Monday, August 28, 2006

A Grand Day Out

This is the last bank holiday of the year and it being August bank holiday we opt for an escapade that is quintessentially British and head for the seaside. The stretch of coastline we venture towards is the Norfolk coast, this is a trip full of childhood reminiscences for both D and MC and a whole new experience for me. We aim for the patch of blue in the sky - 'just big enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers', should there be one unfortunately bereft of said garments. This being a quintessential British Bank Holiday we started our car journey with some trepidation that the weather might not hold out as we pointed our nose seawards. It was quite a while before we saw the sea as first we saw light precipitation, then heavy squalling rain, thunder, lightning, hailstones and then a bit of respite - fortunately just in time for our first port of call - Sheringham. Sheringham was billed as Norfolk's Premier town and is just up the coast from Cromer. And talking of Cromer that is what has drawn us here on this fine (?) day - crabs! We have come for one of 'Joyful' West's fresh crab sandwiches. And seriously fresh they are, they taste like they've been plucked from the sea, picked and popped between two pieces of brown bread, a stupendous seaside treat!

I may have not have had these sandwiches like D as a child but the smells and sounds of a seaside town are very evocative. The smell of fish and chips amply vinegared, the crying sea gulls swooping down for any discarded chip wrappers, the chinking of two pence pieces being won in the amusement arcades and the sight of families braving the freezing, crashing waves on the beach 'because, we're on holiday!' really resonant with my memories of trips to Blackpool and Southport with my grandparents so many years ago.

We continue our road trip by heading west towards Blakeney. We spy the fabulously named butcher's shop - Icarus Hines just before the rain hit us again. At Blakeney the children are rolling around in the mud banks and catching little crabs on their lines and putting them into their sandcastle buckets. Buffeted by the bracing sea air we go to the Blakeney hotel and partake of a very English afternoon tea. We were served this in the obligatory peach and chintzy lounge resplendent in seasonal needlepoint wall hangings (though we agreed that 'Winter' was too autumnal and the colours were all wrong!) and unfortunately a boy with extraordinarily fine lungs. Eventually the boy and his lungs were whisked away and calm descended except the odd murmur of 'awfully good gingerbread' and 'are you going to have that last cucumber sandwich?' and the gentle pouring of the Earl Grey into the china teacups. It was all so very English afternoon tea, the thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches had their crusts removed, the fruit scone was served with clotted cream and strawberry jam and their was a jug of water so you could adjust the strength of the tea. And it was very good gingerbread!

We had a look round sleepy Blakeney found a little deli and stocked up on some tasty nibbles and drove up to Morston Hall to check it out for another visit. Morston Hall is a lovely country hotel with a fine restaurant headed by chef Galton Blackiston. D and I have always admired his work and hope to come and eat there one day.

We set off for our final stop though not before buying some samphire that was being sold freshly picked by the side of the road. We'll serve this up like asparagus later this week. Our final blast down memory lane for D was 'sunny hunny' - Hunstanton and the sun did make a brave attempt to shine weakly as we walked around. We got some sticks of the obligatory seaside rock. They even still have the plates of the 'rock' fish fingers, chips and peas on a blue and white plate. I always knew I was at the seaside when I saw these for sale! Hunstanton reminded me more of Southport and other sea sides I visited as a child with a big sea front, lots of manicured little gardens, ornamental flower beds and benches to sit on a stare out at the sea or the little collection of rides and slides and Ferris wheels. Probably the only thing missing was the striped deckchairs that always collapsed or trapped your fingers and the donkey rides. I wonder if you still get donkey rides?

We had a grand day out, a traditional British day out with our infamous changeable weather. Bye bye summer, see you next year.

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