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!