On Saturday, we went to Southend-on-Sea with friends. Southend is a traditional seaside playground for Londoners and is generally crowded in summer when the arcades (establishments with electro-mechanical games and gambling machines), seafront entertainments and rides are all working flat out. You can take the little railway along the pier, eat candy floss, breathe in the magical atmosphere of burnt sugar and over-cooked sausages. In the darker months, especially on a cool wet day like Saturday, the picture is less frantically playful but there is still a sparkle of fun to be seen here and there.
(Click on the photos to see larger versions.)
You can’t go to Southend and not take a look at the sea, even if it is cold enough to numb your fingers and there’s half a gale blowing. We took a quick look – and a quick photo – and then headed back inland for a hot drink. Like most British seaside towns, Southend shows traces of a more elegant past when the seaside was the haunt of the well-to-do.
When sea bathing and walking along the promenade to see and be seen were all the rage, Victorian and Edwardian ladies and gentlemen sought genteel if modest accommodations within easy walking distance of the seafront. This row of late Victorian or early Edwardian houses no longer shelters mustachioed gents in striped blazers and straw boaters or bustled ladies with parasols but their now seedy exteriors still speak of those halcyon days.
We next took the bus to Rayleigh. We had been there together before but Tigger wanted wanted our friends to see it. The first thing I noticed, because I love clocks, was this fine example of a public timepiece, the Rayleigh Millennium town clock. Rayleigh’s true pride and joy, though, is more ancient: the old windmill.
This venerable machine was built around 1798 and is still in good and robust condition. The sails no longer turn but in yesterday’s stiff breeze they shuddered from time to time as though longing for the freedom to do so.
Tigger wanted to take us to Leigh-on-Sea, saying that we could join the train from there afterwards, to save returning to Southend. This is where a jaunt turned into an expedition. We caught the bus and got off where Tigger indicated. As the bus roared away into the distance we set off on foot. A slight – shall we say “imprecision”? – about our whereabouts led to our walk being rather longer than we expected.
Darkness gradually fell as we made our way down an apparently never-ending road in the general direction where Tigger expected to find the station. At last we were cheered by the sight of a well-lit building, which turned out to be a pub called The Crooked Billet. Fortified with tea, we set out again. This hand-held shot will give you some idea of the conditions.
We eventually found a station but Tigger realized that as this was on the Fenchurch Street line and not the Liverpool Street line, our tickets might not be valid. As we were using a group saver ticket, paying the difference might mean spending a lot of money. The wisest course, therefore, was to take a taxi back to Southend and board the train there.
Taking the 471 bus from Liverpool Street, Tigger and I found ourselves in Essex Road. There just happened to be an Indian restaurant right where we were standing. How lucky was that! There is no better way to end a day out.