Some folk Suffolk

Continuing the exploration of the British Isles, this year for our anniversary I took my lovely wife to the equally lovely Hadleigh in Suffolk. To get there we travelled south from Northamptonshire, anti-clockwise around the M25 and across the bottom of Essex towards Clacton-by-Sea before heading north towards Walton-on-the-Naze before heading Northwest to Hadleigh. We also visited Ipswich and Felixstowe.

Clacton-by-Sea out of season is, as should be expected, quiet. A typical British seaside resort town with formal gardens, a pier, amusements and former guest houses and hotels along the promenade and a once grand, now deteriorating due to lack of investment, town inland. The pier was undergoing refurbishment so access was only permitted into the large newly regenerated pier amusement hall but one can see how the area once was very popular with seaside visitors from London who now gentrify places like Southwold to the north or further afield like Cornwall.

Being by the seaside is enough to make anyone hungry and the urge to binge on Fish and Chips at the seaside is akin to the urge to binge on chocolate at Easter. Sadly, with it being out of season and not being Yorkshire, most of the good fish and chip restaurants were either closed for the winter or just in hiding. So after failing to find a recommended fish and chip restaurant in Frinton-on-Sea, we headed futher up the coast towards Walton-on-the-Naze. We stopped at Yates’ Fish and Chips in Walton-on-the-Naze who do a splendid fish and chip dinner (I highly reccomend them)

57193576549__3A926CB6-D281-4D7A-80D6-A8C075EF9E03
Medium Cod and Chips @ Yates’ Walton-on-the-Naze

Walton is a polar opposite to Clacton. Yes, like Clacton, it is run down but there is less of a seaside feel to the place despite having the finest collection of beach huts and the second longest pier I’ve ever seen.

Again, being out of season meant that few people were around and the fairground rides that were in operation on the pier played their hauntingly merry jingles to the ghosts of former holiday makers and anyone who would listen. Aside from this, the pier was eerie. The sea was uncannily still, the light unusual for the time of year. The afternoon sun making vivid colours of blue, orange and purple in the cloud base and far away the echos of shipping and road traffic almost inperceptable.

Hadleigh is a gem of an English town. It is a former coaching, market and strip town, as in it is laid along a long High Street and, at some point in its history, provided a welcome overnight stop off for horse-drawn coaches bound for other destinations like Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Lavenham or much further afield. Moreover, it provided an ideal location for a market place for Lavenham wool merchants, Ipswich traders and other travelling mendicants to vend their wares.

Indeed, casual reference sources claim that Hadleigh once was home to well over twenty inns, evidence of which is clear from the architecture and names of houses along the High Street. Furthermore, the wealth generated from the coaching inns, the market and the local industry is clear from the surviving buildings in the area, a selection of which you can view below.

 

 

Of course, Hadleigh is a small town and despite having a great selection of eateries, there is little to entertain for a sustained period of a long weekend, so we also explored a few local places too.

Ipswich was the first. Taking advantage of the park and ride we soon found ourselves on the bustling streets of Ipswich. A delightful port town in which the keen eye can distinguish the signs of a seafaring history. From the locations where there would have been huge warehouses along the harbour side, to the numerous hidden churches and chapels and buildings that scream wealthy merchants lived here, Ipswich is a lovely place.

After stopping at Casablanca, a Morroccan restaurant, for a splendid lunch and headed  to Felixstowe for our third seaside fix of the weekend.

Felixstowe is not, in my mind, one of the first places that come to mind when someone says “Seaside” to me, however if you said “container port” I’d probably think immediately of Felixstowe. However, the suffolk tourist board are obviously trying to do a service to Felixstowe and get people to disregard the militaristic and logistical past and re-embrace the seaside there once more.

First point of call was the former fort at Landguard Point. Former MOD land  littered with the remains of concrete gun placements, bunkers and radar points. From there one can watch the huge container ships enter and depart the neighbouring port of Felixstowe. For a logistics nerd its kind of interesting watching the huge cranes pick up a container like one might pick up a matchbox and drop it on a precarious looking stack of containers on board a ship.  For a history nerd, it is equally interesting seeing how much value the port held for Britain through history and why it was so well protected from Napoleon and Hitler.

