Christmas brought a trip beyond the edge of London into Essex proper. An hours journey from Walthamstow along the A 12 took us past Chelmsford, to my in laws in Colchester for the festive season.
Despite having been visiting there for 15 years or so, I don’t know Colchester itself well – but I do know that this is a very different Essex to the land of TOWIE which borders our beloved Waltham Forest. It is also, I think a very different Essex from the places we generally do visit on these family weekends and holiday occasions.
We spent boxing day morning on the beach at Frinton on sea – a frequent haunt at all times of the year. Boasting a long, wide and sandy beach this town is a popular summer destination – it’s rows of beach huts exchange hands for prices which scare even Waltham Forest residents. It however has few of the normal trappings of tourist focuses seaside resorts – no beachside cafés or ‘fancy goods’ shops, no hot donuts or candy floss, and you even have to leave the sea front and head into the main shopping street to source an ice cream in midsummer. The town’s first pub, Shepherds Neame’s Lock and Barrel opened in the year 2000. Planning decisions for the town are clearly very protective of it’s character and this makes it feel somewhat unique, and, on balance, it is all the better for it. On a summer day on the beach, or indeed this Boxing Day, the simple pleasures of sandcastles, footballs and frisbees were enough for the most serious ipad addicts, and curiously there was no clamour for candy floss or 2p arcade machines. It is however undeniably a slightly odd place which seems to exist outside of the rest of Essex with an atmosphere captured in recent documentary ‘The curious world of Frinton on Sea’
Appropriately I had downloaded for Christmas reading a recently published pair of essays on various aspects of Essex – ‘trying to fit a number to a name’. This short e-book is from Influx Press – an east London based independent publisher who specialise in writing about place. These pieces from Lee Rourke and Tim Burrows, especially after my journey from Walthamstow, and the morning on Frinton beach reflected and developed many of my thoughts about Essex, and contain a combination of history and cultural commentary that, rather than try to capture here I will simply heartily recommend to anyone with an interest in the area or more generally in this sort of phychogeographical writing.
Essex is many things – a retreat from london, an isolated and overlooked rural area, commuter suburbs or aspirational retirement destination. It has been reviled and revered, developed, or, like Frinton, stubbornly refused to change. It is the immediate neighbour of my part of London- both reliant on and essential to the big city, but in either Chigwell, Colchester , Clacton or Frinton can feel as foreign to London as another country.