Remember that childhood feeling of anticipation, of adventure? Of a day of freedom waiting to be explored? Often those days seem faraway in adult life but last week I was lucky enough to experience a few hours of such bliss.
As a strike by teachers closed half the schools around the country we decided to use this day for relaxation and fun.
The sunlight glows in the bedroom, gentle golden hues blending with the soft lilac of the flowers on the curtains. Yes! Already a flutter in my tummy. A few minutes to just lie and savour the minutes unencumbered by alarm clocks, free from the usual morning rush. A bumble bee buzzes its way in through the open windows, ambling around the windowsill, I imagine it bumping along the ornaments. My normal irritated reaction is replaced by one of quiet musings, the soft hum calming my incessantly busy mind. As the room warms from the morning sun I rise, open the curtains and gently edge the bumble bee out.
An hour later my husband, son, his two friends and I are heading towards the coast and the town of Clacton-on-Sea – an old seaside resort popular with London day-trippers in the late 1800s/early 1900s who arrived by steam boat. Today the pier on which the passengers disembarked is still standing and is one of the town’s main features.
‘Urgh,’ exclaims one of the friends. ‘The sea is a really weird colour.’ I look again as we drive along the sea front. Knowing not to expect the brilliant aquamarine of the Mediterranean I expected at least a dark green shade. Not the sludge brown water moving laboriously up and down in shallow waves, the sand that had been stirred upon during the stormy night gradually sinking to the bottom but as if exhausted barely shifts at all.
We park up and the youngsters are off and away with just a hasty meet up time arranged. We head to the beach, the soft sand giving way beneath each step and with effort we walk on. Distance – I relish the long distance views, the beach stretching for miles ahead of us, the sky a wondrous mix of clouds, rain threatening then the sun peaking through the brightest of blue respite.
Its glare a sign of hope, the possibility of summer warmth. By the end of the day, we swelter in the heat, the cute little palm trees along one beach section providing scant protection. I lie underneath the fronds of leaves, close my eyes and imagine myself far far away.
Ahead we spy some buildings and coming closer the most delightful beach huts have me smiling. Pastel coloured, they look incongruous on their own on the sand but they are so sweet. Ready for the doors to be flung open and for children to exit in a gaggle of laughter and swimming aids. As it is the beach is quiet on this an otherwise normal working & school day. We march on for a few miles, then turn and head back.
The serenity of the slow turning blades of the numerous windmills out to sea captivates me. The silent motion mesmerising. I stare on and only now realise that they are placed in long rows and that here, in one spot I see blades upon blades, overlapping as I’m standing directly in front of one row. Resembling a cactus. Like an open swiss army knife. What do you see?
Ahead is the pier, the popular amusement arcade finally gearing itself up for the day’s activities. The view from the end of the pier back to town is fascinating – after all how often do you see the mainland apart from on boat trips?
To the side I suddenly stop and gawp. The unexpected murals a joy to behold; cheeky, bold and full of mischief. I spot the website and later discover this is one of many professional pieces of art created by The Silent Hobo. I love the unexpected, to be surprised, so much the better if on my doorstep.
By the pier the famous (really?!) Pirate Radio Station Museum is closed. My husband sighs but I emit a silent cheer. Then I begin to wonder, what would be on display inside. What kind of memorabilia would be on display to celebrate the 1960s, when ships would be anchored in international waters just off the coast, the illegal radio stations sending the popular hits out to the east coast – songs not sanctioned by the mainstream radio stations. Later many of the DJs would become household names working for the establishment of the BBC.
The south end of the beach is marked by the Martello tower, built in the 19th Century by a country fearing the might of Napoleon and possible invasion. The small defensive fort towers are to this day scattered along this stretch of coast line, their rotund shape visible from miles away.
The only sadness to tinge this day is the sight of an injured seagull on the beach. Whilst a flock loudly squawk and fly around, one seagull struggles its way along the beach, one of its wings dragging uselessly in the sand. Almost torn off, it is held on by a sliver. As one the whole flock lifts, frightened by the arrival of two football playing children. The seagulls swoop gracefully in the air, their white grey feathers shimmering in the sunlight. All but one. The damaged bird looks on, mournfully I feel. Alone and stranded. I couldn’t take a photo of it, it just felt wrong – but here is one of just some of its friends. Can you spot the sleepy one?
Finally our legs moan in rebellion and our stomachs grumble with hunger; obediently we enter the pub we’d seen earlier. By now heaving with visitors we exit and search out a quieter location and happily come across an Asian restaurant. The vegetarian spring rolls are the best ever and quickly I devour the four. The pièce de résistance is the main course.
Satiated we head back to the car, via the previously unseen beauty of the local gardens, packed with people enjoying a bench picnic.