The seaside though, not what I had in mind. Much flatter than Clacton and, obviously as a result, much more weather beaten, the seafront at Felixstowe is more akin to Rhyl than Scarborough on the Seaside scale. The buildings and seafront goings on set further back from the beach than at Clacton and the pier looking a little more practical than its cousin at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Sunday came and we began our return journey, stopping at Lavenham along the way. Lavenham was once a bustling town of wool merchants but later reduced to village status as fortunes leaked elsewhere. But that is not to say wealth did not leave Lavenham.  Evidence of a market place, a guildhall and coaching inns show that before bus loads of tourists were the norm, the village was very prosperous throughout the following centuries. Indeed, it appears that many of the old wooden framed houses are now holiday lets aimed at those foreign tourists who think all villages across the whole of the UK look like Lavenham.

Finally our route home took us through Bury St Edmunds. Redevelopment has given the town a Milton Keynes feel but once past the modern eyesore of the Debenhams district, one can find the more picturesque and traditional sights.

In the heart of Bury St Edmunds lies the ruins of a priory.  The scale of the priory ruins just show how wealthy the church had become before Henry VIII had his hissy fit and formed his own. Moreover,  it appears that there are houses built into the walls of the ruins and indeed, to me at least, the walls themselves look quite old, almost Roman in places.

Its when you see history like this juxtaposed against the history of other places you begin to form a different appreciation of events. Over Christmas, Mrs Gnomepants and I went to  Cartegena in Columbia where we visited the Inquisition Palace and learned about what was going on elsewhere in the world just before good old Henry threw his toys out of his pram.  In both the New and Old World, Inquisitors were torturing those who didn’t agree with Papal policy. I’d not really connected the dots before but now think that maybe our jolly polyamorous monarch had other reasons for forming his own church than those taught to us by historians.

Advertisements

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.

Harry Windsor and the Torp of Clee

In case you’ve been in an Argentinian coal mine for the past week or so, at the weekend bumbling ginger nut royal, Prince Harry, married someone he met a few years back and the entire UK  shut down.

Of course, it didn’t really. I’d say a good deal of people couldn’t give a flying fridge about some overprivileged bloke tying the knot and an even greater deal of people couldn’t care less about the football that coincided either. I’d also say that many people, Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 and myself included,  used the opportunity to sneak away and do something awesome instead.

Where did we go for this awesome adventure? Why! Cleethorpes of course!!

Situated just a few miles eastish of Grimsby, a town once famous as the landing area for most of Britain’s fishing fleet, now a monument for industrial decline, Cleethorpes sits on the southern tip of the Humber Estuary opposite Spurn Head. A stretch of glorious sands passing under an old pier is accompanied by a promenade with what remains of formal gardens before turning into a road and heading south towards a now cleared fairground and a large static caravan park. At Cleethorpes it is clear that the British Seaside is alive and well, the scant remains of Victoriana, although not on the same scale as Scarborough, can be seen by the observant from the town planning to the location of and facilities near the railway station.


A stub of a pier juts out over the sand in a feeble attempt to touch the distant sea with the tide being out. The pavillion on the pier, now owned by Papa’s,  claims to be the largest fish and chip restaurant in the country.  The interior is grand and bright, the staff dressed and trained well and the fish and chips? Well they’re just amazing. Possibly not quite up to the same standards as Magpie in Whitby or Mary Jane’s in Cromer, but definately a good competitor. See that’s the problem with fish and chips, it’s only as good as you remember and unless I was actually in some judging situation where I had samples from all three aforementioned places, I can only go on memory!

