Thursday, 28 July 2016

Hunstanton - red cliffs and legs eleven

Hunstanton - correctly pronounced 'Hunston', although I heard nobody saying that - has a unique distinction: it's the only seaside town in Norfolk that faces west. It's therefore the only place in the county from which to see a proper sunset. Hoping to witness one, I went there twice on my recent holiday.

The first occasion was something of a damp squib. I have a personal maxim that goes 'make the effort, and you'll be rewarded' - a similar saying to 'who dares wins' - and I'm usually keen to follow it, because more often than not I will get that reward. But not this time.

I'm not new to Hunstanton. I first went there on a day trip in October 1992, when sharing a late-season weekend break with Mum and Dad, and then again and again in the years that followed, usually just passing through and having a quick look. It's always struck me as a bright and breezy place, with very much the same kind of atmosphere as the north Kent coastal resorts - that is, a somewhat brash seafront, but with quietly attractive, leafy streets just a little way off. Hunstanton is the kind of place most people would consider a decent retirement spot. And it has an edge on the north Kent resorts: there is a big green open space right in the heart of the town, seen here in this evening shot, with a red-painted sea mine in the foreground:

But this was on my second visit. No such sunshine when I first went there. I parked for nothing up a side-street I knew, then walked northwards past the seafront gardens towards Old Hunstanton. I had in mind returning along the foot of the cliffs. At that point, there was no telling whether the sun would come out, or whether it would start spitting with rain.

First objective: the old lighthouse. There it was, not seen since 1992, and looking completely unchanged. I took a shot for the record, but to make it 'interesting' I played around with the brightness, contrast and colour on my laptop, arriving at this:

That's dreadfully contrived - but to my mind more exciting than the real thing:

But there was no need to sex up the cliff pictures that followed. Hunstanton is famous for its Red Cliffs. These are made of Cretaceous sediments, a 'red' layer of compacted Lower Cretaceous clay overlain by white chalk. It looks like a red cake with white icing. The red layer is thin at Old Hunstanton, but thickens as one walks south towards the town centre. It erodes easily, and persons walking along the beach underneath the cliffs are warned to take care, as there are overhangs and falls are frequent. I did take care. It was a pity that the rain, at first just half-hearted, pulled itself together and settled into a steady drizzle. But I still got some worthwhile shots:

A temporary cave!

Hmm. At this half-way point in my walk the rain was just beginning to get bothersome. And I had to take care as the stony beach got wetter - I didn't want to slip and knock my head on a rock, like I did in Cornwall last April!

The remains of some unfortunate vessel, driven onto the shore in a storm years ago. The north Norfolk coast has almost no safe harbours.

Plenty of cliff falls! There seemed to be more of them as I went on. At the centre of Hunstanton, near where the pier was before a storm destroyed it, the rain became even worse:

I felt mildly waterlogged, but persevered with my camera, securing this shot inside the 'Family Leisure Centre' building:

It beats me what fun can actually be had in such a place. Perhaps those with vacant minds find it diverting. The notion of an entire family going in, with everyone, from Grandfather down to Newest Toddler, feeding coins into the amusement machines - and totally enjoying themselves - is scary. Of course the operators make free use of the word 'family' in order to make their gambling operation (for that's what it is) seem respectable and even wholesome. Tut, tut, I say. I know that in the main only adolescents frequent these places. And that if I went inside I would not only feel desperately uncomfortable and out of place, I would actually look all wrong, and Management might ask me to leave before I put off their usual clientele. Suits me.

I was really very damp by the time I got back to Fiona, and had to sit on a blanket I always carry in the boot. Never mind, within half an hour I was back at the caravan and dry.

A few evenings later, I came back. This time there was strong sunshine - although dark clouds were gathering! But they simply added drama to my shots. I wanted to capture the brash, kiss-me-quick, funfair side of Hunstanton. I left Fiona in the big car park built over where the railway station had once been, before the line was closed fifty years ago. Only the old coal office was still left, and one signal set to 'danger'.

I set off along the sea front, in search of brashness. 

These shots of the Bingo Hall would have been better if I'd recorded the smooth microphone tones of the caller, apparently speaking to nobody that I could see. Presumably, to make play worthwhile at all, he did have at least two old ladies faithfully marking their cards. Were they perhaps two fat ladies? That used to be 'number 88' in old Bingo parlance. I suppose that nowadays it's regarded as mildly offensive, and you never hear it. Nor 'blind 50' or 'blind 80'. But surely you still hear 'legs 11...two little ducks, 22...66, clickty-click...sweet 16, and never been kissed...key of the door, 21...on its own, number 1...' 

I haven't played Bingo since holidaying with Mum, Dad and brother Wayne at Butlin's in Barry Island in 1968. And then only because I had a mild crush on Someone Else, who also attended. I can easily think of more interesting ways of passing holiday time.

There wasn't an awful lot more to see. 

British Seaside Resorts are not what they used to be. The simple, unsophisticated pleasures have vanished. I grew up in Barry, which, over at its seafront at the Cold Knap, had a pebble beach, a park with boats, a lido, crazy golf, and Bindles, a one-time smart night spot which was still a daytime cafeteria. And that was all. Barry Island, which the hoards from Cardiff made for, had sandy beaches and a famous funfair, but the funfair was entirely traditional and would cut no ice today. If you go to Barry Island now, you will see only a poor shadow of what once was. And the old Butlin's site is but a scruffy car park, overgrown with weeds. 

Even so, the sea views remain. And Hunstanton certainly gets its share of good sunsets. 

The visible sea in the picture above was mostly The Wash. Somewhere off to the right centre in the photo, across The Wash, was Skegness, Lincolnshire's premier resort. A lot of people sneer at Skegness, but I don't. For some strange reason, to do with seaside nostalgia, I find it fascinating. At some point in the next couple of years I want to take the caravan to the Lincolnshire Wolds (not visited since May 2006) and if I do, I'll have a fresh look at bracing Skegness. Meanwhile, here's a 1998 shot of three people contemplating the crowds and the general buzz on the town's immense beach:

Somewhere off to the right centre in this photo, across The Wash, was Hunstanton, west Norfolk's premier resort. A lot of people sneer at Hunstanton, but I don't. For some strange reason, to do with seaside nostalgia, I find it fascinating.

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