As a Londoner, I have very fond memories of Southend on Sea. Rose tinted? More than likely but, fond all the same.
Up the A13 and onto the A127 we would go for a date with Peter Pan in his playground. Sadly, Peter has returned to Neverland having been replaced by Adventure Island. It’s no longer possible to fear death on the terrifying big dipper that sat precariously at the top of the Kursal either.
This little seaside resort is still a favorite of mine and these days, I am more excited by its photogenic attributes and the mark left upon it by the Victorians. You don’t have to hunt for clues here as the area is littered with historical buildings and monuments. Walk along the prom and you could be forgiven for thinking you have forgotten your parasol.
In the summer the air is permeated with an intoxicating mix of cockles and chip fat, children run along the pebbled beaches and wade through the mud flats to reach the actual sea and adults stroll arm in arm munching hot dogs or candy floss before spending their coppers at the arcades. These are not the crystal clear waters of my beloved Turkey but, It is a typical English seaside resort that has retained its charm. Long may it reign I say.
Friends from the Black Country, Mandy & Dave are here for a little visit and they have brought son Matthew with them. It’s night-time so we head out for dinner. Ok so we don’t partake of traditional fish and chips or jellied eels but get a table at East, an all you can eat Chinese buffet. The food is great and we while away the evening catching up and gently ribbing each other on the difference in our dialects.
The following morning we meet at the entrance to the pier. Originally constructed in 1829 at a modest half a mile, it has been extended several times and still retains the accolade of the worlds longest pier at 1.1/8 miles. The pier was not actually built as a tourist attraction but to enable French and Belgian tourists to disembark from the steam ships and walk instead of being carried ashore! In 1846 a pier tramway was added and the open carriages were drawn by horse or, in windy weather, powered by sail until 1890 when an electric tram replaced it. Affectionately known as ‘The Toastrack’ due to the open carriages, it was the first pier railway in England and became a huge tourist attraction. The pier has of course suffered along the way; crashed into by a barge and a tanker and the head damaged by fire in 1976. The Victorian pavilion burnt to ashes in 1959 and this was replaced by a bowling alley which was also destroyed by fire in 1995. After all this, its still standing and for the princely sum of £1 you can walk the planks.
Our excursion begins with everything ‘B’. Breezy, Blowy, Bitter, Blustery, Bracing, Bloody Cold! The wind is so strong it is blowing us from side to side. It’s the kind of wind that gets deep into your ear canals. We cover them as best we can with scarves and hoods and sometimes hands and along we trundle pointlessly attempting conversation as our words are ripped from our mouths and blown across the Estuary.
The last time I ventured to the end of the pier, the traditional wooden café was open. This has now been taken over by Jamie Oliver and his friend, farmer Jimmy Docherty for the Chanel Four show ‘Jamie and Jimmy’s Food Fight Club’. As such, it is not generally open for business. Open for business this morning however is some gleaming modern monstrosity serving refreshments. It does have fabulous views but I still don’t like it. It is far too modern and just does not belong at the end of Southend Pier (in my opinion of course).
We warm ourselves with pots of tea and a natter before a little browse around the Lifeboat shop and a pose or two for the camera. The return journey is just as blustery but seems shorter somehow and after walking over two miles, it’s deemed perfectly acceptable to sit around and eat cake!! A delicious chocolate one that Mandy has brought with her. Before you know it it’s time for my friends to make the three hour journey home.
I know the next time I see them, I will have made it home to Turkey. There we can sit and reminisce about Southend on Sea while gazing at a far bluer sea in a far warmer climate.