Jaywick Sands – a nostaglic swim

“I turned and looked back towards the shore and the curious collection of bungalows that lined the seafront, lit by the dying reflected sunlight, their wooden clapboarding picked out in garish colours.”

It’s election day in Jaywick. Polling stations seem quiet where we pass them, the face of the main candidate grinning awkwardly from the side of a bus as we drive through Clacton and out to this strange little place on the Essex coast.

Jaywick is unlike anywhere I’ve been to on my Waterlog jaunt. Yes, it fits the archetypal, down–at–heel seaside town vibe seen along England’s winding coastline, far north through Lincolnshire and south through Kent and Sussex. But its little chalets and atmosphere of otherness, thanks to being at the dead end of the coast road, make it feel like a place apart, where time has stopped and life slowed to an unimaginable pace for a Londoner in a hurry.

Roger comes across as hopelessly romantic when writing about Jaywick. He speaks of his first ever holiday here in the late 1940s, of its floating insubstantially on the edge of the North Sea. I admit I have come with my own preconceptions. Endless election coverage has touted Jaywick as the most deprived place in the country. But for every derelict wooden chalet, there are three that are beautifully maintained, smart chairs on freshly creosoted decking looking out across the small promenade to the wind whipped sea and the off shore wind farm beyond.

I’ve come here with my Mum and Dad, driving across from our own Essex home further west, in search of our own nostalgia. My Great Granddad owned a static home at the still smart Martello Caravan Park and my mum came here on holiday in the sixties with my grandparents. My uncle had already told me about walking into the arcade and hearing Whiter Shade Of Pale for the first time and the light green caravan from where they’d set off on walks and horse rides around the deep ditch which winds its way round the site to nearby St Osyth.

Parking up, we walk along the sandy side of the retaining wall, dry sea holly spinning across the low dunes on the stiff breeze. The sea slams silently into boulders away to our left, the soft sand hard to get through without feeling a twinge in the back of my legs. On the other side of the concrete barrier, in a dusty car park, a car boot sale is winding down, bargains and local veg being scurried away into open cars, locals scouting for knick knacks as the sun works off some errant cloud and blazes down on this off kilter town.

The swimming spot is away at the end of the bay, by the same long breakwater where Roger struck out. It’s as calm as anywhere can get on this somewhat wild length of Essex coastline, so I change quickly and stride in, my parents holding towels and watching on. I feel like a child again, wading out into the shallows at Lyme Regis while they peered over books and kept an eye out for any watery woes.

It’s icy cold and churned up, just as it always is on the east coast. I love swimming in the North Sea, the grey brown bob and tilt of it all, the utter unpredictability of the waves. Keep your head low and you could be far out in the depths rather ten feet from your backpack and a much–needed flask of tea.

A hefty squall slams into the coast just as I drop my shoulders under, the rain pelting into the sand as I try and settle into some kind of rhythm. As I’ve found in Covehithe and Walbserswick further up the coast in Suffolk, such hopes are always set to be dashed, so I drift around aimlessly, taking a big slap of salty water that leaves the back of my throat raw and burning.

The October chill is starting to soak deep into my bones, so I head back to shore, the wind slamming my towel across seething, reddened skin. I pad off along the coast towards the far off Martello tower, past Sunbeam Avenue, high on happy collective memories and oddly overjoyed at this strange place in an oft–forgotten corner of England.

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