My first day trip of 2018. It was supposed to be last week, so it would have been 2017, but reconvened as the weather was awful. The day was blowy. Very blowy, but it confirmed my first impressions, made over a decade ago, that Leigh-on-Sea is a very attractive place.
First off, it’s a train from Fenchurch Street Station, so all players of the GB Monopoly board will get a quiet thrill of recognition at that one. The landscape gets wilder and more romantic as you leave London. There are ruins of what look like hall houses, or something too small to be castles and too rugged to be monasteries. Then there’s the coast. Waves sparkling in a silver sea. Admittedly the tone was to my mind lowered by two young women whose conversation indicated that clothes (as opposed to fashion) were their main interest in life. They discussed the various outfits they had worn to various parties over Christmas and New Year. As we neared Leigh-on-Sea where I alighted (to use a verb which is now almost archaic but somehow still current in public transport speak) they were almost orgasmic at the fantasy of Primark offering everything for sale for £3 per item. This was something one of them had dreamed about. I alighted to the words “Just think, I could change my wardrobe every day!”
I was wearing a NorthFace jacket bought in 1999, boots of uncertain vintage, and a roll neck jumper that is at least twenty years old. I think I looked fairly presentable until the wind whipped my hair into something channeling Ken Dodd, but there you are.
Leigh-on-Sea. Essex. Such mixed messages. Essex has a number of parliamentary constituencies, all of them represented by Conservative MPs. Essex voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. Leigh-on-Sea’s MP is David Amess, sound on fox hunting and invading Iraq, much less sound on human rights and Harvey Weinstein. For those of you this side of the pond that will almost certainly have triggered an audible hiss, or you may be staggering backwards clutching at your heart. But remember, Woodford – lovely Woodford – once the seat of Winston Churchill, has returned IDS to Westminster several times. Some things are beyond reason. Pantomime villains must have to work very hard in these places.
I read somewhere, long ago, that Helen Mirren grew up in Leigh. I think politically she’s moved on. And yet. Leigh exerts a pull. It’s a real place. For all the cutesy, quaint and self-conscious prettiness of Old Leigh, it has an authenticity that many other places lack. It is still working, still honest. If only it didn’t have Amess. If only it hadn’t voted Brexit.
Let me try to show you. As you walk from the station this is what you see. A real place, working. No Disneyesque ersatz fishing village.
En route from the station
If like me you are a sucker for sea and boats it gets better. Or worse. It depends on your perspective.
There are pubs. Lots of them. But for some reason I want to call them hostelries. It’s that sort of place.
Ye Olde Smack
Crooked Billet hostelry
It’s one of the most dog friendly places left in the UK.
Dog friendly beach