To kick off the Bank Holiday weekend, I took the train to Seaside.
I've been to Seaside before, and blogged about it, so won't waste time covering old ground. But Seaside is where I went yesterday, so I am going to get a post out of it.
I wondered if the weather forecast - Arctic winds and heavy showers - might put people off. Seemingly not, because the train to the coast was pretty busy. I bet it was even busier after ten o'clock, and nuts by eleven, but I like to head out early to get my daysworth. I asked the gentleman in the aisle seat if the space next to him was taken, and he turned out to be deaf, so that wasn't a great start. Later the Loud family took their place behind me, complete with hyperactive son and longsuffering Dad. "We're doing this for your birthday tomorrow." "No we can't go to Diggerland." "Here, you'll probably like these, they're man crisps." I alighted one stop early, because I don't mind a walk.
England has better beaches, but that never seems to stop visitors to Seaside. A few hardy souls clustered in stripy deckchairs, or picnicked above the waves, or strode bracingly from one end to the other because that's what you do. Some flung open the doors of their beach huts, these far uglier than those in the next resort up the coast. By the pop-up shipping container a pensioner had whipped off his top to reveal this year's pre-tan. One group at the beach volleyball complex was in shorts and t-shirts, the other in anoraks and leggings. I thought the Crazy Golf course was at the low end of wacky, but several had stumped up a fiver for a round. What absolutely nobody was doing was walking their dog, because the Hounds-Free season started on 1st May and they won't return until October.
You have to walk down the pier when you come to Seaside, it's the law. The usual crowds massed by the entrance, the hen parties recognisable by their pink sashes and/or floral headbands. The fish and chips up here is two quid dearer than on the promenade. Loudspeakers broadcast a playlist including Abba, Billy Joel and the Scissor Sisters, loud enough to keep the over 40s happy but quiet enough for teenagers to ignore. A group of bank holiday bikers hung out between the doughnut kiosk and the fortune teller's hideaway. The latest soft toy prize-of-choice appears to be a cross between a pug and a unicorn, I kid you not. Jeff Stelling was announcing the latest sports news on a big screen outside the pub, keeping its demographic happy. I watched to see if anyone would accidentally drop their phone through the slats in the boardwalk, but I've never seen it happen yet.
The top attraction
I'm always blown away by Attraction, the top tourist draw in Seaside. The interior is so impressive, which I'd like to be able to show you but filming and photography is banned throughout. In particular the light fitting in the first large room is absolutely astonishing, which you'll know if you've been. One of the main rooms has been restored since last time I was here, to great effect, along with an exhibition upstairs which explains how they did it. I was also wholly absorbed by the temporary artworks scattered across all the rooms and staircases, a very clever intervention. Do take the audio guide, it'll slow you down. Also, if you time your visit carefully you can avoid the torrential rain shower that drenches everyone outside.
To experience the real Seaside, head towards the edge of town. Its residents live up streets and avenues merged into the landscape, with contours a defining factor for anybody trying to get around. What looks like an easy stroll through an alleyway on a map can all too easily turn into a sharp climb or steep descent, but I guess it keeps you fit. The recent local elections provided a useful way for certain streets to confirm their political credentials, with plenty of signs up for that party which did well and few if any for that party that didn't. I passed a cricket match at 53 for 3, an angry game of under-10s football, a field full of lively horses and the last remnants of a municipal bulb display. I can see why people live in Seaside.
The gate into the park looked welcoming enough, apart from the scribbled note warning of ticks with Lyme Disease. But the path beyond proved anything but friendly, with a steep wooded drop straight ahead and a narrow path snaking off around the rim of the bowl. I followed this for the best part of five minutes looking for another gate or a safe track down, all the time treading extra-carefully for fear of slipping several metres down the adjacent slope. How can this be an actual path in a Seaside council park, I thought... just before I stumbled and slipped on the dry powdery soil. Instinctively I steadied myself by grabbing the wire fence to one side, which thankfully wasn't barbed but sliced open a flap of skin on my finger all the same. The blood still hadn't stopped flowing half an hour later. Gorgeous park. Won't be going back.
It's always a good day when you can stand atop a proper hill and gaze out across trees and rooftops towards the sea. Wind turbines spun on the horizon. A sliver of beach curved off towards one of Seaside's resort neighbours. A couple of cyclists paused to admire the view. A robin hopped into the gorse bushes. The purple orchids promised on the noticeboard were indeed in abundance, because I'd actually come in the right month. The hike up past the allotments had been totally worthwhile. All in all I walked 12 miles during my time in Seaside, my phone tells me, and climbed the equivalent of a 120-storey building. And I enjoyed it so much I'm going back to the seaside again today, just not to Seaside, because I've already been.