The only way is Essex, and I wholeheartedly agree. No, I’m not talking about perma-tanned girls drowning under the weight of their hair extensions, false lashes and vajazzles, but the special place Essex holds in my heart when it comes to British seaside experiences.
To me, a quintessentially British seaside experience consists of a stroll down an old seafront, breathing in the aroma of doughnuts and candy floss before ceremoniously unwrapping a parcel of fish and chips and finding a place on the rocky shore… only to finally decide that it’s not quite warm enough to swim.
From sunny Southend and its outer ends of Thorpe Bay and Chalkwell to the old fishing town of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex is the British seaside for me. My ‘postcards’ below might be another homage to the summer just gone, but a visit to the Essex seaside is still a great laugh in autumn or winter.
Ah Southend, that underrated jewel of the British seaside. Most people can’t get past the faded facades of amusement arcades, the ever present smell of fried carnival goodness that permeates the air or the fact that you have to pay 50p to walk down the pier. But if it was good enough for Jamie Oliver and his pop up restaurant last year, then it’s good enough for me. And your 50p will be worth it for the panoramic view of the labyrinth-like Adventure Island from out at sea, all endless neon spirals and loops, like the imprints of a sparkler against the night sky.
At the eastern end of the Southend seafront you’ll find the well to do Thorpe Bay and its pastel coloured beach huts, lined up perfectly like Monopoly houses. This is the original glamping.
Leigh-on-Sea’s cobbled lanes, proudly lined with old fishing huts, are sure to take you back in time. The famous cockle sheds are a must visit for their styrofoam pints of fresh prawns, cockles and mussels – they’re so tasty you can pack them away as if they were popcorn. The jellied eel, however, is not for the faint hearted!
Tide or no tide, winter or summer, Leigh is a place that I never get tired of going back to. There is something about how the boats end up when the tide goes out, haphazardly stranded, pointing in random directions, like bathtub toys that have been sucked down to the bottom after the last of the bathwater has gurgled out.
You can get to Southend from London Liverpool Street train station. Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea can be reached via London Fenchurch Street station. Go to http://www.visitsouthend.co.uk and http://www.leigh-on-sea.com for more.