A change in the weather

The day breaks with a huge dump of water for an hour, heralding the end of heat and the arrival of cool with grey, blustering skies dampening holiday plans and seaside activities. So it’s onto the Coastline to explore the Norfolk coast by bus.

Finding the bus station in King’s Lynn was an inauspicious start. Google Maps and tourist signs combined to complicate the journey’s start, extending the walk from 10 minutes to over half an hour, before a friendly local, lips & nose pierced with silver graffiti, takes us by hand and leads the way with her elderly charges.

The bus station appeared through the drizzle at the edge of the functional, 60s shopping precinct, with tunnels of cattle seats herding patient lines of greyed, coated ancients, along with the occasional splash of youthful dress & colourful hair, to a neon display for the number 36 to Wells-Next-the-Sea. The single decker arrives after a short wait and gorges on the slow-moving, hokey-cokey of waiting passengers. Off we go. Through the sad streets of downtown KL – Kings Lynn not Kuala Lumpa!

Grey skies, grey weather, grey companions silently stare at the grey landscape through grey windows streaked with chasing trails of snaking droplets and diagonals of shower streams of water. With surprise that anyone wants to leave the warm interior, the bus stops and its passengers push out through the door, out onto the harbour side where others have had the same idea. Car parks are full, the pavement is crowded. Through the gloom, family groups stagger against the drizzle and the powerful gusts of wind off the sea.

There seems to be a distinct lack of cafes. The condensationed windows of the occasional shop unit give a clue, confirmed by the queue waiting to enter. On the streets, punters balance trays of fish & chips or erupting cones of ice cream, sourced from doorways or windows.

The main fun activity for young and old, is squelching about in the silt and mud of the bank

or crabbing from the side of the harbour, the latter with guaranteed, successful results.

Intrepid groups set off up the inlet, the promise of the sands and the wonderful beach huts forcing them against the wind.

Making history in King’s Lynn

I do like Kings Lynn. A small port town in Norfolk on the River Great Ouse – big in history with a long maritime tradition. The core of the old town hugs along one side of the river as it opens out into the Wash. Here, cobbled streets, grand houses and converted warehouses slowly release memories of trading families & merchants, adventurers & seafarers, fishing fleets & river ferries. Focus here and ignore the tangle of modern shopping and faceless homes that surround it.

In the 13th century Kings Lynn was one of England’s foremost ports, trading as it did with the Hanseatic League, a group of cities in Germany. They came with fish, furs, timber, wax & pitch and returned home from Lynn with wool, cloth & salt. In its hey day, vessels moored up in stacks along the river. The Purfleet provided access into the middle of town and was a safe harbour for vessels of all nationalities. The Custom House dominates the quay side, standing out as it does from converted warehouses, storerooms and offices.

This guy is Captain George Vancouver, a famous local seafarer.

Lynn’s top dog merchants built their grand houses and warehouses on King Street with land running down to the river where the water was deeper so large ships could moor at their private quays.

Merchants showed off their wealth in the form of doorways, door knockers, window frames and warehouses.

Of course, such wealth manifested itself in civic projects as well – the Holy Trinity Guildhall was rebuilt in the 1470s and extended over the years.

The first of the two towers of St Margaret’s Church was erected about 1400 to enhance the church and act as an important seamark for ships entering the Wash. On its face a Moon Clock displays the phases of the moon to aid mariners in determining the state of the tides.

There are two market squares in Kings Lynn, both with charters dating from the time of King John to hold markets. They are, rather unimaginatively, called Saturday Market Place and this one – Tuesday Market Place

Old warehouses await redevelopment.

They may have been completed by the time you visit!

A UK Coastal Tour – Clevedon

It is like the world is opening again. I went out on the road again – two road trips in as many days. The sun shone form a blue sky, the trees were starting to shimmer with a vague outline of verdant green. Chilly but invigorating, as urban and winter grey give way to blue horizons of seaside sands. With lockdowns and travel bans inhibiting, nay, squashing, any wanderlust for so long, it is such a relief to release myself into this world again. And so many places to visit and people to meet and projects to complete. Get on young man! Get on!!

These two trips were all about my existing project and the next project when it is complete. I have two sections of my Coastal Trip to complete – Cornwall (in September) and West Coast of England (in May/June, I hope). There are a few places that I have visited which I don’t feel I’ve done justice. I have combined these with my next project on seaside piers where I missed them altogether because they were around a corner or off the beaten day-tripper track.

So on the first trip to the west I combined Clevedon with Weston-Super-Mare. How had I missed the Victorian wonder in the former and the glorious ruin in the latter?

Clevedon Pier is anchored to a rock on the seafront. Built in 1869 it was an embarkation point for paddle steamers bringing day trippers from South Wales. It was described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the most beautiful pier in England’. Certainly it has a certain elegance to it. Impressive as the pier was, it was nothing compared with the dozen or so sea swimmers launching themselves into the surf from the rocks and, I emphasise, not in wetsuits. I felt cold just watching them, especially as most were wearing gloves in the water.

I know how I missed Birnbeck Pier in Weston-Super-Mare. From the main drag through this resort town there is no indication that there is anything except local housing beyond the headland. However, walking around the cliff this rusting, almost Dickensian relic stretches out from Anchor Head to a small rocky island where the remains of a RNLI station seems to be the only recognisable building standing amongst dusty ruins. The pier opened in 1867 as a boarding point for paddle steamers operating in the Bristol Channel. It was closed to the public in 1994 and now stands derelict, slowly rusting away into the sea with only ghosts to walk its tangled walkways, its rubbled streets and stare out of its gaping windows and empty doorways.

Weymouth Pier Bandstand can easily be lost along the wide front of this resort. Built in1938/9 it was designed with the bandstand itself extending out to sea from a two-storey building on shore. It seated 2,400 people but only a quarter of the audience were under shelter as the centre of the bandstand was open to the elements. It hosted dances, concerts, wrestling, roller skating and the Miss Weymouth Bathing Beauty Contests. The shore building was redesigned in the 1960s. By the 1980s the seaward end required major repair which proved to be too expensive and so it was demolished in 1986 leaving the ‘limpet’ end as a restaurant, an amusement arcade and a gift shop on the ground floor.

Weymouth Stone Pier is tucked around the corner on the south side of the old harbour, in itself a reminder of the importance played by this port. Merchants’ houses, old chandlers’ buildings, warehouses line the quayside on both sides, linked by the technology of the lifting bascule bridge and the historic Row Boat Ferry, operating since the 16th century and manned by a charming, weather-beaten boatman who is happy to pass the time of day with anyone passing. The Pier was constructed at the entrance to the harbour in the 18th century. It was originally a simple breakwater of loose boulders which was then extended. A buoy marked the the seaward end. Following storm damage it was rebuilt in 1824, then extended in 1876 and again in the 1910s, the latter with a tower at the end to accommodate a navigational light.

Avonmouth to Bristol and more about the Floating Harbour

Bristol, as a port for the export of woolen cloth and the import of Bordeaux wine, dates back about 1,000 years. It grew up six miles or so up the estuary of the River Avon from where it meets the River Severn and from there – the rest of the world. It developed at the most downstream point of the river where it could still be easily crossed and where ocean-going vessels could be carried upstream to the centre of town on the tidal current in the river. Ships would sail up the Bristol Channel and the Severn before turning up the Avon.

The tidal range of the rivers around here is the second largest in the world. Even in the centre of Bristol the tide can rise and fall as much as 12 metres and this occurs twice a day.

The advantage of carrying vessels on the tide into the centre of town was offset by the fact that as the tide goes out, they can be left floundering helplessly in the mud in harbour or marooned on the river.

