The Compostual Existentialist

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The Age of the Swan

Deep in darkest Dorset is the delightful coastal town of Swanage where, like most British seaside towns, time has stood still. During my tour of seaside towns I’ve noticed this is common place. For example, Douglas and the Isle of Man are trapped in a Scarfolkesque late 50s early-60s time bubble, Scarborough in a weird pre/post-mining eighteen/nineteen eighties decay, Skegness screams nineties revival, while Margate and Torquay languish in a struggling time recession of post-industrial Britain 1986.

IMG_2944.JPGSwanage however sits in a semi forgotten hauntological time zone where grandparents who, having retired to the seaside, now live. Independent shops,  discrete amusement arcades and a well kept promenade with formal gardens show that Swanage is the Utopia of seaside towns. Even the pier, currently undergoing refurbishment, lacks the usual British Pier atmosphere of kiss-me-quick hats, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and the sound of wailing kids.

IMG_3016.JPGGetting to Swanage is probably best when approached from the east. Catching the chain ferry from the Sandbanks area of the conurbation of Poole-cum-Bournemouth, is like catching a ferry to some foreign country only without the need for border or passport checks. Indeed, once you arrive in Studland, even the landscape looks alien making you feel like you’ve gone abroad for the bargain price of £4.50. Then when the weirdly independent town of Swanage comes into view, the feeling of being in some weird off shore British island like Jersey, the Isle of Man or White is stronger. Moreover, possibly the biggest difference to other typical British seaside towns is the regularly audible and familiar toot and chuff of a steam engine for Swanage is home to the Swanage steam railway. Unlike Douglas in the Isle of Man, steam is not the main form of public transport to neighbouring areas in Swanage, it is, however, the easiest way to get to the eerie Corfe Castle.

IMG_2991.JPGThe crumbling edifice of Corfe Castle looms out of the sea mist and inspires thoughts of knights, kings, princes and dirty peasants. Some say it inspired Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Castle in her Famous Five books, but you really could say that about any of the castles in the area indeed, it is clear to see why the area attracts coach loads of tourists and often the tiny streets of Corfe Castle village are riven with ambling shufflers gawping at every nook and cranny, some unable to comprehend the age of the place when compared to their own country’s history.

IMG_2954.JPGFurther into Dorset one can also visit, by contrast, the town of Weymouth with its award winning beach. However, step beyond the hustle and bustle of the Blackpoolesque promenade and enter the ramshackle and tatty environs of the town, one can clearly see how lack of investment in seaside towns has become detrimental to the social community and infrastructure at large. Empty high street shops, lumbering shufflers and decaying buildings. Tattoo and massage parlours, the miasma of cooking takeaways and openly smoked cannabis, the sight of drugged up beggars and opportunist criminals highlights the betray and decay of a society through lack of investment promised by successive local government officials who no doubt only visit the area when official business requires their presence.

IMG_2947.JPGHowever all is not entirely gloomy. The Bill of Portland where Portland stone is still quarried is nearby, where it too attracts coaches of tourists with its lighthouse and scenery. As a young boy I would look longingly at my wall hung A0 map of the UK while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and try to imagine how sweater wearing bearded seaworn gentlemen would be struggling against the elements while putting on their Sou’westers and galoshes. The reality is dramatic but features no stereotypical fishermen these days.

Another location worth a visit and one that also the young Stegzy would dream about visiting is Chesil Beach; a unique natural heritage site where one can observe for ones self the effects of coastal erosion on stones. As well as an expanse of stones stretching out towards West Bay and Exmoor, there is a fantastic visitors centre which hopefully will inspire other young people to enhance their knowledge about the natural coastal forces and nature.

Back at Swanage as the sea mist rolls inland and the occasional eerie toot of steam train is heard, the contrast of investment in coastal areas is plain to see. From the modernist style of the cinema/theatre the Mowlem, to the well kept promenade with discrete amusment arcades. It seems the regions tourist board relys heavily on the natural wonders of the Isle of Purbeck, and why not! A visit to the nearby Durlston Country Park and Anvil Head will no doubt summon thoughts of misplaced childhood adventures, perhaps exploring the long closed Tilly Whim Caves or scrambling over the rocks to Anvil Head Lighthouse.

