the sight of four pensioners skiing on the beach surprised visitors to Saunton Sands on a balmy afternoon in the middle of summer. Cross-country skiing is certainly not an activity people would expect to see anywhere in this country, let alone on a sandy

the sight of four pensioners skiing on the beach surprised visitors to Saunton Sands on a balmy afternoon in the middle of summer.

Cross-country skiing is certainly not an activity people would expect to see anywhere in this country, let alone on a sandy beach in North Devon.

But according to Paddy Field and his wife Hilary, cross-country skiing in the UK is more popular than you might think.

Paddy, of Fleet in Hampshire, is chairman of the London Region Nordic Ski Club and has been involved in winter sports for 25 years.

So when visiting for the weekend to see local friends - Spud Leaning from South Molton and Sue Abbott of Braunton - Mr and Mrs Field were keen to perform an experiment:

"In our club we're always looking for things to try to keep people involved and interested during the summer, and I had read about sand skiing once or twice, so the four of us decided to give it a go," explained 76-year-old Paddy, who, along with his wife, is a dedicated rollerskier too!

Cross-country skiing has been known to be a popular training aid for Olympic rowers, as it provides an excellent cardiovascular workout.

"You use a large amount of muscle groups when skiing, and aerobically it's very demanding, which is ideal for staying fit and healthy," said Spud.

"The sand skiing worked surprisingly well, and you can actually get quite a good technique going.

" However, it is very hard work and can only be sustained for short distances and periods of time."

Indeed, if the four sand skiers - who have a combined age of over 280 - can happily perform such a physically challenging activity, the health benefits for anyone wanting to try this unique sport are clear.

Long, thin skis, lightweight boots and shoulder-length poles are the basic requirements for cross-country skiing, but for skis to glide properly over the sand it is best not to use traditional ski wax - a thin layer of silicon instead helps prevent the sand from sticking to the bottom of the ski.

Despite sand skiing's physical benefits, visitors to Saunton were understandably perplexed by what they saw. Paddy was quick to warn potential sand skiers:

"For most people, unless you are an exhibitionist, they'll probably want to find a quiet area of beach land to practise on, because you are indeed likely to attract the odd stare!"

For more information on rollerskiing in the UK visit www.rollerskiing.co.uk.