By 1760 these problems intensified for the larger ships of the day. On each tide the river became very crowded with so many ships trying to reach or leave Bristol. On the monthly neap tides the river lacked adequate water and vesels were unable to move, stuck in port or at the mouth of the Avon for two weeks or so. At low tide all the large ships went aground, crowded together, with the real danger of fire spreading uncontrollably throughout the harbour.

Vessels started to go elsewhere and the town was losing trade. Merchants came up with the idea of damming the river and making the harbour non-tidal. The tidal river was diverted (here, to the right) and a huge lock constructed at the entrance to the harbour.

Boats could now enter and remain floating at all times. The Floating Harbour opened in 1809 and Bristol became a hugely flourishing trading centre until it closed to commercial traffic in 1975. The Victorian manufacturing heritage can clearly be seen, including the old tobacco factory.

Throughout the 20th century Avonmouth took over the role of the major port in the area. Commercial shipping was built larger and larger and a new breed of cruise-liners emerged which could no longer negotiate the meanders of the river.

Indeed, when the SS Great Britain, the iron-built luxury ocean liner that changed history, was launched in 1863, not only did it become stuck on the river on its journey out of port, but the lock walls had to be dismantled to get it through.

The idea of a bridge over the Avon Gorge was first muted in 1753. Brunel came up with plans. These were revised and eventually built after his death. This temple to Victorian engineering opened in 1864.

The large docks in Avonmouth were opened in 1903 and handles copious amounts of raw materials, manufactured exports including motor vehicles and a growing amount of cruise traffic.

The Floating Harbour in Bristol

In the late 17th century, Bristol was a major port, hampered in its development by its high tidal range. Positioned on the west voast of England, facing Africa and the new world of the Americas as it did, it should have been used a lot more than it was. In world trade terms it was losing out to Liverpool because the tidal range along the River Avon was, and still is, as much as 12 metres and at low tide it was little more than a silted stream. Large trading vessels spent much of their time in port stuck in the muddy bottom of the docks, unable to move.

A group of local merchants got together to fund the creation of the Floating Harbour. In 1802 work began. The flow of the tidal river was diverted to the south around the edge of Bristol in a new channel, the  New Cut. Two locks were then constructed.

These maintained a constant high level and the Floating Harbour opened in 1809. The largest of ocean-going vessels could now spend their whole time in port, floating alongside the wharf-covered quayside.

The new harbour meant that raw materials and the ‘new’ goods from the New World could be brought directly into the centre of the city. New factories emerged – Cadburys produced their chocolates alongside the neighbouring tobacco factory of WD & HO Wills and trade increased to and from Africa.

Today the whole area is a lively, cosmopolitan area of clubs and bars and eateries mixed up with museums and archaeological artifacts reflecting a rich trading and sea-going history, glitzy apartment blocks and a thriving nightscene.

The Sunny Side of Oxford – the Cowley Road Carnival


I rarely write about my home town but I thought that should end, especially when I have the wondrous Cowley Road Carnival on my doorstep. It seems this is the second largest street carnival after Notting Hill in the UK. So let’s take the day as it unfolds.

The street is shut to traffic first thing in the morning and local and visiting organisations set up their stalls and start to assemble. The Cowley Road area is home to a diverse, eclectic mix of families from all over the world. A harmonious community most of the time, families live and work and play alongside each other in schools, restaurants and places of worship. The Carnival happens every year in July and is a celebration of diversity and culture.

Local restaurants and visiting vendors set up their stalls, selling street food to the 30,000 who will join us for the day. Places in the parade are proudly taken by community and cultural groups and from mid morning they begin to assemble at their allocated postion. As well as folk in traditional costumes with a host of unfamiliar instruments, generations of family members lean against walls to give their support to their musicians and dancers. The Nepalese community are no exception.


The grills get hot and start to sizzle their barbed aromas across the road. Food from everywhere you can imagine.IMG_2058a

The beat increases with huge sound systems winding up their sounds outside bars, pubs and restaurants. The atmosphere is good-natured. Crowds start to gather on each side of the road and local bands and groups as well as excited visitees start to limber up and tune in their drums and tambors and trumpets, waiting to move off.



And then the parade begins its tortuous, tip toe shuffle up the road in a clangour and a clammer of bangs and clashes and sambas and salsas. Schools follow community groups who follow samba bands from home and abroad who follow street bands and local artists and businesses. Smiles on everyone’s faces.


The end is reached 500 metres or so further on – St Mary & St John’s Churchyard. Here the participants collapse in the shade. Frequently groups join together in a jam sessions that brings together a new fusion of culture and sound.


Back on the street food is consumed and crowds wander. Folk find places to chill – on a wall, in front of a stage and absorb the practised performances of dance and music or appreciate the impromptu expression of feeling and creativity.


Most things come to a halt at 6.00pm. People accept it, however reluctantly. The street cleaning vehicles start their work very punctually, sweeping through the still packed streets. Everyone knows that if there’s no fuss it will be the same next year.

A homage to Lynmouth

I forget how divine this length of coast is. I spent the night at Minehead and drive to Porlock Weir, a delight in its own right.

I then drove up the hill out of the village and out onto the wide open spaces of Exmoor – a real ‘awe & wonder’ moment, a cry out loud celebration of all that is good about this world and about life – the sea on one side with lines of white horses snuffling the bays and headlands , the stretching moorland cut by deep valleys on the other. Free air above in a cloudless sky and the open road ahead with the roof down. If only I had hair to blow free in the breeze. I stop to overlook Lynmouth before driving down into the village.

1952. The year the rains came, the East and West Lyn rivers roared off the moors bringing boulders & earth & trees and taking cars & vans & sheds on a dreadful journey of devastation through the village. 34 people died in the resulting chaos.

I forget how charming the village now is, both up the two rivers to the moors and downstream to the sea. It’s Victorian splendour has been recaptured from its wrought iron balconies to the Rhenish Tower.

The waterpowered Cliff Railway toils up & down, filling its top water tanks after each journey linking Lynmouth with its high neighbour on the cliffs

I have to leave you with two bathing places on the Kennet & Avon Canal which I included on my way home. The first is on the River Avon, not the canal itself, at Bathampton, by the tall bridge.

The other is at Clavendon Pumping Station. To get to it you have to walk down a narrow track, over the canal bridge, over the pedestrian gate across the main line to Bath and into the meadows where the Avon smoothes over a weir. Both places are glorious in weather like this, even if the locals have claimed them already. There is space for all.

From Watchet to Porlock Weir

Two days of hot, sunny weather is forecasted so the routine goes out the window and out comes the camera. I have two legs I want to complete – past of the coast in Somerset/Devon and a small section of the Kennet & Avon Canal. They are in the same direction so I decide to do the former first and complete most of it today leaving the other for the way home.

So I head for Steart on a peninsula, west of Barnstable, sticking out into the Bristol Channel. There’s not a lot here.

It’s not called Steart Marshes for nothing even if some small settlements hug any firm land they can find. Sheep and cattle graze the lush grasses, rushes line the vast expanse of clinging mud and large pebbles form an impossibly hard beach to manoeuvre. Hartland Point Power Station is the main, man-made feature on this part of the coast.

The first real settlement is Watchet. A delightful harbour town which is also on the West Somerset Railway line. You can almost feel the history ooze its way out of the Flag stones around the harbour.


Blue Anchor is a long, wide strip of pebbles backed by a road, backed by a line of static caravans. Each end is stapled to the ground by a group of more permanent detached houses.

Dunster Beach is the coast side of Dunster Castle and of Dunster medieval village. There is a refreshment van and then a wide strip of parked cars and vans with their owners sitting out on camping chairs devouring the Sun or the Mail. The other end consists of a never-ending crescent of large, almost bungalow-sized beach huts which line the heart of the bay.