In all Swanage is very genteel. A relaxing locale for those more interested in nature and natural beauty over rowdy bars and vomit soaked pavements. I’d definately go back.

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Eastern Sojourns

[Cross posted from Livejournal with some editing and adjustments to text]

Ever so the romantic, to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, I took my dear wife to the East Coast the other weekend. The British seaside has a magnetic appeal no matter what time of year you visit. Bleak, grey sands lapped by a cold grey sea set against the crumbling facade of decaying Victoriana.

Perfect.

However, while the golden heyday of the British Seaside is still in living memory and some areas having received European regeneration money, the decay of neglect has been spreading deeper because of cash strapped council cuts. It is sad, like the passing or deterioration of an old friend, the end of a cultural pillar, but still there is a fondness for the seaside. Indeed,  while some places like Scarborough, Brighton and Blackpool still remain popular, others like Bridlington, Cleethorpes, Margate and Weston-Super-Mare show the cracks and devastation of a lack of investment. I’ve visited most of the British coast now I’m in adulthood, enjoying all that the little towns and villages have to offer while observing with an educated eye, the places once popular with the masses, the places once money making engines, now clinging on with Damoclean effort.

Of course it’s not just the big towns that appeal to me, the smaller lesser known towns that started to form their own resorts only for them to falter with the arrival of mass international transport also appeal. As it is, I’ve always wanted to visit the Humber Coast, so with places still left to visit running out and the cost of getting to the Isle of Wight more expensive than staying two nights there, I thought a trip to the Bridlington area was in order.

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Our journey began with a trip to Hornsea. Despite the cold, it was quite busy for a half-term and the promenade was quite busy. Even the fish and chip restaurant we stopped at for lunch appeared to have been busy with grandparents treating their visiting grandchildren to a half-term treat.

Hornsea is a nice quiet little town. Some of the once proud guest houses have been converted into old peoples homes but there are also lots of lovely houses there and well maintained public areas too.   I was further overjoyed to see a Cooplands still functioning in the town too, indeed, I was able to convince the wife to treat me to a post-lunch Yorkshire delicacy, a Curd Tart, from there.

IMG_2801After lunch and a walk around Hornsea, we scooted up the coast towards Bridlington. Bridlington is kind of like a mini-Scarborough. It consists of two bays, North and South separated by the old port with an even older town slightly out of the main centre. The north side of the harbour town towards the Pavillion peters out into amusement arcades and fairgrounds, most of which, being out of season, were closed. Meanwhile, the southside, toward the former spa, beholds guesthouses (former and existing), fish and chip shops and the main residential areas.

There had been some regeneration of the south side. Lots of glass and concrete with shared spaces for vehicles and pedestrians. I couldn’t help thinking that whoever on the council agreed to the “Glass and Concrete” mix obviously hadn’t thought of vandals and the longevity of such materials. I can’t see this lasting as long as the structures they replaced.

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Hornsea is where the TransPennine Route starts

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Strange Monuments no doubt to pagan rituals performed here

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Even the waste paper baskets are on poles

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In Bridlington, Padding pools on the seafront looking cold and blue in the cold and grey

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Just in case you like to play in paddling pools during storms…

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Looking North towards Flamborough

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Bridlington Tower provides glorious views to those up high

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Every East Coast town has a Jolly Fisherman

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Uffington has a white horse, Bridlington has a craply drawn cock

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The Gansey Girl

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The pavillion was once were the gentry would drink, dine and dance

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Sea-view from the hotel

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In the old town

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Old town butcher

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Even older is the gatehouse to the old priory which was demolished by Britains own Donald Trump, Henry VIII

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The priory church of Bridlington. Closed for refurbishment.

The next day, we headed up the coast to Filey. Filey is a lot smaller than Bridlington but more grand. Georgian terraces atop the steep terraced cliff gardens leading down to the promenade where hotels, both newly refurbished and in the process of refurbishment, indicate a prospective gentrification of the area. Again, the front seems to have received a large sum of European grant money and no doubt a great deal of the residents that live there were so thankful for this they voted to leave the EU.

