It’s been a year of Plan Bs, hasn’t it? And none more so than in the holiday arena. Our trip to Italy at Easter was cancelled, so we took a very cautious approach to the back-up plan….low-key, localish and isolated. Cheap enough to be able to cancel if needed and close enough to get back in a hurry. Three nights at the Essex seaside.
Not that it felt very local to get to. Google’s helpful suggestion of avoiding the M25 ended up with us avoiding the A120 as well and joining hundreds of other cars in a traffic jam around the narrow roads of rural Essex. At one point we slowed just outside a gardenful of adorable dogs, only to come to a complete halt a few metres down the road and out of sight of them. A little later, a cross man in crocs came out of the gates of his substantial property to stand by Eva’s window and glare at us. That was awkward. Eventually tho, we left CrossCrocMan behind and were on a straight, flat road all the way to Harwich.
I think we must have been to Harwich twice before, as we’ve definintely had two nausea-filled North Sea cruises. The first was in December 1999, when we went to Hamburg with friends and got stranded there for three days because of high winds. We had an excellent time. The second time was a year or so later when Nathan and I cruised over that rocky sea to Denmark and back, being sick all the way. We did not get stranded and we did not have an excellent time.
Either way, I didn’t remember Harwich itself. It was just the gateway to seasickness. But we found a holiday let at a snip of a price and some extensive googling suggested there was something of a beach there. The chief complaint in the Google reviews was that there were “too many dogs”. That would not be a problem for us.
The googling was correct – there was a beach. We headed straight down there as soon as we’d unpacked…the kids needed a bit of a stretch after two and a half hours in the car. We were just going to wander down to Dovercourt Beach and have a look and definitely not get wet… You can imagine how well that went.
So with sopping wet kids, we decided it was time to go and find dinner and they would probably dry off on the way, right? It was sunnyish and I was rightish. We got chips and battered sausages from the Fish House and went back to the apartment to eat, promising more beachiness the next day.
Except we slightly miscalculated. City rookies that we are, we’d forgotten to check the tide times and so our plan of going shopping in the morning, home for lunch and then to the beach had one or two flaws. We’d also forgotten to check the weather, with was sunny but with a yellow warning of wind. By the time we were beach-ready, the beach was far from ready for us. In fact it had disappeared. The wind was somewhat bracing and the waves, which were up to the sea wall, were described by Eva as tsunamis. This might have been a slight exaggeration but we weren’t fully confident of having a swim that day. So we walked the length of the seafront and found a park just next to the leisure centre where we could wait until high tide had been and gone.
It was still a Bit Blowy. But Eva liked it because she said it made her hair look good. Depends which direction you’re facing really.
While we were in the park, the coastguard turned up, which is another ominous sign. The blue flag was changed to red and I wandered back to the seafront to watch the “tsunamis” crashing against and over the sea wall. It really was quite impressive but we weren’t about to defy the red flag and make more work for those nice coastguards.
So we went to the Rainbow Cafe instead. It was possibly too windy to even have coffee as we were seated outside, Covid-securely, and had to hang on to the paper cups in case they flew away. But the kids and Nathan had very nice cake on very nice, solid china and that was happily stable on the table.
By the time I’d persuaded Eva to let me finish her cheesecake, high tide had passed and the beach was starting to re-emerge. There was still no swimming – the red flag was still up – but we could go onto the shingle and dig a big hole.
Nathan was wearing his facemask on the beach at this point, not because of Covid fears but because the wind was whipping up what little sand there was and throwing it directly at his face. Yes, it was that personal. And then he drew my name in Elvish on the sand, which looked kinda personal in the wrong sort of way.
We’d been out in these high winds for three hours by this point, so it was time to go home and prepare dinner and put some cream on the sandburn. I don’t know if anyone has ever successfully and easily cooked dinner in someone else’s oven but this certainly wasn’t going on the leaderboard as a win. Let’s skip straight to the post-dinner stroll on the beach, where the tide was at its lowest and gloppy sand pockets had opened up between the breakers.
We had a fine old time, wandering around the paddling in the little pools of seawater. We spotted a few dogs as well – not our first spottings because, as the reviews said, there was a bit of a canine abundance at Dovercourt. We’d met a very friendly black spaniel earlier and her owner had let us have a stroke. Now the sunset seashore session was spotted with adorable dogs playing fetch and scampering through the water. Much like Eva was doing.
The next morning, the winds had died down and the sea was much calmer. We’d checked the tide times so managed to get to the beach in the morning when the sea wasn’t too far out or lapping at the sea wall. It wasn’t super warm but Roo and I managed two good length swims in the shallows and even Nathan and Eva put their toes in. We also dig another deep hole, getting down to some previously-unexposed steps, down which Eva tipped a bucket of water to make a somewhat sludgey waterfall. There was a bit of a castle to go with the moat too and a pile of sand. Of course, as soon as we moved off the beach, this pile of sand was pooped on by a white bull terrier called Star. Such is the way of the doggyfneria.
As we sat eating chocolate brownies on the promenade, we met another friendly dog called Stanley, who was a rescue dog. His owner again let the kids have a cuddle and, as you can guess, that made them extremely happy. It might just be that they’re finely attuned to the prescence of dogs, having missed them so badly during lockdown, but there really were a LOT of dogs around the beach. There was even a labradoodle staying in the flat above ours at the holiday let, which caused the kids much joy when they bumped into her in the hallway.
The tide was coming in again so we headed towards Cliff Park to enjoy a bit more of the sunshine before going home for lunch. There was a pirate ship in there, and a bouncy swing thing that seemed to be the Number One attraction among the kids. I quite wanted to go for a walk up to see the other lighthouses but Reuben’s sore feet insisted on taking us home instead.
Dinner that night was, once more, courtesy of the Fish House. It isn’t quite true that life is too short to waste time cooking but this holiday was certainly too short for that. Besides, they did an awesome battered sausage. Then after dinner, Eva wand I went for another sunset scamper on the beach and met yet another friendly pup who was very keen to show us lovely yellow frisbee.
And that was it! A night’s sleep and then a drive home that was quicker than the outbound trip by at least an hour. Turns out Harwich really isn’t very far away at all. It was a modest and short holiday, especially compared to what we’d originally planned at Easter, but it gave us a bit of a break and a change of scene. The beach wasn’t crowded, so it was very easy to socially distance – except from dogs – and having a private apartment lent itself well to social distancing as well. I’m not sure we’d choose it over Italy any other year but for a 2020 getaway without fear of quarantine, it absolutely did the job.