Minehead had its glory days in Victorian times when it’s rather remote location only allowed the wealthy to make the journey to its glam hotels and bathing huts. When the railway arrived the hoy poloy were able to holiday here. This was exaggerated further when Butlins established a holiday camp here in the 50s, which now has an almost permanent presence in the town, swamping any history the harbour might try to show off.

Porlock Weir is delightful. A fishing and trading centre for the Porlock Estate, the harbour still provides shelter for private boats while the bars and hotels refresh the crews and the more up-market souvenir shops like Exeter Glass satisfy the shopping visitors.

Fisherman’s friends in Port Isaac

Before leaving Bude there’s time to explore its two beaches. I like Bude. It feels like a town with a special character of its own and not just a holiday destination for visitors. It is early. The beach is empty. The lifeguards are setting up and the first dog walkers are out. The first activity on both beaches is from the surfing schools who have done their warm ups and force their way through the surf to begin a day on the water.

Down the coast the view from Widemouth is amazing.

Crackington Haven is a great name. A few people are having tea in the shop which doesn’t stop the surfing school from assembling down by the spray.

Boscastle feels a little bit precious. However it did not back in 2004 when the river flooded and caused havoc and chaos all the way down the valley. Now it feels fresh and sparkling and full of visitors.

Real people do live and work here.

Tintagel Castle was a fortified port between 2/500AD and the place Arthur was said to have been born. Ruins are all that remain but it is enough to appreciate the footprint it makes on the landscape and the extent of the defences of this old castle.

Port Isaac is such a gem. Quaint, atmospheric, historic…a lovely place to explore.

Clovelly, My Precious

The weather takes a downturn, today, with layers of grey gloom hiding the sun. The surfers are out in force across the vast expanse that is Saunton Sands. It has a special atmosphere in the dull drizzle but our wet-suited heroes don’t give a fan – they’re going to get wet anyway. They only come out when noses, feet & hands have turned the colour of unripened blueberries.

Westward Ho! (The exclamation mark is an official part of the town’s name) mixes up together the elements of this north Devon coast. So surfers attack the waves in front of the static caravans and apartments blocks and beach huts that look out from their cliff locations.

Families and school groups explore the craggy rocks pools and wait for the sands to dry out before cavorting around in disorganised games. I love it. Nothing is too precious. Everything just mixes in together and the empty beach shows it has the space for every background and class to do their own thing when the sun comes out to play.

Now Clovelly is precious. First of all you have to pay £7.50 per person entrance fee. The village has been owned by one family for hundreds of years and none of the 250 inhabitants own their own home. In the blurb they call themselves ‘one of the world’s most beautiful villages’.

It is amazing. The steep descent down cobbled streets between old cottages is half a mile or so in length. The old harbour beside the old pub opens up at the bottom. Thankfully there is a Landrover services from the bottom to take you back up to the top for £2.50 – cheap at 10 times the price.

Hartland Quay, like Clovelly, is a port used to take agricultural produce and to bring in heavy goods like lime and coal and manufactured goods. Just one bar and a few fishermans’s homes line the approach to the beach and the quay itself. The coastline is very stark here. Dragons’ tails mingle with crocodiles’ scales to create a coast line doing impressions of sharp, sharks’ teeth cutting out to sea. It really is an angry place on a drizzly day like today.


Surfer-dudes in North Devon

I cross over into England and start today from Weston-super-Mare. Now this resort town has three things, in particular, going for it. The first is the vast stretch of beautiful, soft sand that cries out for sand castles or jogging or picnics. The second is the pier which looks great whatever the light although it is closed between 4 and 10 so can only stand to be admired from a distance. The third are the beach donkeys – sadly they were not there although there was evidence of their presence in the hitching posts, the blowing hay and the neat baskets of poo.

Burnham-on-Sea is a few miles down the coast. Now here must be the UK’s smallest pier, if it even conforms to the definition of a pier. I call it the Thomas the Tank Engine of piers. Compared with its piers around the coast (you see what I did there?) its name pulls well above its weight.

There is not much else in the town, not even a place for a decent espresso. However at the top end of the beach a white-washed watch tower poses historical questions.

Now isn’t this the saddest of images. Some poor child’s bicycle abandoned in the sinking sands of the beach.

So many questions – did they forget it? Did the tide snatch it and return it in some guilty moment? Did they stomp off after a tantrum abandoning it to the elements? We’ll never know.

Hele is one side of a headland.

Ilfracombe is the other side. The harbour is framed by terraces of elegant houses along with working buildings and overlooked by Damian Hirst’s overwhelming statue of Verity.

Lee is my new favourite. A small cove hides a few well maintained houses with names like Shell Cottage, that cluster around a large abandoned hotel which awaits the developer to spoil the character of the place which, at least at the moment, remains isolated, peaceful, harmonious.

Woolacombe and Putsborough are the anchors that tie each end of the world-famous surfing beach to the land. A host of those black leeches wait in the water, horizontal & patient, until thrown into a frenzy by the build up of waves. The call is out that the surf is up and the surfer-dudes are out in full searching as a pack to find the right wave. It is quite a spectacle. Shame about the modern beach huts.

The class of Swanage Pier takes a lot of beating

I leave Weymouth and its soft sands and head to Lulworth Cove where the pebbles reappear. If you ever pictured a typical cove on our long & varied coastline then Lulworth Cove fits the bill in every way. You can see where the waves have forced their way through the hard rim of the coastline and eroded the softer rock behind to create a crystal clear bay, fred by a trickling stream.

Swanage is my next stop. I wasn’t really looking forward to my visit, remembering from past experiences nothing of particular interest. I must never have passed the bend because when I did,  there, in front of me, is the prettiest pier I’ve seen on the UK coastline so far. It is built in wrought iron, painted white and blue. It is quite small with good lines and a kink in the middle. The white limestone cliffs give it a wonderful backdrop. A small, well maintained, classic pier that just oozes class.

I take the longer route via Studland and its wonderful, long, duned sands.

and catch the ferry across to Sandbanks.

Did you know that Sandbanks has by area the fourth highest land value in the world? I know Harry Rednap lives there but we don’t all want him as a neighbour. Hey, they may some posh, two-tiered, 60s beach huts but they don’t have a pier of any description.

Now home. A great trip in with blue skies and brilliant weather.

From West Bay to Portland along Chesil Beach

Lyme Regis at dawn is magnificent. I got up early to capture the bay in its best light.

I caught a couple of smaller coastal villages – Charmouth and then Seatown (well hardly a town; more Seavillage although that doesn’t sound so good).

Then I came to West Bay. I did the Broadchurch shot first, much to the anxious consternation of a couple of householders or rather bungalowholders.

Then I went to the centre to appreciate the size of the pebbly breach and the iconic cliffs in the distance.

West Bay is one official end of Chesil Beach. It is 18 miles of pebbles named after cisel, the old English name for shingle or gravel. It’s not single or gravel. The beach off pebbles graded from small to large art watch and banks to very high 12 metres in places, creating a sort of lagoon between the shore and the beach itself.

West Bexington is a hamlet on the beach, occupied by anglers.

Climbing the pebble dunes is like entering a dry world of hollow sounds & crunching and death rattles of rolling pebble-dash. It’s harder to walk on than deep snow.

The far end is anchored by Portland where cliffs stand proudly on its Bill, protruding into the English Channel, a feature to be avoided by any vessel. Not sure how much Bill’s got to offer the visitor either.

The resort of Weymouth is around the coast. Another typical seaside resort with lovely soft sand…and look what I found – a Rossi’s Ice Cream Parlour.

