Day Trip to Essex

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


Lunch venue

Crooked Billet hostelry

It’s one of the most dog friendly places left in the UK.

Good behaviour

Dog friendly beach


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

I live on island. OK, it’s a pretty big one; the largest in the British Isles as it goes, and I think that makes me British. Or maybe a Briton. The historical and geographical associations make me uncertain. I’ll call myself an islander.

For this week’s photo challenge, Sea, Sara Rosso asks, “what kind of emotions does the sea make you feel?”

Being an islander, the sea is always at my edges. It may be far away, out of sight, but it is a part of who I am. There is a programme on the BBC, a series, Coast, which reminds us that here in the British Isles we are never more than 72 miles from the sea. It is something we grow up with, a knowledge of its power, its tidal nature, its beauty. The sea has shaped our history, shaped us. I cannot imagine what it could be like to live in a landlocked country.

This photo was taken several years ago on Uist, a place I wanted to visit to see the sculpture trail. This piece is part of that trail, and I feel it shows the relationship islanders, whether their island is big or small, feel between sea and sky and land.

Reflections, Uist sculpture park

Reflections, Uist sculpture park

This is what the guide syas about it:
Reflections This sweeping ceramic tiled seat by Dingwall artist Colin Mackenzie is wrapped around natural rock outcrops and echoes the shapes and colours of its surroundings. Gentle ripples on the sand at low-tide are mimicked on its surface and the concrete structure is covered in specially made tiles, glazed to reflect the surrounding colours; aqua with splashes of greys and greens reflects the sand, water and rocks. Reflections is located at Claddach Baleshare and marks the old crossing place to Baleshare before the causeway was built.

New Year, New Mosaic

Another in my postcard series. I need to finish around the edges, maybe using copper ribbon, or more likely painting it. There are a few, very small gaps. I may fill them with tiny shards. Originally I had being going to grout, but then decided against that. The ceramic pieces were given to me by London Potter, Barbara Wakefield.

Sea Shanty

The Isle of Skye

I was flipping back through some photos from earlier in the year, and found these.

All taken one afternoon at Portree harbour.

It was February, and I seem to remember going for a hot chocolate at some point, but I got a bit obsessive about photographing one little boat.

I’m only including two pix of it here, but I’ve captured it from every angle and from near and far. It’s just such a brave little boat.

Looking out to Sea

Little Blue Boat 1

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Replay: It’s in the Blood

Another rave from the grave that was October 2008. I quite like this one. But, given that it’s summer and warm, I imagine most people, as I am, are spending less time on line. So maybe this won’t get much of an audience. Maybe they’ll visit it later in the year. I hope so. Last time iI posted it, it attracted a comment condemning the French for their lack of understanding of navies. I’m still trying to work out the connection between that comment and my post!

It’s in the Blood

When you start looking for a house or flat, you aren’t usually warned to check if the person selling it actually owns it. With boats you are. This seems a tad strange, as almost everyone I’ve met in my boat search has been amazingly friendly and welcoming. They can’t surely all be plausible conmen. But apparently the most level-headed of individuals ditch their reserve and their caution when it comes to boats. All it takes is some smooth-tongued operator in the pub talking about a snug little cruiser for saleand they are handing over the nest egg – aka the new kitchen and bathroom – without any questions. Needless to say, Arthur had stern words and warnings about this, but so do all the websites. It seems such a common phenomenon you start to wonder why you haven’t seen on The Bill.

Of course this could just be an example of the gullibility of people in pubs, but I like to think it demonstrates our national connection with water, something that runs like a deep vein through our collective psyche. A connection with this other element our ancestors once crawled out of. Maybe that makes us somewhat less evolved than those in central Europe, a sort of amphibious variant perhaps. I remember reading an article in French about Ellen MacArthur and being bemused by their description of her as coming from landlocked Derbyshire. It all sounds rather remote and romantic. You can imagine Ellen as a child hearing tales from travellers about what the sea was like. But Derbyshire is hardly eastern France, As Nick Crane kept telling us on Coast, we’re never more than 72 miles from the sea. So on sunny days she probably spent as much time stuck in traffic jams on trips to the seaside as the rest of us. Come to think of it, I was brought up in landlocked Surrey, but the sea was always round my edges.

Admittedly, the boats I have been looking at are not quite in Dame Ellen’s league, but the principle is the same. Boats and water feature very highly in our overall identity. Think of Grace Darling, Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh, Turner’s fighting Temeraire, Horatio Nelson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And countless bedtimes listening to The Wind in the Willows, Swallows and Amazons and George and the rest of The Famous Five rowing out to Kirrin Island yet again. We may be dull and ordinary on land, but take us Britons to the water and we become heroes, riding the waves, explorers one and all. It’s the island mentality.