DAUGHTER, aged three, is crying loudly, and refusing to get in the car without a fuss.
“I want the sea,” she wails. “Don’t want to go home, want the sea.”
“We can’t take the sea with us,” I explain, “the sea lives here and we live. . . (in my head I say “about as far away is it’s possible to be from the sea”) . . in Northampton. You like Northampton, it’s where your toys are.”
She buries her face in my shoulder, still weeping, but grudgingly allowing the sand to be brushed from her feet. I know how she feels.
If you’ve grown up near the seaside, and then left for pastures not-so-green, you may also get an overwhelming sense of glee when the opportunity arises to get some sand between your toes. Beach sand, not the builder-grade,
suspicious-lump-infested sand of a municipal playground.
We love the sea. Not your foreign holiday beaches (which we haven’t experienced that much), but the often under-rated, sometimes sunny seaside of the North Sea, English Channel and Atlantic coast.
Even when it’s raining, there’s some deep pleasure for me in standing on a beach, jumping up and down until a pool of water seeps through the sand. Staring out over a vast horizon, squinting at boats and endless, repetitive
waves. Not so much of that when you have four children in tow though.
Over half term we visited my parents who live just outside Newcastle, where they returned to in retirement after 30-odd years living in Devon. Each time we visit, we go to the sandy beaches at Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay.
Beaches? In Newcastle? I hear your skepticism. But these are beautiful places, they Hoover the beaches each morning with great big machines. The council flowerbeds were full and well-tended. The sea, despite being around the corner from a major port, is crystal clear.
We went for three days, and two of those we spent at the beach. One day was windy, and we went rock-pooling with nets at St Mary’s lighthouse, then had tea and cake at the Rendezvous Cafe, a 1930s icon, hardly altered in decades,
which has massive windows looking out to sea.
The following day, when we were meant to be driving home, it was scorching and we couldn’t resist going for a paddle. Bonnie insisted on wearing her swimsuit and it seemed her complete joy made her immune to the chilly water.
Despite the sun, and the half-term, and the provision of lifeguards, it was hardly busy. It was bliss.
Billy dug holes. Jed and Dougie kicked a football about, skimmed stones, threw wet seaweed at each other and dug more holes. Bonnie and I paddled, paddled some more, and buried our feet. Only the inevitable five-hour drive home could drag us away.
If you usually use your family holidays to jet abroad, and think that the British seaside is just pebbles, tacky arcades and run-down guest-houses, you’re missing out. Forget Newquay and Blackpool, look at Widemouth Bay, near Bude, on the Devon/Cornwall border, Putsborough, Croyde and Instow in North Devon, Old Hunstanton and Heacham in Norfolk or Studland Bay in
Dorset (though Dorset is getting Londonified).
Accept that your car is going to get filled with sand, pebbles, bits of seaweed and possibly dead crabs. Pack a few old towels, some suncream, spare clothes and shoes and download a tide-times app on your smartphone. Enjoy what being an island truly offers us – the seaside – even if living in Northamptonshire does mean it takes hours to get there . . .