The rhythm of the Jurassic Coast

This part of the coast has a gentle rhythm to it, a curving monotony that extends along the crescent of the shore into the distance. With amazing regulatory it rolls up to a truncated headland before dropping down to a bay where a settlement of some kind nestles in against the beach.

Sidmouth is the first of the day. The resorts seem to merge together along this part of the coast. Each has a rather grand facade lining the promenade, consisting of tall whitewashed buildings housing apartments, hotels, cafes, tea rooms & beach ware ( balls & buckets). Like a fading actress a lot of work has gone into making this as glam as possible. The heart of the resort lies behind this glitter where it lives a normal existence with all the warts of an ordinary town.

Seaton is very similar. The only difference being the increase in the range and number of mobility scooters that race up and down the promenade. I found it really hard to capture an interesting image of the place. I can show you where the beach huts will go…when they get them out of winter storage.

Excited? This sculpture around the sea defences says ‘shore shapes the wave’….hmmmm.

The small fishing settlement of Axmouth at the far end of the beach by the sailing club, has a bit of character.

The place I really liked was the small historic fishing village of Beer. What a great name. A working fishing village with boats & ropes & tackle & nets. Real fishing stuff. Oh, and some very well kept beach huts.

Of course, Lyme Regis is the jewel in the crown of the Jurassic Coast. It has the history and the culture and the industry. The place glows with the afternoon sun and memories come flooding back – the French Lieutenant’s Woman seeing her man off from the Cobb; numerous nights of alcoholic abandonment whilst on cricket tour including marathon games of beach cricket and moonies under the full moon. It was very civilised today, with a lack of rowdy cricketers and racing mobile scooters.

The mouth of the Teign, not the Tyne

Moving eastwards along the south coast, my next stop is Teignmouth. I like Teignmouth. It’s what it says on the town map…..the mouth of the River Teign. One side faces the river with Shaldon on the other side.

The gem on the Teignmouth side is a row of quirky fishing shacks which stare at passers-by, a bit like the cast of Toy Story,

The church anchors Teignmouth Pier to the sea side (!). I like this pier. It is plain & rather subtle. Sadly access through the arcade machines is blocked. I don’t know if its for safety reasons, maintenance or simply a seasonal closure. However, from a distance, I think it comes across really well – understated and underdone…..bit like me really!

Dawlish is the place where the main railway line hugs the coast. You may have seen it when winter storms have battered it and waves attacked it in baths, no pools, no lakes… full of water. It’s hard to believe on a day like this as picnics are taken and the warm spring sun enjoyed.

Further up, Exmouth Beach boasts a very impressive lifeboat and some even more impressive beach huts that share the car park. So impressive are they, that locals try to emulate their style and colour scheme.

Budleigh Salterton glows contentedly as the beach catches the evening rays.

Torbay or not Torbay – that is the question

The weather is set fine for a few days so am off down the coast. First of all I’m heading to the old fishing port of Brixham. It’s nice and civilised. There are a few visitors wandering around the dockside on this shining March day but the crowds are in the imagination rather than on the ground. The Park & Ride is closed even and there are spaces in the central car park.

It’s low tide. In the mud of the harbour a menagerie of boats balance precariously on their keels. It looks like a gentle puff of wind would push them onto their sides leaving them marooned like struggling beetles. I like the fact that Brixham is a working port. Yes, the white fibre-glassed hulls of yachts & cruises are lined up at their moorings in the marina. But the fishing fleet is still there, made up of traditional sailing trawlers, crabbers & modern offshore boats, rusty & stinking of years of holding their catch of fish & crustaceans. The history of the place oozes out of the small houses and the dockside.

Travelling eastwards Broadsands Beach is the recreation area for the town.

Goodrington Sands is also part of the crescent of rich dark sands which curves around from Brixham to Torquay known as Torbay. These beaches attract families and visitors to traditional, bucket & spade seaside holidays.

Paignton stretches eastwards from its old harbour. Beach huts line the promenade in irregular clumps. The pier, in all its tacky glory, reminds everyone that traditional seaside holidays consist of a lot of sand and even more cups of tea, candy floss, fish & chips and endless arcades to battle the children away from.

Torquay is supposed to be the elegant resort. Hmmm. There are many grand, white-washed buildings that remind the visitor of its Victorian past. But the pier…such a disappointment. If the pier reflects the grandeur of the resort then the stubby harbour wall with a few iron seats and stunted lamps along the top is a very poor reflection of Torquay’s past glory & present attraction.

The unique character of Totnes and Salcombe

Totnes is a market town that sits at the head of the Dart estuary. It has prospered since medieval times and has grown a reputation for alternative therapies. Totnes is its main street, lined with a huge range of independent traders including butchers, bakers, fudge-makers, cheese producers, cafes, bistros, ethnic bags and bangles and banjolelesl. The iconic clock tower spans the street around the half-way mark.

This plaque is particularly interesting, coming from Oxford as I do.

Salcombe is a bit further west on the Kingsbridge Estuary. It has a long and rich history as a centre for fishing and as a trade port importing particularly fruit from Spain , the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Ship building took place in the town and many small workshops still remain. In the past the town could boast sail makers, blockers, blacksmiths and sawyers.

The first holiday home was built here in the 1700s.

As ship building and trade declined so the town developed its recreational side and it became a bustling resort town with many holiday lets and a busy ferry to take holiday makers over the estuary to the beaches opposite.

All these Devon towns are worth a visit but I have learned a couple of things about them. Firstly parking is a nightmare and it usually takes several circuits of the car parks and streets before a space is spotted. Warning: 9 times out of 10, in order to park will require you to carry out parallel parking  maneuvers (when’s the last time you did that?). Secondly, any space is usually at the top of a hill, requiring a quick descent to places of interest but a laboured accent at the end of the day to rejoin your vehicle. Park & Ride schemes are sign-posted but all seem to be seasonal and none ran after October.

My one tip to you: park on the other side of the estuary to these tourist towns. In most cases at least one passenger ferry dashes about from A to B to C. Although a bit chilly on the water, it beats being stuck in queues in town. Check on-line before you travel.


And then there is Dittisham

And then there is Dittisham. This picturesque village lies on the estuary of the River Dart. It has a population off around 420 and is a couple of kilometres upstream from Dartmouth. It has two pubs, one of which trebles up as a shop and a post office and the seasonal Anchorstone Cafe which serves excellent local seafood lunches. Other than that, it is a sleepy place with lots of holiday lets and a rather affluent feel. But don’t get me wrong. It has a charm and an attraction which makes it a relaxing place to chill out on holiday, although I expect the character might well change in the high season as boats and visitors are drawn to the estuary.

The narrow main street, called The Levels, is the only level surface in the village. It is cut into the scarp of the hills that line the estuary providing wonderful views of the estuary from houses on both sides, above and below the road. Sight of the water can also be grasped though gaps in hedges and over walls.

The approach to the estuary is always steeply downhill. A fact that fills the heart with dread as the minute the gradient starts to increase, you know that the return journey will require a massive effort for muscles and lungs alike.

Two passenger ferries serve the village from the small beach by The Ferry Boat Inn, a small cosy pub right beside the water, and the new pontoon which also acts as a crabbing hotspot.

One runs to and fro between here and Dartmouth, bringing visitors upstream to frequent the pub itself or wander the quiet lanes or as part of a circular amble along the estuary.The other plies across the narrow stretch of water to Greenway House. This is now owned by the National Trust and was once the home of Agatha Christie. Greenway Quay mirrors the pontoon on the west bank. A bell can be rung to summon the boat.