 

Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips

 

I suppose the thing I liked most about Cleethorpes is what remains of the formal gardens. Some councils in the UK have long cleared away any genteel public gardens as they are expensive to maintain and, in the conservatives eyes, impossible to make money from. So the best solution to tatty looking gardens in their eyes is often to blob a lump of concrete over them or just let local youths gather to express themselves by performing acts of vandalism and pissing all over the place. Fortunately it seems locals to Cleethorpes still have some civic pride and the gardens appear to be maintained by a mix of council, local charities and volunteers. Even the “millenial” sculptures along the promenade are pretty. A complete contrast to the modernisation of Bridlington and the classic yet rapidly decaying seafront terraced gardens of Scarborough.

 

Amusingly, regular readers will remember the last time I was at this part of the coast, back in 2008, I was coming to the end of a slightly disappointing weeks holiday along the coast at Skegness with Mrs Gnomepants V1.0. So it seemed only fitting that, while in the area, I showed Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 the delights of Saltfleet. That too hadn’t changed much except for it now appears that the car park had been built on and there has been a bit of shrinkage in the number of caravans. Still, it was just as austere so we didn’t stick around for long.

And it beat watching some posh kid get married.

Daydream

[Crossposted from Livejournal with some text alterations and whatnot]

All I want to do is escape to the seaside at the moment. Don’t know why.

I looked at Google maps today and worked out that it would take me 46 hours to walk the 141 miles from work to Cromer although I’m not sure entirely how much of that walk would be practical. Moreover, as Google Maps says it would take me just shy of 6 hours to walk home the 19.3 miles along the A361 and Jurassic Way, I don’t think I’ll be walking to Cromer in any hurry.
I could catch a plane for £180 return for a three hour flight to Norwich from Birmingham or catch a combination of buses and trains on a 6 hour journey via Central London for an unknown cost or I could drive 150 miles for 3 and half hours and ramp up the mileage on my leased car. Either way that would be costly.

Of co​urse, once there, what would I do?

fullsizeoutput_c71.jpegWell first off I’d have fish and chips at Mary Janes. It would be a large cod-like fish with a bread roll (buttered) and a pot of tea. Even though fish, chips and bread roll is quite filling for me these days, I’d probably have room for an ice cream. So after my meal I’d meander down Garden Street towards the Esplanade in search of ice cream.

While I’d prefer to eat a sundae seated indoors, ice cream parlours in Cromer (or at least my knowledge of such) are lacking so I’d settle for a cone, scoopy rather than whippy, with a Flake™ , nut topping and green or red syrup. I could then take it down to the sea front to sit and eat while the world passes me by. Elderly gentlemen on their bikes will greet ladies promenading, children will laugh and play in the distance in a non-irritating fashion and somewhere on the pier, a brass band will play “Tiddly Om-Pom-Pom”. Seagulls would swoop and dive, eating discarded chips and fighting over cigarette butts and the sea would lap the shore rhythmically but calm.

Ice cream eaten, I’d walk along the pier to the bar at its end, taking in the smells of freshly cooked doughnuts and candy floss along the way. I’d pass young dads teaching their eager to learn young lads how to fish or catch crabs using a crab ladder from the pier. The sounds from distant penny arcades and fair ground rides mixed with the clopping of shoes against pier boards.

Reaching the bar, I’d have a pint of whatever local ale was on offer and sit near the window to read and watch the distant wind turbines. Newspapers these days are trite and full of misinformation so instead I’d have a book with me. Probably something by Scott Meyer, Mark Billingham or James S. A. Corey. Or maybe a British seaside travelogue akin to Attention All Shipping or Pier Review. It would be relaxing, unrushed and no pressure.

An hour or so later I’d be sufficiently relaxed enough to move on and I’ve not really thought about where I’d stay. Ideally I’d have a flat above a shop in the town centre, or maybe access to a little cottage down one of the back streets on the outskirts of the town. Failing that extravagance, I’d settle for a room in a B&B.
The B&B would be run by a couple in their late sixties. A typical guest house with a bar and a dining room for breakfasts, that strange fusty smell one might also experience in old caravans in the communal areas. The room itself cosy with pictures by local artists hung on the walls, tea making facilities and a table and chair in a bay window to facilitate writing. The view would be of the street below stretching down towards the coast, a tease of blue sea taunting from the distance and the occasional squawk from a seagull to remind me I’m by the sea.

