At Walton on the Naze
All this time, Walton on the Naze has been awaiting me, nestling like a forgotten jewel cast up on the Essex coast, and less than an hour and a half from Liverpool St Station.
Families with buckets and spades joined the train at every stop, as we made our way eastwards to the point where Essex crumbles into the North Sea at the rate of two metres a year. Yet all this erosion, while reminding us of the force of the mighty elements, also delivers a perfect sandy beach – the colour of Cheddar cheese – that is ideal for sand castles and digging. Stepping from the small train amongst the flurry of pushchairs and picnic bags, at once the sea air transports you and the hazy resort atmosphere enfolds you. Unable to contain yourself, you hurry through the sparse streets of peeling nineteenth century villas and shabby weather-boarded cottages to arrive at a rise overlooking Britain’s third longest pier, begun in 1830.
In spite of the majestic pier, this is a seaside resort on a domestic scale. You will not find any foreign tourists here because Walton on the Naze is a closely guarded secret, it is kept by the good people of Essex for their sole use. At Walton on the Naze everyone is local. You see Essex families running around as if they owned the place, playing upon the beach in flagrant carefree abandon, as if it were their own back yard – which, in a sense, it is.
This sense of ownership is manifest in the culture of the beach huts that line the seafront, layers deep, in higgledy-piggledy terraces receding from the shore. These little wooden sheds are ideal for everyone to indulge their play house and dolls’ house fantasies – painting them in fanciful colours, giving them names like “Ava Rest,” and furnishing the interiors with gas cookers and garish curtains. At the seaside, all are licenced to pursue the fulfilment of residual childhood yearning in harmless whimsy. The seaside offers a place charged with potent emotional memory that we can return to each Summer. It is not simply that people get nostalgic for seaside resorts, but that these seasonal towns become the location of nostalgia itself – because the sea never changes and we revisit our former selves when we come back to the beach.
Walton Pier curls to one side like a great tongue taking a greedy lick from an ocean of ice cream, and the beach curves away in a crooked smile that leads your eye to the “Naze,” or “nose” to give its modern spelling. This vast bulbous proboscis extends from the profile of Essex as if from a patient in need of plastic surgery, provided in the form of relentless abrasion from the sea.
With so many attractions, the first thing to do is to sit down at the tables upon the beach outside Sunray’s Kiosk which serves the best fish & chips in Walton on the Naze. Every single order is battered and cooked separately in this tiny establishment, that also sells paper flags for sandcastles and shrimping nets and all essential beach paraphernalia. From here a path leads past a long parade of beach huts permitting you the opportunity to spy upon these domestic theatres, each with their proud owners lounging outside while their children run back and forth, vacillating between their haven of security and the irresistible wonder of the waves crashing at the shoreline.
Here I joined some girls, excitedly fishing for crabs with hooks and lines off a small jetty. They all screamed when one pulled out a much larger specimen than the tiddlers they had in their buckets, only to be reassured by the woman who was overseeing their endeavour. “Don’t be frightened – it’s just the Mummy!” she declared with a wicked smile, as she held up the struggling creature by a claw. From this jetty, I could see the eighty foot tower built upon the Naze in 1720 as a marker for ships entering the port of Harwich and after a gentle climb up a cliff path, and a strenuous ascent up a spiral staircase, I reached the top. Like a fly perched upon the nose of Essex, I could look North across the estuary of the Orwell towards Suffolk on the far shore and South to the Thames estuary with Kent beyond – while inland I could see the maze of inlets, appealingly known as the Twizzle.
In the week that Summer broke up, I was blessed with one clear day of sunshine for my holiday. And I returned to the narrow streets of Spitalfields for another year with my skin flushed and buffeted by the elements – grateful to have experienced again the thrall of the shoreline, where the land runs out and the great ocean begins.
Sunray’s Kiosk on the beach, for the best fish & chips in Walton on the Naze.
“On this promontory is a new sea mark, erected by the Trinity-House men, and at the publick expence, being a round brick tower, near eighty foot high. The sea gains so much upon the land here, by the continual winds at S.W. that within the memory of some of the inhabitants there, they have lost above thirty acres of land in one place.” Daniel Defoe, 1722
You may like to read about the Gentle Author’s previous holidays