Trains and boats and planes (or three sailing ships) in Dartmouth

Dartmouth is just that…a bustly town at the mouth of the River Dart where narrow streets abound with history and drivers find it impossible to park. Having driven around the town three times and the only car park a similar number, I decide to do the sensible thing and follow the signs out from the centre to the Park & Ride. Here a scruffy piece of A4 over the ticket machine announces that the P&R buses (the whole point of P&R) ceased to run on October 29th. I ask you…what is the point of having the signs from the middle of town. Two more circuits and a bit of hovering and I time it bang on as car leaves from the street and I carry out a pretty impressive piece of parallel parking.

So, in the words of the title of that well known song by Peter, Paul & Mary, I had first hand experience of the train element. From over the estuary the sound of a real steam train stirs boyhood memories with the sound of the whistle and the sight of the ribbon of steam billowing behind above the carriages.

Planes must have passed overhead during my visit. However it was boats that took the biscuit. I saw countless boats of every description. I also saw three ships, well ferries, two of which carried vehicles, pass me by, plying across the water at different locations, even though it was not Christmas Day, nor the morning, just as they have done since the 13th century.

Bayard’s Cove is the oldest part of the town. It is a quay whose cobbles ooze history. Read this bit about the coal gangs that operated from here.

I love the Tudor houses amid the narrow steep alleys and the small fort at the end.

Further along the estuary, where the river meets the sea, yes….the mouth of the Dart (!), is a church, it’s graveyard and, on each bank, two parts of a larger fort. Both would have had cannon and a huge chain would have been stretched across between them to prevent pirates and enemy forces entering the river and threatening the town.

Family-friendly beaches from Dartmouth to Salcombe

Hi Everyone. For me, it’s down to south Devon for a few days over New Year. I have rented a small cottage in Dittisham, overlooking the calm waters of the Dart estuary, between Totnes and Dartmouth (more about that on another occasion). Today I went exploring. I decided to complete the short stretch between Dartmouth and Salcombe as part of my journey around the UK coastline. This section has tall cliffs interrupted by crescent bites of beaches gnawing into the landscape.

Unable to access the coast through the sizable settlement of Stoke Fleming due to its location high up on the cliffs, I drive south of the Dart to find Blackpool. Yep, absolutely true. Blackpool Sands has a similar wide beach but only a few rather classy buildings and an extensive tea shop and eatery. Three rather forlorn beach huts separate the car park from the refreshments.

Streete is also high up on the cliffs. A mile or so out of town the road drops down to the wide crescent of Slapton Sands with the unusual sight of the fresh water nature reserve on the land side separated from the sea by a long, thin spit of land which holds the road.

Torcross at the southern end of the beach is a village of tea rooms and holiday lets hiding behind the sea defences with larger properties holding more impressive positions overlooking the sea from the surrounding cliffs. It’s only claim to fame is that it was a practice beach for unloading troops before the D-day landings. Indeed a tank was found in the sea just off the village around shuts in the car park to be admired by visitors.

Across the cliffs, Beesands is an old fishing village from where crab and lobster fishing took place. This single street settlement hides behind an impressive sea wall, fronted by huge giant rocks, with a small beach at one end, a pub in the middle and a tall closed up house at the other end.

Hallsands is even smaller. It too has a beach. But the sea defences here failed to stop the cliff erosion and now the cliff road has been cut and the terrace of houses at the far end leans close to the precipice, in danger of collapsing onto the rocks below.

Start Point Lighthouse can be seen in the distance.

Thames Crossings for Christmas

Do you remember this? It describes my journey down the River Thames from source to estuary, capturing every crossing as an image and in writing, with some history on each one. Many of you kindly bought a copy last year.

This is a small reminder that if you want to buy friend or family a copy for Christmas this year, than simply get in touch. Each copy costs £15.00 and I can pop one in the post for you for an extra £2. Simply drop me a line at markchesterton@hotmail.com or claykettlebooks@gmail.com and I will confirm the order, the address and provide you with my bank details.

Many thanks.


A day by the seaside at Southend-on-Sea …… or is it: -on-estuary?

The sun continues to shine and draw me away to continue my travels. You may remember that a few years back my journey down the east coast was interrupted when my car decided to stop in a huge plume of smoke and I had to get home on the back of an AA low loader. See, the life of a travel blogger is no easy ride (ooohhh, actually it was very easy!!). So I missed out visiting Southend (on the east coast).

Now, here I have a real quandary. My question, that many of you have helped me with, but no-one head give me a categorical answer, is this: is Southend-on-Sea on the coast as its name suggests? Or is it on the estuary? Even locals cannot give me a definitive answer. But, as its name includes the word ‘sea’ and as it proudly claims to have the longest pier in the world..and as it has Rossi’s ice cream, I feel duty bound to include this long piece of seaside as part of my coastal journey around the UK.

So first into the beach huts and sea defences of Shoeburyness which is tucked neatly around that marshy bit of coast, facing across the estuary to industrial skyline on the Kent bank on the other side.

The beach blends seamlessly into the traditional seaside delights of Southend-on-Sea where Victorian elegance stretches side by side with the coats of colour of fairgrounds & arcades, candy floss, rock & ice cream. Easy to reach from the East End of London by the early railways the resort soon took off with its soft sandy beach and long paved promenade with a line of rather stunted palms, supposed to remind us of the south of France.

Around the front of the pier a collection of fairground rides rattle and squirm and hiss and scream to let the punters know they are on holiday. The pier itself is rather colossal. The longest pier in the world, it stretches for a mile out into the estuary until it feels like the it touches the far side. You can walk to the end or get the original train. Guess what? I took the train.

Leigh Old Town, part of Leigh-on-Sea and so included on my tour, is further up the estuary. The estuary turns sand and beach into proper mud and silt, divided up by creeks and wriggling worm lines of brown sucking squelch. Is it water or is it land? Here the cockle sheds still exist but no longer a crescent of crunchy shells over which fisherman bounce over planks, unloading their catch in buckets on yokes. When the tide is right they still use yokes but straight onto the quay. The old sheds are now more glitzy pubs and bars serving young families at a ranch of trestle tables under wide umbrellas, a range of shellfish – oysters, dressed crab, lobster, scallops. Where have the cockles and winkles and whelks gone to? Are we so superior now that these are beneath us.

Great, I have now filled the gap in my journey down the east coast. I have now travelled from Berwick-upon-Tweed down and round to Bournemouth, visiting every coastal settlement on the way. Now I have to travel around the sticky out bit and up the west coast doing the same. See you soon.

A couple of extra places at the mouth of the Tyne; Tynemouth!!

I had to just include these places as I have heard about each of them but I have never visited them. Cullercoats is definitely on the coast and during any hot period is a convoy of cars in each direction along the coast road. Cute, scruffy dogs are the necessary accompanment to very tattooed guys and gals promanarding their way to the beach. I think the queue to the fish and chip was the most impressive sight of the morning. This one is no exception. Every one has a queue like this or longer and its only 1130.

Next is Tynemouth with the ruins of another priory high on the cliffs between its two beaches.

Then a walk around the headland leads to North Shields which looks across the Tyne to South Shields.

I like this architect’s house and office with windows designed for a Ford Transit.

Now the ferry to South Shields and images of Newcastle, only cause I never been there. Am impressed.

So, home tomorrow via the Yorkshire National Park. Should be good.

The last leg of the east coast up to Berwick-upon-Tweed

Oh boy, the last leg of this wonderous east coast is not to be missed. 3 screaming nugggets never to be missed. I’ll start you’ll off gently. Firstly we’ll look back to yesterday’s castle ruins across the bay from Low Newton-by-the-Sea. There is a High one too but the view is not so good.