Relieved of my belongings and refreshed by a shower, a return to the town in search of an evening meal would be on the cards. Something light though as the weight of fish and chips for lunch would be lingering. I imagine light refreshment in the form of a high tea of crab sandwiches, tea and cake would be most fitting but as such dining is not fashionable these days, I’d probably have to settle for something more substantial.

Again, my geography and knowledge of Cromer’s nightlife is lacking. Places to eat of an evening may be diverse but they may also be limited. The safest bet would be to head to a chain pub for a steak or something, alternatively British towns nearly always guarantee a Chinese or Indian restaurant nearby. Either way I wouldn’t really starve. If I wasn’t staying in a B&B, I might even consider a take away pizza or perhaps just something basic like home cooked bacon sandwich with sausage and chips. The chips covered in salt served from a cellar with a white plastic top, and vinegar from a fluted bottle with a glass stopper.

Post evening meal, retiring to a room where there is a TV would be in order. Crap evening TV, classic Doctor Who, Juliet Bravo or a British film full of tense drama from the golden age of British movie making. Something like Ipcress File. Feet up on the sofa, cosy and reflective of the days adventures.

Next morning, following either a hearty B&B cooked breakfast or a substantial home compiled bowl of cereal and cup of tea, thoughts would turn to the journey back. But who really wants to go home? Nobody writes about going home with as much passion as going away. What would I need to sustain this existence of fish and chips, beer and evening strolls? Even on the most basic subsistence the costs would add up and the life of a vagrant is not one anyone in their right mind would choose to follow.
So what would be needed is a two prong plan of attack. A job that pays enough and a house to live in. What jobs in Cromer? Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 would suggest a career in reiki, my former careers advisor Mr Brophy probably doesn’t have any literature on the careers on offer in coastal towns of Norfolk. I could write, but every Tom, Dick and Harry is a fucking Jeffery Archer these days. Similarly with everyone channelling the spirit of Lord Snowdon and taking photos, photographer is also off the cards and nobody really makes money from Youtube except Google.

Shop work is tiring, poorly paid and retail is on its last legs anyway. Farm work and labouring is joyless. And with industry on its knees in the UK, there are no factories anymore. Teaching is for mugs so office work, although mundane, is the only option really left for me yet once again, nothing really worthwhile. Ideally, I’d hope for just a few days a week, four long days with Friday off perhaps. If I could paint, maybe I could sell watercolours on the pier. If I could entertain, perhaps I could ride up and down the prom doing magic tricks and being rude to tourists. Beyond that, apart from inheriting from a long lost relative, winning the lottery or finding the proceeds from a heist, the only realistic way to sustain a life like that is through regular work, especially as there are no high street banks to rob anymore.

In real life, realisation would hit and I would probably end up gloomy returning to my job and home. I’d also have to consider Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 who would also be joining me on this escape to the seaside. But this is a fantasy. A fantasy where I run away with my wife, away from work and the ties of occupational commitment. A fantasy of a better life with three kitties, a wife and where a daily diet of fish and chips and ice cream wouldn’t end in a tragic death by heart attack or diabetes. So I can fantasise about any job or occupation. Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 would probably want to run a book shop, opening every day except weekends, while making a tidy profit from not having any people come in to bother her with stupid questions like “Is this a bookshop?” or “Do you have that book, I think it’s got a green cover?”

Me? My fantasy job would be rural Post Office clerk in a village stores, or maybe a specialist pizza restaurant, opening evenings only with dining by sitting rather than “random off the street when you’re quite ready Mr Chef” dining. Two sittings. Fancy pizzas. Expensive because they’re worth it. I would come in for a couple of hours a night, make the pizzas then go home, leaving the other staff to wash up and marshal the diners. Of course I’d get someone in to make the pizzas at weekends because only mugs work weekends. And, because I owned the place, I could choose when I worked and take 90% of the profits to sustain my lifestyle.

