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2 August 2020

postcards from great yarmouth

speak to any brit, and they will tell you about the cheesy seaside towns they spent their summers in as a child. usually with a sneer, but rarely with any level of fondness. which, well - i had some pretty memorable caravan holidays myself, and i know they're not the same as fancy trips to disneyland, but they have their own perks. there are pros and cons to every type of travel, and if a seaside break a few hours away from home is the best you can do, then that in itself should be something to relish! and, while we find ourselves in this weird limbo between real life and a global pandemic, it has us all re-evaluating the little things. for me, i'm desperate to travel, to explore and be taken by local customs and - let's be honest: food, that at this point i don't really care where i travel to anymore. which is why, with parts of the country out of lockdown, i have decided to take advantage of the options i have, and spend some time at the great british seaside this summer.

i asked around to see which of the uk's coasts had the "worst" reputation for tackiness, and started there. and that's how i ended up in great yarmouth this last weekend.

when i told people i was going, i mainly got laughed at. i was told stories of caravan holidays there, of fish and chips, of dodgy 2p machines and ice cream that dripped down arms and legs. of yarmouth rock, of run down caravan parks, and fights over the buckets and spades. i also got a handful of "better" beaches i should go to, that are less tacky and more interesting, and that are generally "more appealing". and here's the thing: what appeals to one may not appeal to the other.

i'm not after fine dining and boutique shops. not all the time. not when we're in a recession and i have taken a pay cut at work. not when i'm travelling solo and can't afford to split bills. not when i'm looking at quantity of breaks versus quality of breaks. not this time. for now, i'm looking for a clean and comfortable bed, somewhere with a train station, a sandy beach i can dig my toes into, and lots of colour and charm to satisfy the magpie in me. and i found all of those things in great yarmouth, in bucket loads.

i arrived by greater anglia trains, delayed, but ready to explore. once i'd dumped my stuff in the lovely and quiet room in the andover guesthouse - which was moments from the beach - i took a walk. i headed down to winter gardens, and was instantly in love with the vintage signs and architecture that spans the esplanade! so much colour and quirkiness everywhere you look, and the smell of hot donuts and fried chips hit my like a ton of bricks! i picked up some donuts and headed down to the beach, to dig my toes into the sand and sample the water of the north sea (cold, as expected).

i was there on a thursday, and it was pretty quiet - considering it's school holidays, but the beach was nicely spaced out with families and there beach towels and mini tents, and all the gear a child "needs" for a day at the beach, despite being perfectly happy with sand once they get there. and i mean, the kids were in heaven. screams of joy as they ran back and forth between dry parents and wet ocean, splashing and squealing, and have a whale of a time. in a non-creepy way, i could have watched those kids having the time of their lives for ages, until it hit me that these kids would probably grow up to be the ones to sneer at this place in ten years' time.

i ambled from there along the esplanade and was lured into the flamingo because, well, because it's called the flamingo, and has a giant pink vintage sign towering above it. inside, i lost £5 to a 2p machine, and came away with ten chewy sweets. i mean, if that's not an ad for anti-gambling, i'm not sure what is. know what else? it was bloody good fun!

from there, i grabbed an ice cream and walked up to britannia pier before heading back to my room for a shower and clean (un-sandy) clothes before i went looking for some dinner. i regret to say i found myself in line for "the world's best fish and chips" and ordering some cod and scampi before i realised - too late - that i had just ordered at none other than a harry ramsdens. of all the chip shops in all the world, i had to pick a bloody chain! trust me, no one was more disappointed in me - especially when the food was typically below par and i kicked myself the rest of the night.

the following day, i headed down to the market (which closed at 5pm the night before!) to see what local wares i could find - when i stumbled into the biggest rock factory in the world! might be all for show, but look: when in rome, right? i obbbbviously bought far too much fudge and rock (for the journey home!) and nosied my way through all of the souvenir shops, desperate to find some vintage prints similar to those i'd seen on the pier, but no such luck.

for lunch, i picked up more donuts and another icecream, and sat on the beach, reading my book, in a comfy beach chair a kind lady let me have as i had no more change on me to rent one off her properly. a few hours later, it was time to go home! it was a wonderful whirlwind of an adventure, but certainly one i won't be sneering about to anyone, any time soon.

next on the seaside break list is clacton-on-sea (in essex) and then ramsgate (in kent). both have a pretty bad reputation from those who've been lucky enough to spend summer holidays there as children, and i cannot wait to get there and see it through the fresh (and desperate) eyes of someone who will never take her own country for granted ever again.

what's your fave seaside town?

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