Along coast is the glamorous, or not so glamorous, depending on your point of view, town and working harbour of Seahouses, overlooked by a layered ring of grey terraces and two pubs on the hill, with little heads poking over the top of WWI trenches, appearing from their trestled tables with pints in hand, ready to go over the top.

The first gem is Bamburgh Castle. This is not a ruin but a well maintained, and very expensive, Victorian tribute to past glories – to Saxon defences against the Vikings, although it can’t have been that effective as it was destroyed by the horned invader in 993, to Norman invasion, they built a new castle here and to big families and governors of Northumberland who live there to this day.

The Holy island of Lindisfarne is best appreciated from a distance. Getting too close means that you have to rub shoulders with thousands of the hoy poloy who trog around its lanes and paths disrupting any spiritual essence that might have remained from the ruins of the priory and the newer church. A word of warning – always check the tide tables before setting out over the causeway, The setting is completely surreal. The vehicles form a caravan through the boggy sands of the Lindisfarne desert to reach the oasis of land in the turmoil of the surrounding waters.

Looking back across the sands is just as impressive.

The castle stands secure in its security blankets of scaffolding and plastic.

Spittal, on the south bank of the Tweed, is a marker for Berwick on the south.

Finally, I reach Berwick-upon-Tweed, occupied by the English & the Scotts equally and full of history and intrigue. The final settlement of any size before the border and surrounded by holiday caravans, it oozes granite history and industry. A town worthy of accolades from both countries.

Finally, I leave you with this little fella that I met on a barbed wire fence at Goswick.

See you all again soon.







Two ruined castles, some working villages and a magnificent coastline

Boy, is this coastline something or what? I can’t get over it. Miles and miles and miles of glorious, soft sandy beaches that bask under a blue, blue sky, interrupted only by the occasional promontory of tougher rocks that have managed to hold out against the sea’s grinding and relentless erosive powers.

I start off at the top end of Whitley Bay looking across at St Mary’s Lighthouse emerging from the fresh morning haze. The gods have breathed onto a cold pane of glass and as the air warms it breathes away into the ether leaving the white silhouette standing clear and precise.

Blyth is a working port. Huge coils of subterranean wiring are stored on quaysides, ready to be laid under vast oceans to link continents with modern technology. By huge, I mean huge. The coils are 10 metres in diameter and require colossal spindles to slowly unravel them.

Newbiggin-by-the-Sea has a lovely natural curve of high sea defences which overlook an installation, the Couple Sculpture, a guy and a girl standing high on a scaffold looking out to sea. Arcs of coal on the beach are clues to the area’s geology and history.

Ambling around Amble is a delight. This is an old working port with ancient timbers marking the skeleton of old wharves and medieval docks and quays. Around the tributary of the river the ruins of Warkworth Castle still stand guard over access inland.

The day ends with two working villages that I love. Both are scruffy, tatty and honest in the paraphernalia that lies about the place. First is Boulter.

Casper’s harbour lies almost empty, waiting for vessels to give it a purpose.

Oh, yes. Across, through the islands of yellow gorse, the ruins of 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle spread out across the sheep grazed grass top of the headland.



The amazing crossing that is the Tees Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough

This is the most amazing feat of engineering built in 1911 as a crazy gantry to replace the crowded ferries that transported workers across the river to work in the factories and steel works across on the other side. Now vehicles and pedestrians are swung across the waters, suspended underneath the rolling gantry by 30 wires. Absolutely amazing.

Most of the coast north of the Tees is flat scruffy marshland with barriered roads leading to industrial plants, power stations, chemical works and this wreckers yard.

Once you get to Seaton and Hartlepool, yes Hartlepool, it all changes. Wonderful sandy beaches run in front of amusement arcades and candy floss sellers competing with all day fish and chips shops and guest houses. This stretch is real holiday coastline country. First is Seaton Carew that creates the front in front of Hartlepool.

Then up the coast, over the tops of countless colleries that worm their hidden way underground, out into the North Sea. This is Seaham with a mixture of fishing vessels, industry and pleasure craft moored in the harbour below the grand resort dwellings overlooking from on top of the cliffs.

Even Sunderland has a seafront that provides all a family needs. Oh, and its own type of pier.

Looking up the coast Whitburn Colliery remains hidden under protruding cliffs on each side of the sandy holidaying beaches. The only thing to give its shafts away are a couple of brick, cylindrical piers on the cliffside and a large open, grassed recreation area next door to Souter Lighthouse, the first one in the UK to be posted by electricity, created and paid for by subscriptions from the miners.

Finally the long beach of South Shields appears with Tynemouth lording it on the far side of, yes you guessed it, the River Tyne.


Back to the mixed splendour of the north east

On previous trips I travelled up the east coast as far as Whitby. On this short visit I am going further up to explore the historical riches of this coast which manifest themselves in industrial revolution and Victorian splendour mixed up with some pretty dire places that blot out the glory of this coastline.

The first gem is a small fishing village called Staithes with its hugely sloped & cobbled drop to the harbour. The Hovis advert would be at home here.

The town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea is a Victorian treasure with its elegant pier, its vernacular cliff railway, the oldest water-operated one in the UK, and its elegant mansion blocks nailed to the tops of the cliffs. It is both a surprise and a delight, fully worth a visit.

Now there’s a couple of places you might not go out of your way to visit. Just down from the steel works is Skinnigrove, by the ‘sewage output’.

And then there is Redcar with the tractors and fishing boats up on the sea defences of the esplanade and the lines of wind turbines off shore.



The beaches of Boscombe and Bournemouth

Before I start on the ‘B’s I have to share with you the two ends of Milton-on-Sea. The east end shows off its traditional beach huts. The west end has ‘new beach huts’; 21st century beach huts with parking above.

Hmmmmm. What do you think? I know which I prefer.

So the road goes up and over the cliffs until it drops down to Friars Cliff. Now this is a wonderful place for family holidays. The pebbles begin to drop away and the beach becomes super sandy. The beach huts are a class above their ones I’ve seen so far on this trip. One is for sale for a cool 15k if you have money to spare. Even beach huts need a lick of paint and some tarting up if you’re gonna be seen enjoying the summer on the beach.

I love this image:

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday comes to mind.

Anyway, on to Boscome before hitting Bournemouth. Both are very similar with their promenades, their sandy beaches, their piers; yet they are very different in character. School was out in Boscombe with a procession of young children racing down to the beach on their scooters, their bikes, their skateboards, all in beach gear and yelling at each other while older siblings showed off acres of tattoos that covered every bit of exposed flesh which must have cost an arm and a leg (you see what I did there, clever eh?)

Maybe this is summed up by the incident that occurred at the ice cream shack at the entrance to the peir. The mum in front of me had 3 young kids. She was being really patient trying to get them what they wanted. The first in line got a single cone and started to tuck in while mum was sorting the others out. A long lick unsettled the scoop which plummeted to the ground. Her little face crumbled and she tugged at mum’s dress. Mum looked down and without breaking her dialogue picked up the ball in her right hand and placed it back in the cone with a squelch. ‘It’s been on the ground’ I started to say in my middle class tones. Mum and child both shrugged their shoulders and carried on with their previous tasks of licking and ordering and ignored me completely. Oh well. Now Bournemouth.

Bournemouth beach was really heaving and school was out here as well. But it had a completely different feel. The kids were older and in much larger groups. Barbies and cans arrived in copious quantities. The guys had all between working out in that part of the gym that builds muscle tone ( I’ve never been there, I have to say) and carried two different types of six packs. The girls had torn every bit of clothing and huddled in groups away from the sand applying makeup so they could emerge from their huddle as painted insects, each convinced that she was the main bee of their little hive. Every inch of beach was covered with beautiful bodies all posing and secreting hormones. The pier was almost empty, only a small trail off more mature punters made their way to the far end for a pint and some fish and chips.