 

So there I’d be. Living in a seaside town with my lovely wife and kitties, making pizzas, existing on a diet of crab sandwiches, fish and chips and ice cream. Drinking beer at the end of a pier, watching the world go by and a television that’s somehow stuck on broadcasts of early 1980s Saturday evening TV. Living in a flat above a shop or in a cosy little cottage. Having escaped from the East Midlands in a lease car containing nothing but my gym kit and a dash cam.​

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 20.52.05

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.

IMG_2791
Hornsea is where the TransPennine Route starts
IMG_2792
Strange Monuments no doubt to pagan rituals performed here
IMG_2794
Even the waste paper baskets are on poles
IMG_2806
In Bridlington, Padding pools on the seafront looking cold and blue in the cold and grey
IMG_2809
Just in case you like to play in paddling pools during storms…
IMG_2811
Looking North towards Flamborough
IMG_2816
Bridlington Tower provides glorious views to those up high
IMG_2817
Every East Coast town has a Jolly Fisherman
IMG_2818
Uffington has a white horse, Bridlington has a craply drawn cock
IMG_2821
The Gansey Girl
IMG_2822
The pavillion was once were the gentry would drink, dine and dance
IMG_2825
Sea-view from the hotel
IMG_2826
In the old town
IMG_2827
Old town butcher
IMG_2832
Even older is the gatehouse to the old priory which was demolished by Britains own Donald Trump, Henry VIII
IMG_2835
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.

IMG_2836
Terraced Filey to the left
IMG_2837
Terraced Filey to the right
IMG_2840
See! Another fisherman!
IMG_2842
Filey drinking fountain similar to one in Scarborough
IMG_2843
Yet another jolly seaside fisherman
IMG_2845
More Georgian Filey

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

IMG_2846
Flamborough Head Lighthouse
IMG_2850
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.

IMG_2857
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.

IMG_2859
Withernsea now
IMG_2866
Withernsea then
IMG_2860.JPG
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.

Version 2
Spurn Head

 

SaveSave

Hednodz

Here is my latest video offering. It is a sequence of films and stills shot around Norton, where I live, supported with a soundtrack from an unknown source. The song featured appears on a 90 minute mixtape which was given to Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 by a university friend in the nineties. I have no idea what the song is called and I have no idea who it is by. Googlefu has failed me.

I hope you enjoy!

HedNodz from Stegzy Gnomepants on Vimeo.

Cromer

It is well known, perhaps written in ancient scripture, that a day out to the British seaside is something everyone must commit to at some point in their life. In that regard, I am blessed for I try to make regular trips to the seaside.

145758_original

Living in the centre of the UK, where nearly everything is three and a half hours away, means that I am the furthest away from the seaside as you can be at any point in the UK. Moreover, the selection of seaside destinations reachable within a reasonable time from this point is a little bit grim. Hunstanton is one such place, with its miles of coastal caravan parks; Skegness is another, again with miles of coastal caravan parks. And yet for just a half hour extra drive, one can reach beautiful Cromer, which is where Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I have just spent our bank holiday weekend.

Cromer Pier
Cromer Pier

Regular readers (if there are any left) will know that I have visited Cromer before – a small sleepy Norfolk coastal town famous for its crabs. Cromer’s tiny streets are littered with shops selling curios, knick-knacks and tat that most people will only use once, a place which once enjoyed a grander time of bathing machines, day trip ferries embarked via a pier and swanky hotels staffed by gentlemen in smart uniforms. A place as yet unspoilt by amusement arcades, kiss me quick hats and leery youths on drunken stag weekends.

146520_300
Cromer seafront, pier and approach

A trip to the British seaside comes with a checklist of things to do. Over the years I have pared down my list to three things:

  • Fish and chips
  • Ice cream
  • Walk along the prom

While I might also occasionally chuck in “a paddle”, “Cream tea in the afternoon” and “A play on the penny cascades”, the core holy trinity of food and a walk does me just fine these days, and this weekend I managed all three successfully. The waters around Cromer are Norfolk brown in colour and not the tropical azure that I am used to these days and the thought of dissolving my feet paddling in effluent still does not fill me with joy. Cream teas, while abundant at British seasides, are only really any good when in Devon or Cornwall (sorry, I’m a jam first kind of heathen) and the lack of (or inability to find) arcades in Cromer saw away any chance of chucking away half a tonne of copper coins in the hope of winning a bottle opener in the shape of a naked lady.