Still, that money brought lovely gardens and statues.

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Terraced Filey to the left

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Terraced Filey to the right

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See! Another fisherman!

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Filey drinking fountain similar to one in Scarborough

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Yet another jolly seaside fisherman

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More Georgian Filey

Further into the excursion, we headed south again, this time for Flamborough Head for lunch. Such a beautiful place.

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Flamborough Head Lighthouse

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Holey cliffsides Batman!

We stopped briefly at Sewerby Hall for a post lunch exploration where there were exhibitions on Amy Johnson and Bridlington’s past. One part of the Bridlington exhibition allowed visitors to add their own postcard to the display.

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I’m sure Boodica has a very healthy diet

We then headed further south again, past Hornsea towards Withernsea and Spurn Head. Withernsea is a lot more run down than Hornsea and it looks like it is getting the last of the European regeneration money as work still appeared to be going on. A once grand pier head is all that remains of Withernsea pier and this stands proud like an erection at a nudist camp. There was an amusement arcade, sadly closed for the winter season, and a lighthouse in the town centre which made for distinctive landmarks.

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Withernsea now

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Withernsea then

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I see you Clem Lighthouse

Hoardings decorated with old pictures of the area  hid municipal works from the general public and showed what Withernsea once looked like. If Bridlington was a budget Scarborough, Withernsea was once a kind of budget Bridlington. However, it looks like a stray Hull bound bomb during World War II took out a fair bit of the grand livery and the town never really recovered.

Finally we ended our day trip at Spurn Head by driving through the Quatermass II like gas interchange at Easington. “Police” cars disguised as security guards buzzed our little car as it travelled along the PUBLIC highway through the interchange. No doubt high powered antenna and listening devices were pointed at us hoping to determine whether we were a threat to the public and several sinister government databases were also searched to ensure we were not ne’er-do-wells. But the reward was a lovely sunset at Spurn though sadly not to right to the end as that involved a three mile walk and we needed to be back in Bridlington for dinner.

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Spurn Head

 

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Holidays

While going through and updating old posts, I came across this one. I thought it apt seeing as I am off on my jollies soon.

Please enjoy this entry from 2008

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So there I am lapping up Council-by-Sea thinking to myself just how did the British seaside get into such an appalling state of grotesqueness. When it struck me. In the 70’s/80’s when package holidays to Magaluf and Torremolinos cost about ten shillings, those that previously lapped it up in the likes of Butlins and Pontins legged it to these sunnier climes.

Thus the rot started. Less people spending money at the seaside means less money for the attractions. Old people retire to these once bustling resorts, too old and poor to maintain the once grand 4 storey Victorian and Edwardian terraces, the area looks shabby. Because the place looks shabby nobody wants to go and eventually you end up with the likes of Llandudno or Rhos-On-Sea or New Brighton. A sad state of affairs.

So like I said, I’m musing on this and it struck me like a bag of wasps. How come, during this lull, nobody ever thought of rebranding the seaside? I mean like strolling down the promenade being assaulted with the sickly stench of fish and chips, doughnuts and last nights vomit is not everybody’s cup of tea really now is it? I mean yeah I wax lyrical about the joy one can experience by rolling up ones trousers to the knees, donning a knotted hankerchief on ones head while sitting in a red and white striped deckchair on Blackpool seafront in the piss cold rain. I know poncing about on the dodgems makes some people think they’re James Dean or some other teen icon. But really, those days have passed. What is needed is a careful bit of rebranding. Instead of Council-on-Sea, maybe there should be Gated-Community-Le-Mer. Instead of the Sun readers flocking in their hordes to resorts like Skegness and Scarborough, try and attract those nice Guardian readers instead. Something which should have been done during the lull in trade in the 80’s. The reinvention of the British Seaside.

Of course the wife said I was being daft because the concept of rebranding is only a recent thing. I disagreed though, saying that the reason resorts didn’t rebrand was purely because of those in control of the local council. Nobody, especially a British person, likes change. As local councils are full of old fuddyduddies the likelihood of change in such circumstances is virtually nil. Indeed some councils went through the good old “whoops what a shame the lido caught fire so now we have to pull it down and build luxury apartments on it” strategy but this too is self defeating, like who would want to live in a seaside town where there isn’t anything to do? Not me!