I rather liked the pier and the beach huts. The youngsters seemed to ignore these symbols of more mature beach activity. I felt safe here with the normal people who ignored all the posing that was going on around them and just enjoyed making a cup of tea and reading a book.

Home tomorrow, with some lovely images, all with glorious blue skies, and rather a red face!


Taking Southampton’s Waters.

Today it’s up the east side of Southampton Water and down the west side. My first  port of call (did you like the way I did that – ports and all that!) is Hamble-le-Rice. What a name; it sounds so historical. This is reflected in its narrow cobbled streets that don’t seem to have changed for centuries. Along the banks of the River Hamble it provides moorings for a huge fleet of very classy  yachts arnd sailing boats. At high tide the vessels can escape the clutches of the village by entering the main channel and heading out into the Solent and the open sea. I rather liked the village itself and its sense of timelessness.

Heading up the Water I hit the city of Southamton. The banks of very channel, every creek, every tributary, every part of the estuary have disappeared into new developments of tall, classy & classy apartment, I’m sure with a suitable amount of social housing, and high end office blocks.

Industry and commerce have stood their ground on the banks. The docks, numbering at least 20, claim ownership of much of the waterway. Other industries fight for space – huge container parks, parked cars awaiting exportation, an oil terminal, a power station, cruising and ferry terminals, cranes and piles of containers hog the skyline, despite the efforts of picturesque boats trying to hide the sore.

Down the west side of Southampton Water is the small gem of a town called Hythe. Its cobbled, traffic free streets give it a charm, exaggerated by the grey hair of visitors and locals alike. Its main claim to fame is its passenger ferry across the estuary to Southampton which has been operating since the mid 16th century. The ferry is reached by a long pier, maybe about 500 metres in length, that struts out into the main channel. To help with the walking a small line runs beside it and a small engine and carriages runs up around down the pier. My luck is in.

Calshot lies right down the bottom of the estuary. A rather grand collection of beach huts line the pebbled shore.

Sadly a barrier stops exploration of the point with Calshot Castle in the distance. However the map on the gate shows that it is now a Activity Centre with a velodrome and a dry ski slope. The castle was built by Henry VIII in 1540. During the war the buildings housed the workshops that built the Sunderland sea planes. The radar is still working and aid the cruise liners and cargo ships as they negotiate their way up the Solent.


South’s sea and Port’s mouth

I spent the night on Hayling Island and in the morning explored its delights before heading back onto the mainland. The beach is like the rest of this coastline – wide, steep, noisy, with large, large pebbles to make sitting out almost impossible unless you rent a deck chair, along with the wind break, which together will make your beach time bearable.

This is where the only bridge joins the island to the mainland. So English with the tide out.

So it’s back up around then down to Southsea. This is the coastal part of Portsmouth, which faces out onto the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Now Southsea is somewhere I would come back to. There is a touch of class about the place and so much going on. Just past the Model Village is South Parade Pier, the winner of the Pier of the Year Award 2018, whatever that means.

The whole town seems to be ready to welcome Jo Public for holidays and breaks.

There is so much history. You can wander into Henry VIII’s fort, built to defend the naval dockyards, which, in turn were built by his father in 1494. The Palmerston forts were built out in the Solent to deter Napolean from invading.

At the end of Southsea Esplanade the creaking iron girders of Clarence Pier stands tall at the passing of all vessels into and out of Portsmouth harbour. Its trusses are edged in rust and it seems so frail and fragile that even a stiff breeze would reduced it to a pile of matchsticks.

The hoverport is next door.

Then out is up into Old Portsmouth and the old naval dock yards. Locals will find any patch of stones and sand to soak up the rays. The 18th century fortifications provide very effective wind breaks.

Then it is not a short passenger ferry ride across to Gosport but a longer drive up and around and down to the town which has grown up at the east end of Stokes Bay.




Bognor Regis – is there something in the name?

Well, I saw the forecast and saw there were five days of super dooper, wall to wall sunshine coming our way, typical, as the schools go back. Still, never to waste a gift horse, and particularly a sunny one, I thought I would catch up on my coastal tour. You may remember that I left you just to the east of Brighton. Well I am picking up the trail in Bognor and travelling westwards.

All I remember about Bognor is that I spent a weeks holiday at the Butlins there eons ago, when my sister in law at the time worked for the company. It must have been in the 80’s. My family still have the ‘spacehopper’ beach towels which are as thin as tissue paper now and show how cutting edge my holidays have been in the past! Well not a lot has changed in the town. A few of the apartment blocks head been spruced up a bit, there was scaffolding on the top floors of some buildings and gangs of men were painting and sawing in an effort to get the kiddies play areas ready for the season.

The esplanade, (what is the word for that flat bit that lines the beach?) was almost deserted. The sun was out but the ocean was in a bad mood. Snarling, it enjoyed throwing its full force of pebbles up the beach and then cackled menacingly as it dragged them back down below the surface. A few families huddled under coats and scarves and forced their way along between the gusts. The tea shacks, with their aluminium tables, are spread out at 100 metre intervals to provide shelter for the brave to get through their ice creams or quickly cooling paper chooks of tea. I expect the arcades will be doing a good trade today.

Then there is the pier. At least I think it’s a pier. It must be the stubbiest pier in the whole of the UK. It must be a pier because there were a handful of guys fishing from the end. I went exploring and made a bit of a boo boo. Climbing up some iron steps I thought I would climb up 3 more and take a piccy of the town. This I did and when I turned around there was a guy standing at a corner watching me. I smiled, no response. I nodded, no response. Then he said in a very gruff voice – “the bottom of your boots will be covered in green paint”. I stood wooden, stayed silent, squinted my eyes. I realised he had just painted the three steps in a light green colour. I apologised and rapidly moved to my exit only to look down and see the print of the soles of my boots clearly marked out on the metal platform of the pier. There was little I could do except quicken my pace and made a very hurried departure out of town before he asked me to clear it all up. I don’t think there is a lot in Bognor to draw me back; not even my work of modern art.

From Bognor I have driven to Selsey and followed the pebbly, ne stoney, beach around the headland to the Witterings. There is no real break in the beach, nor in the mixed housing that lines the way around.



Two Gates outstripped by a Deal of Broad Stairs

Clever that, don’t you think? You’ll see how clever as I go through the main towns on this part of the Kent coast. Walmer, with its Tudor house & castle, doesn’t even get a mention. It is its big brother, Deal Castle, that gets all the plaudits. Built by Henry VIII to protect the naval dockyards from the French, it can best be seen from the air with its battlement circles interlocked around each other. This view from the beach does not do it justice although it is in pristine condition still.

Deal also has a pier. A simple pier made of concrete and steal. None of your arcades or bingo or rides. Just a wide stubby structure with a few cubby holes acting as windbreaks ending with an exposed fishing platform and the warmth of Janice’s tearooms. The view back to shore and the town and beach is quite elegant.

I love this old cinema. It sums up the appeal of the place.

Ramsgate has a certain Victorian charm about it. The crescents of tall, elegant, white-painted terraces curve around the cliff tops like a crown perched above the harbour and docks and glitzy tourist hotspots. But somehow it is outdone by its neighbours on each side.

Just up the coast lies Broadstairs. Now I liked Broadstairs. The bay is small with a lovely, neat crescent of soft sand, lined, almost completely, with a variety of beach huts following the line of the cliffs around the bay. Along the top another crescent of classy eateries, ice-creameries & drinkeries overlook the sands. Small cracks of alleys lead through to a more ordinary part of town which provide for all the needs of visitors and locals alike.