Fish and Chips
Fish and chips @ Mary Janes
Mary Janes, Cromer
Mary Janes, Cromer

None the less, our trip to Cromer was most enjoyable. The seaside ennui began with a late lunch of fish and chips in Mary Janes. Quality, no fuss large cod and chips and a roll and butter for me, with an unbattered haddock and chips for Zoe. I tell you, providing you do your research well, fish and chips at the seaside never fails to please. Unless you’re one of those strange people who doesn’t like fish and chips. Mary Jane’s is a favourite of mine, with Scarborough’s Golden Grid and Whitby’s Magpie Cafe also in the top five fish and chip shops in the UK. Naturally, as any Yorkshireman would testify, the best fish and chips in the world are from Yorkshire, but alas, when it’s a four-hour drive to the Weatherby Whaler, Mary Jane’s will have to suffice. Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that Harry Ramsden’s is quality fish and chips either. If they do, slap them with a wet piece of huss and tell them to get hence to McDonald’s for a Fillet-o-fish.

cromer1
Further sights of Cromer

Next on the checklist was an ice cream. Now I’m a sucker for a whippy ice cream with a flake, but I’m also a sucker for locally produced ice creams as they tend to have unusual flavours. So we took a brisk walk along the pier and the prom (sadly, no brass bands tiddly-om-pom-poming) in hope of finding something worthwhile. Now, as the sun was out in all its glory in Norfolk this weekend, it seemed that every man and his wife, four kids and dog, were also out in force. As a result, the more ideally placed ice cream shops were rammed or had a line of queues outside. Indeed, the pier was quite busy, especially at the embarkation end (where the RNLI lifeboat station is) were middle-aged fathers tried to terrify their children into enjoying themselves by threatening them with freshly crab-laddered crabs. There were even a couple of armed policemen, but such a sight is the norm now that the British Police State is under martial law.

 

147066_original
Henry Bloggs, Bigger hero than you

Cromer was also home to the bravest man who ever lived, Henry Bloggs. Bloggs and his chums would fearlessly brave the elements, row a wooden boat far out to sea and rescue drowning townies from watery deaths while smoking a pipe and looking rather cool in a sou’wester. In force 10 gales. For free. With rain lashing his chops. Now you don’t see people doing much of that these days do you? No. You don’t. Now that’s bravery. And, when you’re that brave, you get medals, your own monument and a museum named after you. Not bad eh? Oh, and you also have lots of murals drawn around your town in your honour. Makes helping an old biddy with their shopping seem a bit limp.

 

 

cromer2
More Cromerian sights

 

Sadly parking is a premium in Cromer on popular days, so three hours is not enough to enjoy a sit and a watch of the world going by so we had to leave. Previous visits to this part of the coast, however, had involved a stay or visit to Sheringham and being a stickler for tradition, it was only fair that we popped in to see what the place looks like in season, even if it was only for half an hour.

 

Sights of Sheringham

Sheringham is the upmarket sister of Cromer. Middle classes, mostly with nearby holiday homes, price out the locals and swan about like they own the place. Mostly because they do. The stark difference between Cromer and Sheringham is evident from the upmarket theatre and selection of nearby restaurants in Sheringham. While Cromer’s fish and chips attract some diners, it is Sherringham’s mix of Nepalese, Thai and European restaurants that mark the contrast there. Indeed, short of organic, artesian gluten-free neo-paleo hypoallergenic ice creams, it is hard not to delight at the pomposity of some of the patrons. Children with names such as Pompidu, Sefton and Chanterey freely express themselves while aloof mums swig large glasses of Prosecco and dads pander to Parmesan and Chigley’s ever increasing demands in an attempt to be the best fathers ever.

