Tag Archives: Norfolk

Travels in Spain, Guadamar After The Storm

I visited Guardamar del Seguera in November last year and was delighted to find traditional fishermen’s houses built close to the sea with tiled balconies and coloured shutters, ‘listed‘ buildings and a historical community with a close and obvious affinity with the sea.

What a good job that I saw this proud ex-fishing community when I did because when I went back this time, just four months later it was almost unrecognisable, nearly gone, the victim of changing coastal dynamics, the battering ram of the sea and a wild Mediterranean Storm on 12th December 2016 when twenty foot high waves crashed into the decaying properties and did massive amounts of damage, washing away walls, tearing down terraces, breaking beams, trashing tiles and crushing concrete.

The Casas de Babilonia are a string of houses built in the 1930’s perilously close to the beach and the sea and over the years the advancing Mediterranean has nibbled away at the fragile infrastructure and undermined the inadequate foundations.

The owners seek State aid in dealing with the storm damage and providing protection for the future but the houses are now retrospectively declared to be illegal builds that contravene the Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) that defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone beyond that where special restrictions apply to private ownership.

The aim of the law is to make the whole length of the coastline accessible to the public and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation and the Casas de Babilonia are in the front line of the debate because the front of these properties presents a barrier to public access.

Guardamar Fisherman's House Door 1

Not that we noticed because there was a promenade all along the front and in front of that a wide caramel coloured sandy beach without any restrictions to the public.  Call me cynical but it seems like an official ploy to deny responsibility or funding because putting things right here is going to cost a fortune and may well be completely unaffordable.

Anyway, as it happens, this may all well be academic because the December storms and the wrecking ball of the sea began a demolition process that may now be impossible to reverse and even though the owners have vowed to raise the money required for new defences it seems to me that this is hopelessly optimistic and within only a short time these ‘listed‘ buildings will surely give way to the inevitability of the awesome power of the sea.

Today, these special properties represent a breakwater against the Mediterranean, without them, the water will penetrate further inland and take away even more of the land.

These are some pictures of the storm damage…

In a way this reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk.

It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.

As King Canute demonstrated fighting the tides and the power of the sea is ultimately completely pointless…

The storm did more damage than demolish the historic houses and a walk a along the beach showed just how much sand had been gnawed away, cruelly stripped by the rip-tides and abducted out somewhere into the Mediterranean.  A three foot high shelf is evidence of how far the beach has dropped and how much void there is for the sea to fill.

In just four months I could see that there is much less breakwater between the water and the sand dunes and now the sand is decorated with debris from the storm.

And Guardamar has other natural problems to deal with as well.  At the back of the beach is a linear park of palms and cactus and succulents and these are withering away and dying back as they struggle to fight some sort of pest or disease which one by one is killing the trees and plants that (I am told) once provided a stunning green park for visitors to wander amongst.  Such a shame.  A warning of just how ‘temporary’ life can be on Planet Earth!

Not anymore however because these are all now fenced off with warning signs of Paseo Prohibito!

 

Travel Memories – Family Holidays

Until last year I had not been on a proper holiday in the United Kingdom since 1986 when I went to Wales in a self-catering chalet near Caernarfon and it rained so much that the wooden chalet leaked and it was so cold and damp that I gave up after four days, returned home and vowed never to do it again.

Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed, the beer is always cold and ladies wear fewer clothes.  It wasn’t always like this of course.

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was totally absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and certainly unusual.  As for going further than Europe we might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Body Builder

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England as life returned to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because grandad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a starting handle, pop out indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery, which meant that we could travel in comfort and style.  Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.

There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating.  Well, I didn’t worry obviously but I’m sure the driver did.  Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.

Grandad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and Battenberg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

I seem to remember that one of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a six-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

014

After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

016

We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with Mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Actually my grandparents were probably some of the first people that I knew who went abroad for their holidays when in the mid 1960s they went to Benidorm and came back with gifts of flamenco dancers and bullfighters and I can remember thinking how marvellous that sort of travel must be.  I went to Benidorm myself in 1975 and although the sun shone most of the time I think on reflection I probably preferred Mundesley and Herne Bay.

I Spy At The Seaside

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  We would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.  There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic things that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look when I thought no one was watching.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.  I think that this is what put me off school dinners later in life.  I once worked in a holiday camp kitchen, at Butlins on Barry Island in 1973 and based on what I saw believe me you really don’t want to eat in a holiday camp restaurant because it isn’t Masterchef I can assure you.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1976 I went to Sorrento in Italy and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.

Do you have any family holiday memories to share?