So in my new rebranded seaside gone are the old and in with the new.

The pier – totally refurbished, instead of tack and rock shops – designer boutiques

Tatty victorian terraces and guest houses – replaced by luxurious, totally serviced apartments with self contained gyms, spas and creches

Icecream – Icecream, as you know is fattening and not everybody can eat it. Instead, healthy frozen fruit juices, sorbets and fruit on a stick.

Amusement arcades – These tend to attract the wrong sort of people so they’ll be bulldozed. Of course the penny cascade things can stay as they’re harmless enough but the noisy modern arcade games can go. Instead of arcades, however, a change to small, members only casinos.

Fish and Chips – Everybody knows, fish and chips are really bad for you. They make you fat and can cause heart disease. Instead stylish culinary delights in the form of swanky but affordable seafood restuarants. A whole new dining experience. Similar to those you might see in resorts on the continent. Where passers-by have to wrestle with the waiters attempting to lure them in with promises of a good meal.

Kiss-Me-Quick hats – In this day and age of paedophiles, rapists and shifty men with greasy hair and sweat stained tshirts such things should not be encouraged. Instead Kiss me and you’ll receive an assault charge hats. Designed, of course, by Gucci or maybe even Gok Wan.

Donkey rides – Riding donkeys, as every decent person knows, is exploitative and cruel so such a recreation would not be available in Gated-Community-le-Mer. Besides which it is much healthier to walk places.

Y List Celebrities from yesteryear in end of pier shows – Sadly it comes to every performer that they will spend their remaining working life on an end of pier show before disappearing into obscurity. Ant and Dec are heading that way as is Simon Cowell. So why prolong their agony (and indeed the risk of being rediscovered) and banish such crap. Besides, the type of show that goes on at the end of the pier normally involves some blue humour, weak family jokes and some bloke pulling knotted hankies out of a hat. Bollocks. Nobody wants to see that anymore. So instead, Broadway shows; Profound political or philosophical plays; lively debates and maybe some nice music from whichever artist is trendy to have in ones collection these days.

Screaming kids – the seaside, as every parent knows, is not a safe place for children. What with sand allergies, the risk of jellyfish stings, sea monsters and even people taking pictures of their own family which might capture your kids image too trapping their soul forever in some 2 dimensional vortex like in Superman II or that episode of Sapphire and Steel. Indeed while freedom of expression is healthy for a child, the seaside is not the place for them. Far too many dangers. Instead the rotting chalets and beach huts can be converted into soundproof, paedophile safe, allergy free, hermetic containers for children. Simply place the child in and leave until such time as you need to return. Of course you could just not bring the little shit in the first place.

Old People – Old people don’t belong at the seaside. In Gated-Community-la-Mer, old people will be restricted to certain “oodyarememberwen” zones. Safe. Warm. Miles away.

Fairgrounds – Fairgrounds attract the unwashed. Bulldozing them (or accidentally on purpose setting them on fire (the fairgrounds that is, not the unwashed)) would solve this problem. In their place, delightful formal gardens to promenade around. Of course the gardens would have to cater for those with allergies so any flower within would, of course, be artificial.

See even with just a few paragraphs I have turned an atypical British Seaside resort into a place where YOU would want to go. Yes YOU because that is what market research has shown and as we all know nobody can argue with market research.

If I go….I’ll send you a postcard email.


Abridged version

Seasides -> Bulldoze them.


Cruising about

For the next couple of weeks I am on a cruise around the Caribbean. This is a joint celebration with both my 40th birthday and Christmas falling within that time.

So far I have been to Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica on the journey with more destinations to come. I keep having to remind myself that I am not on the Woodchurch heading the long way round to Birkenhead. Nor am I on the Prince of Brittany chuffing across to Le Havre. I’m most certainly not on the Lady of Mann or the Mannananananananannanananan. I am on the luxury P&O liner Azura.