 

Indeed, much like Cromer, there are rows and rows of chalets lining the prom. For non-Brits reading, a chalet or beach hut is basically a really expensive garden shed which you’re not allowed to live in. However, it is this quirk that makes this part of the coast so picturesque. The sight of painted wooden huts often with unusual names being cracked open for the first time in six months is a delight to behold and, much like the bathing machine houses in Scarborough and Cromer, is an important part of British seaside heritage.

With bellies full of noms and a distance to travel to our B&B, we left the Norfolk coast once more and headed inland for further bank holiday adventure.

In Alton Towers you Will find you can leave your cares behind

Apart from when Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I visited in the early noughties, and when Mrs Gnomepants v2.0  and I went swimming there in 2016, the last time I was in Alton Towers was when I was 14. So what poetry it was to take my 14 year old niece there as an Uncley Treat.

Of course, when I was 14, my fun Aunt had passed away a couple of years previously and my remaining grandparents were too frail to attempt the trip, let alone the standing around waiting for young me to get off the rides. Instead I had to wait for the school to take me which, tradition dictated, they did with all the other boys as an end of academic year treat right through secondary school, although during following years they offered other trips such as climbing mountains or some such.

So it seemed right that I took my niece to the Earl of Staffordshire’s pile where upon I took great delight at having her walk well over 9 miles in a day without actually realising. Hah! Alton Towers, for those not in the know, is the UK’s premier rollercoaster theme park. Or at least that’s what it claims to be. Set in the gardens and grounds of the ruins of a former stately home, some enterprising cove set about building elaborate nests of  twisted metal upon which people can sit and experience accelleration and exhileration at high speed with the associated pull and tug of gravity on their leathery chops.

One such ride is Oblivion which teeters on the brink of an iron precipice before plummeting its screaming riders into a pit of darkness. There was no way I was going on that.

IMG_2158
Death by splat

Another such ride was Nemisis which Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  claimed was “Nice and smooth” which must be the alt-fact definition of “OMG I’m going to die” as I found out. As for Smiler, well I’m quite attached to my legs so I didn’t fancy going on that and I also didn’t fancy whiplash so I avoided Rita too. However, I did manage Hex, Thirteen and Grand Canyon Rapids so I think I got my £30’s worth. Especially as I was also tricked by Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  to go on Enterprise which by all accounts was just a tumble drier simulator.

Of course Alton Towers is not just death roulette machines, its acres and acres of picturesque landscaped gardens. Some of the ruins belay the once grand manse that was Alton Towers. Summer houses and decayed greenhouses now overgrown with vegetation while here and there are hidden speakers piping irritating music into area where irritating music shouldn’t be.  The cable cars over the area do give you a better, plinky-plonky-less experience.

If you’ve ever played the PC classic Rollercoaster Tycoon or early nineties Bullfrog classic Theme Park then, like me, you’d probably have spent the day imagining people walking round with think bubbles saying things like “£2.75 is too expensive for a bottle of pop” or “I feel sick” while sporting green pukey smileys above their heads. Or looking skyward in the hope of spying a pair of pincers dropping in a new ride or even imagining that the popcorn tasted good because the themepark management AI decided that it could do with an equal mix of salt and sugar.

In all though it was a most enjoyable day out. I can’t wait to do it again when my nephew is a little taller/older, but probably by that time the rides will all be different again.

Trendy

At the weekend the wife, an out-of-town friend and I nipped out to the lovely town of Royal Leamington Spa for a mooch around the Peace Festival.

IMG_1025
Leamington Peace Festival 2015

The Leamington Spa Peace Festival, for those who don’t know, is an annual rain causing event held in the Pump Room Gardens and features all manner of new age nonsense such as yogurt weaving, kaftan liberation, tofu swallowing and vagina floating.

The food sold there is mostly vegetarian to vegan on the omnivore spectrum. Free range falafel chocolate bars, organic gravel soaps, crunchy compost on a stick and fair trade mong bean ice creams abound. That kind of thing.

As well as hearing local folk bands and pan pipes, it’s also a good opportunity to see the latest trends of the anathematic capitalist hippies are pushing onto today’s youth. For example, stove pipe hats seem to be entering a renaissance, gong showering is breaking into the wavy world of healing and knotted dyed rags are this year’s rad hair fashion (again).

