vast quantities of the discarded shells of the latter have been found at the sites of ancient settlements as on the shores of Poole Harbour in Dorset). Later in human history, the coast became improtant for the easy opportunities the oceans provided for seaborne trade. The settlements which developed around ports and good harbours have grown into major towns and cities such as London, Liverpool, Southampton, Plymouth and Poole.

The fad for sea bathing which led to the rise of the seaside resort was started by King George III who stayed at Weymouth in Dorset with the whole of the royal court for 10 weeks in 1789.

Coasts, particularly those with beaches and warm water, attract economically valuable tourists offering recreational opportunities from simple sun-bathing, swimming and fishing to surfing, boating, scuba diving, etc. The tourist industry frequently forms the major part of the economy of coastal resorts.

Coastal tourism is central to many island nations such as those of the Pacific Ocean and the carribean.

The coasts of isolated nations such as Great Britain or those with extensive coastlines fulfill an important defensive function. The sea not only forms a barrier to would-be invaders, but also allows control of smuggling and illegal migration. Coastal defences have thus been erected by many nations throughout human history.

During the Iron Age (-AD 43) individual settlements were fortified for protection from seaborne raiders such as that which existed at Hengistbury Head (Bournemouth), Dorset. How much communication and co-operation between such Iron Age ports is not known, but probably it was minimal if it existed at all.

Persistent Saxon raids during the Roman occupation of Britain (AD 43-410) led to the appointment of a "Count of the Saxon Shore" charged with defending the south-east coasts of Britain against the raiders.

The departure of the Romans left England open to gradual conquest by the Saxons who did not unify the country until late in the ninth century. They in, their turn, were plagued by the destructive raids of the "Danes" or "Vikings" who made deep inroads from the coasts along England's many navigable rivers. The county levies were organised as a defence against the raiders but, ultimately, relied on the walled towns or "burghs" such as Christchurch, Poole and Wareham, ordered by Alfred the Great, king of Wessex (c.871-c.901).

The French possessions of the English kings of the Middle Ages necessitated frequent crossing of (and warfare across) the English Channel for which the monarch relied on the ships and men of the Cinque Ports federation stretched along the south-east coast from Aldeborough to Poole.

Fearfull of a possible French invasion, Henry VIII (1509-1547) invested some of the great wealth created by the dissolution of the monastic houses to build an extensive chain of forts along the south coast. He also understood the need to control the seas and built up a strong navy. It was the navy which his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), relied on to disperse the Spanish Armada assembled to invade England in 1688, the high points of the south coast being equiped with alarm beacons to warn of the arrival of the Spanish naval force.

The fate of coastal defences ebbed and rose with the threat of invasion, repaired and improved in times of threat, almost forgotten in periods of comparative peace. Threat of invasion by Napoleon caused a line of "Martello Towers" to be constructed along the south-east coast about the turn of the nineteenth century. The Royal Military Canal was built to serve as a ditch defending Romney Marsh in Kent and roads such as the A27 were costructed or improved to enable the rapid movement of troops along the coast.

The unprecedented scale of World War II (1938-1945) was reflected in Britain's defences against attack on land, sea and in the air. The war has left an extensive range of relics, not least the many wrecks sunk during both world wars off the South Coast (over one hundred and fifty off the Dorset coast alone).

Most countries with extensive coastlines have some form of Coastguard service and navy.

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1788The Prince of Wales (later George IV) makes his first visit to Brighton in East Sussex, assuring its popularity as a resort
1789King George III stays at Weymouth in Dorset with the whole of the royal court for 10 weeks starting the fad for sea bathing which led to the rise of the seaside resort

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