You can tell it is luxury. Internet usage is charged per minute with 200 minutes costing a horrific £65. A can of lemonade the size of one you might put in a dolls house is 90p. Sure signs. But the biggest give away that you are on a luxury cruise is the amount of moaning and complaining from the passengers. Just what you want to hear every dinner time. First world problems.

They’re not even things worth complaining or moaning about. Mostly I would have just shrugged and gone “Ah well, its not their fault, it happens” but it seems everyone else on the ship apart from Zoe and me are intent on nitpicking every slight slip up.

“Oh they’re not as good as Fred Olson Cruises”
“Peter wanted a strawberry ice cream and they gave him double strawberry icecream”
“The ice in this lemonade is too cold”

and other similar gripes.

To me, this cruise has been bang on. OK if you’d said I was going on a holiday on a floating Butlins Holiday Camp complete with red coats, Sunday Night at the London Paladium level of entertainment and force fed shopping I probably would have thanked you and opted for a weekend in Wales instead. But no, the dodgy entertainment and frightful co-passengers apart, this is, so far, a really enjoyable experience and I’m glad I came.

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Holiday Part 2: The Isle of Man(anan)

I could regale you with tales of yore when I stayed at Port St Mary Station in 1983. I could relate tales of adventures, visits to the seaside, fine dining, light snacking and large breakfasts.

 

But I won’t.

 

Instead I present a pictorial representation of our holiday on the Isle of Man.

 

Behold

 

A Holiday on the Isle of Man from stegzy gnomepants on Vimeo.


The Walk (Part 3) –Wales Coastal Path 2013

After having carefully planned my working week to coincide with a visit to the North West to make it easier to travel to Wales, I set off from Liverpool on Thursday morning bound for Pistyll near Caernarfon to begin the third phase of the walk around the coast of Wales.

At this pace, I suspect I will have completed the walk some time in my late 80s. Probably on a mobility shopper.

Regular readers will recall that last year we ended our walk at Porth Towyn having set off from Porth Oer. Because we were starting further up the coast, it made sense to change our usual campsite to a new….untested one.

This year’s campsite was at the amusingly named Penisarlon Camping Farm near Pistyll.

The camp site was very clean and peaceful with fantastic views across towards Nefyn (our goal for the Friday) to the South west and towards Nant Gwrtheyrn  to the North East with St George’s Channel to the north.

Looking towards Nefyn

Penisarlon Farm looking towards Nefyn

Looking towards Nant Gwrtheyrn

Looking towards Nant Gwrtheyrn

However as we had arrived earlier than expected we decided that, though too late to start our walk properly, we could start a bit of next year’s planned walk.

This took us towards Nant Gwrtheyrn, though we did not reach there until later in the weekend. Instead we were treated to a lovely bog blocking our path, sheep, second homes and a quaint little church, St Buenos.

Lit by candles in the winter

St Buenos Church near Pistyll

On the Friday, we awoke to a lovely rainbow across the bay. Little or no rain during the night but plenty of snoring from me.

Up above the sea and houses

Up above the sea and houses Rainbow flying high!

This year we began where we left off and made our way across the once more sunny cliffs and dips leading towards Porth Dinllaen.  Glorious views. Glorious weather.

Nick at the start

Nick at the start

Four hours of walking later we crossed Nefyn Golf course and reached Porth Dinllaen.

During the previous night we had espied a strange structure out in the bay. It looked like a drilling platform and part of me was concerned that the greedy oil people had set their eyes on a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.

Platform

Is it an oil rig? Is it a fracking point? No! It’s a slipway submarine construction diving platform

Fortunately, this was not the case. The platform was actually for the construction of a new RNLI Lifeboat launch slipway. So it wasn’t too bad.

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Coch! It says Coch!!

The construction site had an interesting staircase winding its way down the cliff side allowing access to the official coastal path bringing us out at the lovely Ty Coch Inn where we ended our second day’s walk with a delicious and rewarding pint before heading back to the campsite.

After a rather sleepless night for Nick (my snoring again!) who ended up sleeping in his car, it was agreed that completing the short trail up to the campsite would be sufficient for this years walk.