An aging hipster
An aging hipster

With hipsters now denying their own existence in a Schrodingeresque fashion (you’re either a cool cat in a box or not, depending on who is observing you), goths morphing into the less threatening emo collective and  neo-nerd-geeks becoming vogue thanks to Big Bang Theory the time is right for a new collective. One that is so trendy and beyond cool that it is off the spectrum entirely, but one whose emergence will be unobserved until it has spread to a point where it becomes commonplace.

Of course it’s not just teenagers and infantilised twenteenies trying to be trendy. While beards may no longer be the fashion and half-mast trousers and arse showing waistlines have gone the back into the wardrobe for several years, the smart Sunday shirt wearing, middle class middle age organic free range grass eating daddies of the world appear to be taking their midlife crisis to the high street. Quitting their well-paid, high stress jobs and opening cafés using the stylistic ideals of designer hipsters to influence their décor.

At least, that’s how it appears from my visit to the overly trendy café, Bread and Butter on Regent Street in Leamington Spa. In what appears to be a former butcher’s shop a couple of doors down from the fishmongers, Bread and Butter just oozes huge blobs of “I’ve been to that London and seen how the well to do spend their leisure time”. I was reluctant to go in but guests take precedence and so began an experience I am about to recount.

Stepping through the door, it is difficult to see what’s going on due to the low level lighting. Windows provide free light and white tiled walls help reflect it around the important areas mostly to the till area which is sat on a thick wooden counter.

Autumn leaves artistically strewn near garden furniture

Garden furniture, the crap type that rotund people will find difficult to sit on comfortably or safely, are the choice of the day, enhanced only by artistically and purposefully strewn autumnal leaves on the floor. These, it has been debated, appear to be swept up of an evening, sieved to remove dust and detritus before being replaced after the floor has been mopped, cleaned and dried. Wankery.

Menus come in the form of a sheet of A4, minimalistic in choice, as per instructions from Blumenthal and Ramsay, but in a way that is limiting to the consumer.  Old favourites ruined by the addition of wankery. A bacon club sandwich with wanky bread and avocado. Wanky salad, served with wank. Poncey toasties with cheese and a selection of teas that would ordinarily cost you about 30p to make yourself in a mug sold at the exorbitant price of £2 for a mingy scale model cup.

I had the “slow roasted” pork  bap which came garnished with stale musty tasting crackling. This was obviously a new definition of “slow roasted” as to me, slow roasting means that the meat is succulent and melt in the mouth. I’ve chewed shoes less tough. Supposedly reasonably priced at £6.70.

During my years of eating out and writing about my experiences in the food world I’ve always said that you can’t make a restaurant or café trendy and popular by charging a lot of money for a small portion of food. Sure, you’ll get some tossers who think “Hey! This is so trendy and cool I’m going to come here every day because £6 for a stale pork butty is the lifestyle I want to lead”. But these people, like the hipsters they gave birth to, are dying out.

IMG_1026Although a greasy spoon café has its place, I’m not calling for that, I’m calling for some balance. Wankery has had its day back in the noughties when we found it ironic and amusing. Wankery today is just a road to disaster and mockery. Just as sticking the words “Organic” and “Free range” before every item on your menu is passé so is bringing the outside in, tiny portions and over pricing. The people you think you’re appealing to have grown out of this kind of approach and, much in the same way as faux-Victoriana and retro tea rooms have faded from popularity, so will wankery in décor. If it isn’t naturally worthy of brown leaves being tastefully placed on the floor, then don’t do it.

As we left and made our way back to the car, I observed corduroy trouser, gingham shirt wearing, late thirty something middle class graphic designer dad with his stay at home on an allowance yummy mummy  what lunches and writes crap fiction wife pushing  their child-with-a-neo-trad-name-like-Edna in its free range organically padded for their own safety comfort five wheeler monster stroller making their way into the café. Exactly the kind of clientele the café is trying to attract.

Would I go again? No I wouldn’t.