They came with shovels, pails, and imaginative fantasies. Well prepared, these participants were, for the eighth annual sand-castle competition of the Friends of Sandcastles - appropriately held near Castle Hill, at Steep Hill Beach in Ipswich, Mass.
From the earliest daylight hours they scooped, molded, and sculptured heaps of sand into over 300 ingenious interpretations of the day's theme, ''A Place in Time.''
When they had finished, dragons and castles lay practically everywhere. Here and there Grecian columns, Egyptian pharaohs, and assorted temples were sandwiched between more contemporary monuments - a granular traffic jam of Volkswagens, a gigantic 35-mm ''Sanded Camera,'' and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial , trying to telephone home.
These creations were then judged, on the basis of imagination, interpretation of the theme, technical brilliance, mood and atmosphere, and the almost-tangible delight of the builders in their enterprise. Ribbons, certificates (printed on sandpaper, naturally), and prizes were presented - including the Coveted Golden Shovel Award.
Finally the time came to pack up and head home - but not without a last stroll along the tide's edge. The castles may have been dissolving - but the memories of camaraderie and delight were permanent.