Before that we needed sustenance in the form of a hearty breakfast. On the inbound trip, I espied a brown sign directing the visitor to a place called Nant Gwrtheyrn which had a cafe.

Nant Gwrtheyrn is an old village built for quarry workers in the 1800s. If you were to follow the link above you will be able to read the history.  The landscape there is a bizarre mix of post industrial archaeology and nature. There’s a church there, a cafe and a collection of stone cottages available for rent by holiday makers.

Nant Gwrtheyren

The start next year

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However, the cafe didn’t open for breakfast so we scuttled back to Nefyn and the continuation of our walk.

The short trail continuation took us from where we left off the day before and along a winding cliff top pathway. Again, plenty of luxury cliff top homes for the wealthy and privileged. Glorious views.

It’s places like this that make you realise that no matter how hard the average Jo works, they will never attain a picturesque view (like that in the panoramic picture below) without luck, windfall or skulduggery.

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The path turned in land and took us through the village where we had earlier eaten our hearty breakfast before heading up a very steep looking hill.

Eventually the path turned into something resembling Borneo. Overgrown gorse bushes, brambles and scratchy things took their toll on our bare shins, bitey creepies made a meal on our blood, and burny heaty hot sun scorched our flesh from on high. Yet, after three hours of walking, we reached the campsite and the starting point for our continuing adventure next year.

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Welsh Coastal Path – 2012

Welsh Coastal Path – 2011


Holiday 2012 : Part 2 Day 5 – Of fish, Cornish and fish again

So the last full day of our holiday arrived. Rather than spend another day driving around without clue, we opted to take it leisurely.

I wanted:-
To go for a swim
To eat ice cream
To eat fish
To drink cider
Zoe wanted:-
To go on a boat ride
To see Cornwall
To go to the National aquarium

So we drove once more into Plymouth.


Having parked up paying 9 pounds for a full day parking, we made our way into the Barbican district. We checked the times for the ferry and then went into the National aquarium centre.

It was a stark contrast from the previous day where there was queues around the block this time we walked straight in. we paid our entry fee and made our way to the top of the tour.


It has been a long time since I have been to an aquarium in the old days you would be lucky to see a couple of goldfish in a spherical bowl and maybe with a couple of crabs. the Plymouth National aquarium centre is full of fish in fact my stomach was rumbling just at the thought of such delights. The previous nights lemon sole was still fresh in my memory and with every sole I saw I was salivating.


Zoe seemed to enjoy herself. she saw some stingrays and other giant fish and even had her photograph taken with a mermaid. She was like a child in a sweet shop where as I was like a hungry person in a fish restaurant.

The tour at an end, we made our way to the ferry departure point. while there we observed the boats coming and going and was surprised at the small ferryboat that arrived to take us to our destination. We were lucky to get on it was so small. I mean 5 inch ferryboats….how are we meant to fit on a 5 inch ferry boat?

Our destination today was to Cawsands. Again a Cornish misnomer as there was no sands, just sharp pieces of small broken rock.

Cawsands is a small fishing village once on the border of Cornwall and Devon. It neighbours the village of Kingsands. Again a tourist trap; narrow streets, cute buildings, full of tourists. Still pleasant enough we stopped at a pub intending to have our cheap lunch however the pub was very expensive. £6.50 for a Cornish pasty no much bigger than one you might get from Greggs or Ginsters. While Zoe had a couple of pale looking Cumberland sausages and some unpleasant looking chips for £9.


A bit more walking and it was time to get back on the boat. I can’t comment how pleased I was to get back. Even though the ice cream I had was really nice I still felt kind of light in pocket.

Returning to Plymouth we then nipped into the cider bar on the Barbican. We sat outside on the quay watching the world go by. Before long it was time to head off to dinner. again we had chosen platters as our choice for the evening. I opted for the lemon sole having not thought of anything else since the previous night Zoe went for the mixed grill again.

Fully sated we returned to the hotel and took advantage of the spa facilities have an early night in preparation for the long drive home on the Saturday.

And here ends the accounts of the holiday. I hope you enjoyed reading

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad