A Beach. England. January. Are We Mad?
There is something extremely English about a trip to the beach in winter. Our beaches, like our weather, our teeth and vast swathes of our national cuisine, are an international laughing stock. Which is not, entirely, fair.
This January morning, we walked from Holkham Beach on the Norfolk coast to Wells, a couple of miles further up. We started in pine woodland, with trees to climb and pinecones to hurl.
There were no nudists on the beach, although in summer it’s naturist heaven. There are dog walkers aplenty, most in green wellies, and these guys, with their dogs in coats.
There are “twitchers”, or bird watchers, with binoculars and camouflaged lenses, scrying the salt marshes, the dunes and the sea.
At the Wells end of the beach, there are beach huts, a very English idea, which evolved from the bathing huts which rolled into the sea to preserve Victorian ladies’ modesty.
You can’t live in these beach huts — in Mudeford, Dorset, beach huts are such coveted waterside properties that one sold for £170,000, even though the new owners could only sleep in it between March and October.
But you can store stuff, play boardgames when the weather’s bad and, all-importantly, brew a nice cup of tea. Even today folk pay hundreds of pounds a month for these small privileges, and personalise their paintwork to match.
It’s a funny thing, the English seaside in winter. Rather like our day at the races, it’s like travelling back in time for about 50 years.
All in all, I’m pretty glad we did it. There’s more to beaches than tropical idylls, after all.