The first time I went abroad I was 17 years old. My school friends and I had long dreamed of a trip to Spain that we’d book once we reached the dizzy heights of sixth form and, crucially, surpassed the drinking age in the Mediterranean.
It was to be everything that we’d heard older siblings, cousins and students in the years above us at school talking about. Hot summer days by the pool or on the beach and long evenings spent dancing (and drinking dubious-looking shots) in the nightclubs that sounded like a paradisiac wonderland compared to the Ocean back at home in Nottingham. Which, most of the time, we weren’t let into by the bouncers anyway.
The trip was a success, in a very ‘Brits abroad’ kind of way. We partied, laughed, made new friends and all came home in one piece, albeit very hungover. It was great, but honestly – it didn’t even come close replacing the soft spot I had for the British seaside, which is a love I’ve rediscovered in the pandemic.
Growing up, my mum worked hard as a nurse and single parent, often staying at the hospital hours after her shift to complete her paperwork or help out colleagues who couldn’t make it in. She always made sure we had everything we needed, but expensive holidays abroad were too much of a stretch and therefore out of our reach.
In their place we created our own fun in the same seaside town, year after year, in Norfolk. If you don’t know Norfolk, it sits on the east coast of England in the county of Norwich, right next to Cambridge and bordering Lincolnshire. It’s full of rugged beauty with lush, green countryside, Broads National Park, forests and heathland, nature reserves and of course, 90 miles of coastline.
There’s also adorable market towns, full of little delis to grab picnic food from and ice cream stands, gift shops selling paintings of the coast from local artists as well as home accessories crafted from the driftwood and shells found at the beach.
To me, this was all magic. I could spend hours as a six-year-old, picking through the trinkets at independent stores, begging my mum to buy us a souvenir to take home. We’d walk down Cromer beach, licking cones of lavender ice cream, made from the lavender in the area. It’s still the best ice cream I’ve ever had. There was crabbing to be done and rock pools to be explored, as the sea constantly tempted me to take a dip.
As I got a little older, we rented cottages in the summer holidays with family and friends. I remember one year our holiday rental sat in the middle of an idyllic patch of countryside. There were wild flower meadows, babbling brooks and even a tiny bridge which the other children and I were convinced had fairies living underneath it. In fact, we actually found an old phone box which villagers must have decorated for local kids, as it was filled with little fairy houses. Or, you know, maybe it really was magic?
This graduated to trips to our favourite seaside spot with friends, when at 14, 15 and 16-years-old, I’d invite my girl gang along with me and we’d spend all day gossiping on the beach, eating crab sandwiches for lunch and fish and chips for dinner, while sat watching the waves with the bustle of the little town around us.
I haven’t been back to Norfolk since I went on that first trip abroad. I felt a little old to go away with my mum and so we didn’t book another seaside getaway that year and before I knew it, I was at university living in London and probably quite unenthusiastic to give up my summer break.
The pandemic has been terrible for many reasons, but in trying to find some small silver linings, I’ve rediscovered my love for the British seaside and welcomed the news that staycations are 2020’s biggest travel trend.
Airbnb has announced that the top 10 wishlisted properties on the site by British users are all now in the UK (versus last year, when beach huts in Mexico and Bali were all the rage), while Trip Advisor has noted that scenic driving routes around the UK are becoming increasingly popular. It’s clear that staycations are where it’s at.
I couldn’t be happier. The British seaside has so much to offer in terms of charm, character, history and beauty and I’m excited to re-discover the magic that I so appreciated all those years ago. In fact, me and my mum are even planning a little trip to Norfolk.