And then there is Margate. Hmmm. Sorry Margate, Broadstairs and Deal just shine out, even though you do have the Turner Gallery with its free admission.


Whitstable’s oyster beds make the place a real pearl

I saw a few sunny days were forecast and I have this small gap on my coastal tour, between Sheerness and Deal. So I thought I would get it covered. I start south of the Thames estuary in the marsh lands of the Isle of Grain and its flat wet neighbour. There is one road, over a magnificent bridge, to get you onto the Isle of Sheppey, and one road to get you off.

Down the North Sea coast, Whitstable awaits, the brightest pearl on the east coast, full of history, oysters, seafood, boats, masts, mud, nets, trawlers, pubs, visitors in a lovely, bustly cacophony of clinking masts and laughing children and shouted orders and slurping ripples on far away waters. Oysters have been collected from beds since Roman times. That’s them in the distance.

Here is my visual symphony for Whitstable. I hope you can touch its atmosphere with all your senses.

Herne Bay is just down the coast. Whilst a bit more down to earth compared to its classy neighbour, it has a certain charm with its tea rooms and ABBA entertainment, it’s truncated pier with its far end abandoned in the off shore distance, just giving a suggestion of its former glory and all framed by a line of very fine beach huts.

These twin towers are all that remain of a medieval church at the village of Reculver, on the cliffs just a bit further down the coast.

More tomorrow, weather permitting.

Beach huts and more beach huts…..oh, and a pier.

Just a short leg this morning, in glorious sunshine before seeking out the A34 and a return home. Beach huts is the theme for the day. Now these are everywhere lining the beach in their idiosyncratic way. However classy or run-down a coastal settlement is there will always be a row, or two or three, of beach huts which reflect the character of the area. Look at these and see what I mean. In all cases the pebbly beach is long and wide and straight. The beach huts top the slight landward rise and give way to a promenade or cycle path which then drops away to the residential areas and the avenues and cull-de-sacs that stretch inland

Moving along the coast from Brighton, Hove has clusters of huts along the long seafront.

Before the working port of Shoreham Harbour (no beach huts here, only timber yards and docks) there is Portslade-by-Sea where the beach’s huts have all seen better days, as has the beach.

South Lancing starts to up the quality; from a distance anyway.

Lovely, elegant retro/Victorian party town of Worthing adds a touch of real class to these proceedings; well the pier does anyway.

The East Worthing to Goring-on-Sea guard is particularly impressive as the rising sun hits the angles and the beach hut equivelent of Colonel Mannering inspects his lines from his even more grand Victorian Seafront Shelfer.

I always imagined Littlehampton to be rather grander than it is. These huts line the approach to the town. Hmmmmm.

A final cup of tea on Littlehampton beach before the traffic-manic rush back to the concrete and clay of the city. Or something more seasidey if you fancy. Are these beach huts? Well they do line the beach and they are huts.

Sea you all soon.

Four piers for the price of three

A day that started and ended with two magnificent piers and an ultra special one with golden orbs in the middle. Do not go there. I said orbs and not balls. Oh…. and see if you can spot me- a kind of Where’s Wally but me and without a striped T-shirt. So I suppose nothing like it really.

Dawn was glorious. So up I bounced and down I went to the front. The sun shone so innocently on Hastings pier, lighting up its colours in fresh-faced shades of happy, summer colours.

My first port of call was Bexhill-on-Sea. A rather grand, Victorian, rather pompous sort of place which I quite liked.

From here a huge crescent of wide, pebbly bay stretches westward, lined by the beach gardens of well-to-do detached housing. Half way along is Pevency from where this expanse of beach and sea can best be seen stretching away in either direction. The only people to be seen are dog walkers with their dogs and their tight little bags of poo dangling from limp hands; the humans that is, not the dogs.

The first sight of the front at elegant, white, grand Eastbourne really does take the breath way. A long terrace of hotels and guest houses overlooks the road, the promenade and the wide contours of multi-browned pebbles, dissected by lines of groynes to keep them all in their rightful place. Behind this, the glory of Eastbourne pier stands out to sea, proud and strong, its golden domes blazing the sun’s reflection back into the town. Gold and white do go rather well together.

A short drive over the cliffs brings me firstly down to the calm that is Seaford.

Then, just to remind us that some people have to earn a living, rather than just holiday, it is another drive along the cliffs before dropping down into the working port of Newhaven.

Then back over the cliffs, through Peacehaven (for some reason I really like that name) to arrive in Brighton. Now, I could show you this image of the beach of Brighton which I am sure you are familiar with and you might say ‘a magnificent pier to end the day with’.

But I wanted to share with you some different images of the beach at Brighton and of a very different, but, I think, equally magnificent pier.

West Pier opened in 1866, closed in 1975 when it fell into disrepair which was then doubly compounded by two fires in 2003. Only a skeleton of rusting iron remains as the town’s most photographed feature. This contrasts with the nearby, state of the art viewing platform sponsored by BA which opened in 2016.



On my way to the battle of Hastings under blue skies

Well, my loyal followers. The sun decided to shine for a few days so I decided to come away for a few days and complete another leg of my coastal tour. So I head for Deal, in Kent. The plan is to come down around Dungeness and spend a night in Hastings which is why I’m sat at the window of a small Italian Italian in the old town.

I am gonna let the images tell their story of each place I visited. Some I really enjoyed, some I could easily never visit again. I liked Deal. It was small and cosey and had small English seaside town atmosphere.

Dover; hmmmmm. I followed some fisherman and found a side of town that I never expected to see. The western side of the highlight is protected by a huge pier and from that pier, which you access through the old cruise liner buildings, are so many groups of eastern European men, dozing in the sun, sleeping stretched out or teasing angry nibbling fish with some very expensive looking kit. Could be anywhere in the world on any pier; but hey, it’s Dover.

Folkestone has not got a lot to offer except the remains of the old train ferry track and viaduct which they are in the process of renovating.

Dungeness was intriguing – a mixture of 21st century wind farms and nuclear power stations shaken up with 60’s holiday bungalows (of do they live there permanently?), a few snassy Grand Design buildings, rusty abandoned tracks leading down to derelict fishing enterprises mixed with fibre glass silhouettes of catamarans in the far distance on the beach.

There then follows a number of villages which huddle along the road protected from the storms by the tall sea wall.. The only bright spot on this section is Rye Harbour with its clapper-boarded or rendered facades to protect the structures from the storms.

And finally Hastings with the Pier of the Year 2017. Why???? Maybe it’s Hastings’ turn.




Thames Crossings

Many of you have so enjoyed my blog over the past few years that you suggested that I write a book. Well, I heard you and I have done just that. I chose a journey that started close to home in Oxford. Over weeks and months last summer, I travelled along the towpath of the River Thames from its source in fields around Kemble in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds to its estuary into the North Sea. As I journeyed I photographed every crossing over and under the river. These take the form of bridges, tunnels, fords and ferries and even include a cable car. I have carried out research on every crossing and written some blurb about what is there now and what was there in the past..

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Well, my dear friends and followers, you can now buy this book – £14.95 plus postage and packing. I have set up a website called Clay Kettle Books through which you can order as many copies as you wish (an ideal Christmas present for friends and family). Even if you don’t wish to purchase a copy have a look at the website. There is a gallery of images from my travels and you can also access my blog from there. Put it in your favourites – it will be the platform through which future publications will be available.

To order all you have to do is log onto www.claykettlebooks.com and contact me there or email me at claykettlebooks@gmail.com. Once I hear from you I will respond with payment details and time scale. Thanks for reading.

I’ll be back in the blogging saddle in 2017 with a trip to Yunnan’s Fire Sacrifice Festival in Southern China. See you all then.