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At Walton on the Naze

September 6, 2011
by the gentle author

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

At Canvey Island 2010

At Broadstairs 2009

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Lalabibaby@Dreaming of the Simple Life permalink
    September 6, 2011

    Thank you for taking me back to my childhood holidays at Walton with my grandparents …. I have just been introduced to Spitalfields and must say I find your daily posts fascinating …. keep up the good work.

  2. Ree permalink
    September 6, 2011

    Sounds a dreamy sort of place and time…

  3. September 6, 2011

    I see you’ve done Canvey previously, but could I suggest Old Leigh for next year’s. A lovely little cobbled high street and still-working fishing village with peachy pubs – just the next stop along from Benfleet..

    http://www.oldleigh.com/

  4. September 6, 2011

    It’s good to know that some things haven’t changed in 50 years! Reminders of family holidays and running down the slope at the end of the promenade from our beach hut. Sand, sandwiches and sea. Usually of course, the sand was in the sandwiches!

  5. Gary permalink
    September 6, 2011

    In the 1930′s my fathers idea of a day out was to take a train from London to Southend, take a trip on the “Eagle” paddle steamer to Walton pier, spend the day on the beach and then a train back from Walton to London.
    Gary

  6. TokyoDon permalink
    September 7, 2011

    Brilliant pics – especially the one of the guy guarding the mini ferris wheel!

  7. Chris F permalink
    September 7, 2011

    You beat me to it, TokyoDon! I want to visit that mini ferris wheel just to see whether the guy in the red T-Shirt has changed his expression since the photo was taken. Only two more seasons on this one and then they let him loose on the Helter Skelter!!

  8. Colin Thomas permalink
    September 9, 2011

    This is the closest coast to where I live when I’m in the UK (Ware, Herts) and I have made so many trips there with my family, when they were young. The tide brings the sea up to the wall but it’s only ever a couple of feet deep still and great fun to mess around in.

    I also fondly remember ‘residents association’ days out in Walton-on-the-Naze as a child back in the 60′s. An exciting day with a coach ride to the sea, playing on the beach, some time on the amusements (if we could afford it) and packed lunches!

    Writing this from Houston, Texas and I suddenly feel a million miles from my home and family.

  9. Sean permalink
    July 3, 2012

    Been here since 1983 (then aged 5), haven’t moved an inch since, lovely place to bring up my family :)

  10. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    September 5, 2012

    I printed out this report ages ago. On a recent trip to the UK I visited Walton. Worth every penny & minute. Especially with this guide.
    Thanks so much
    Melvyn Brooks,, Karkur Israel

  11. Keith Penfold permalink
    September 18, 2013

    I own a beachut at Eastcliff and continue a family connection that goes back at least to the 1920′s both as visitors and residents. For my family Walton is a delight and a retreat from the 21st century.

    So many happy memories of a place that never seems to change . The holidaymakers that stayed for two weeks in August may now go to more exotic places and few huts are now rented out although they proliferate. But on a sunny summers day the day trippers provide the same sights and sounds and atmosphere that I remember from more than 50 years ago. Even the people and offerings at Hipkins cafe still seem the same ! And I still go for an annual ritual trip to the pier to see if any new amusements have been added or changed.

    The place may have seen better days and could do with a spruce up here and there but hopefully its essential character will not change.

  12. Victoria permalink
    September 16, 2014

    A great early morning reading session for me, before setting off for work, reading five years worth of summer holidays. I shall now set off for my train feeling suitably refreshed by the salt air!

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