Have Bag, Will Travel
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A year ago my pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.
I took quite a lot of persuading. I stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again. I have consistently maintained that 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 pleasure in it whatsoever.
To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a ten-year-old child but I remember thinking that I never really wanted to do it ever again. Caravans as I remember them simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem in England, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time. So they were either pizza oven hot in the day or Arctic freezer cold at night.
I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.
A year ago my pal took me to a caravan park in Borth in Mid-Wales and I agreed to go with him because I remembered going there on family holidays fifty years ago when I was about ten years old.
I was delighted to discover that this place was indeed a part of my never-to-be-forgotten childhood and somewhere that I had spent a week or two with my family.
As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me. In Wales, in Borth they took us to the seaside for a holiday in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of calor gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.
This year he persuaded me to go again, not to Borth in Wales this time but to East Anglia and to Norfolk where I also remembered going on family holidays fifty years ago.
We set off early on a Monday morning and after stopping for breakfast in Kings Lynn made our way directly to the North Sea Coast of Norfolk and the small seaside village of Walcott-on-Sea.
The memories returned as soon as we arrived. They stuck to me like Velcro, so sticky that I had to brush them away like cobwebs from my face.
We found it straight away – Seaview Crescent – 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 that it would still be there and they wouldn’t lose their deposit.
I liked it there, we slept on blue blow up li-lo beds in the sun room as the wind whistled around the gables at night, there was a big open green space which was safe so long as you didn’t go near the edge and fall over the cliff, where we played football and cricket and flew cheap plastic kites that raced against the clouds in the North Sea wind.
An interesting fact about Walcott is that this is the only place in Norfolk where the road runs adjacent to the sea and it is possible to stop the car and look out over the sea defenses that were put in place after the great flood of 1953 that washed half of the village away and out to sea. They are not especially attractive it has to be said, a great sweeping landscape of Soviet style concrete but the North Sea can be harsh so the defences have to be strong!
I remembered this place immediately and after we had stopped for a while we carried on to the nearby village of Happisburgh (pronounced locally as Haysborough).
My sister Lindsay had challenged me to find a flint and cob built church where we had had our picture taken in about 1965 or thereabouts and I wasn’t confident about this because there are over three hundred churches in Norfolk but like Indiana Jones or Howard Carter I found it straight away and some more memories washed over me like North Sea surf in a storm.
It had been a good day so far and it got even better when we arrived at Cherry Tree Holiday Park just a couple of miles or so outside of Great Yarmouth because we had been allocated a Gold Star Superior holiday home and after we had moved in and settled down we congratulated each other on our extreme good fortune and enjoyed a first evening in the late sunshine in Norfolk.
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.
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!