Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…..I really, really do. And none more than my childhood holiday destination of Broadstairs, in Kent.
It is probably an hours drive from where we live, but as a small girl seemed such a lavish and tropical far flung location. We camped, mostly, but also stayed in a handful of seafront hotels, apartments, cottages and B&Bs over the years. That was when we were being REALLY posh.
My family events to the coast were never a dull affair. Aunties, Uncles, Friends, Cousins, the lady from up the road, other random friends of my parents etc etc would rock up each day. A real pick n mix of special people all making a temporary island of blankets and beach towels, deck chairs and umberellas; marking off a significant portion of the beach for our own.
Family from way up North would decend for 2 weeks each August, and would hire a beach hut or two where we could snuggle up in our towels after a chilly dip in the sea, make a brew with the gas stove and eat chips out of the bag. I can still remember the smell of the gas stove and hot chocolate, like yesterday.
If you’ve ever been to Viking Bay in Broadstairs, you’ll know it is somewhat frozen in time. The beach hasn’t changed in my lifetime, nor (as I’m assured) in my Mums either. Pictures of my Grandpa as a small boy on the beach could have been taken last week. Even the beach images 100 years old in my parents home, showing bathers in huts wheeled into the sea, show the place in the same glory as today.
And then, there is Morrellis. The ice cream parlour on the cliff top pavilion. I don’t think as a child, there could be any food more impressive as a knickerbockerglory. Twice the size of me, zero chance of ever being finished. But that didn’t stop our parents treating us every holiday while they tucked in to a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or a hot chocolate fudge cup sundae. The place is totally unchanged, exactly how it has always been. The 1950s decor, the smell of coffee and ice cream and the illuminated fountain I can remember putting my tiny fingers into.
The beach itself is really well catered for families; the elevator down the cliff to the sandy beach was put back In use a few years ago, there are well maintained toilets, a cafe, and even a children’s play area. The same one I queued up for the swing boats for, day after day, 30 years ago.
So the family tradition still stands, and this weekend, our extended family from the North came back for a reunion weekend. The children I remember now, like me, parents themselves. Armed with sun cream, sun tents, buckets and spades, picnic hampers and windbreaks, we established our usual spot on the beach, by the cafe sign.
The magic for me is in the simplicity. No TV, no iPads, phones, games, or even toys. The children had the time of their lives in and out of the sea (not seeming to feel the cold). Searching for shells on the shoreline. Jumping in the waves with Nanny and Grandad at low tide, magical memories being made across 3 generations. Digging holes in the sand; filling them In again (usually containing a member of our party). Not a care in the world, even for the amount of sand that covered every inch of their sun creamed little bodies. A break from the bedtime routine; fish and chip supper at dusk on the pier. Being one of the last on the beach and feeling the temperature drop; snuggling up into joggers and hoodies.
So much the same as I remember, yet there is one thing different. Little did I realise all those years ago the feeling our parents had watching us so happy and free, soaking up our childhood right before their eyes. Now I understand the magic….and I’m paying it forward. I can only hope one day my girls might return to their childhood seaside, maybe with their own children, and treasure their memories the way I always will.