Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!
Dunwich is a seaside resort town, albeit a small one. Since the 1970's and the advent of cheap package holidays and the fashion for holidaying abroad, the seafront has slipped in to decline, and its faded grandeur is in places, well tatty. The college year opens in late September, when the cutting wind off the North Sea and seasonal sea fog has driven all but the hardiest of tourists away, and as a result the Front is closed, shuttered and often partially deserted.
I shall describe a few of the landmarks of the Front here. Imagine them rainswept, grey and littered with the rubbish of the summer holidaymakers...
The sandy beach at Dunwich is the reason for the tourism, and while it has not won any awards for cleanliness in years, and the wwater quality is dubious, some people do swim heres till. The currents can be treacherous, and the flag system is operated from May to October, warning when it is dangerous to go out. The beach is relatively wide, but the drop off under water is sudden, and summer bathing fatalities are not unknown. The council does make a dedicated effort to clean the beach of rubbish however, and litter pickers operate each evening at sunset, even off season, just as beachcombers greet each dawn all year round. Fishermen are not uncommon, using rod and line rather thna the crab fishing one sees in the harbour.
The beach is never empty during the day except in rainstorms, or unless one walks up all the way to where it peters out among the cliffs. Great black groynes break it up,sticking in to the sea, and a line of tiny beach huts can provide shelter from the wind, flanked by the desolate shuttered ice cream and fish and chip sheds, closed fo rthe winter. The eerie shrieks of circling seagulls resonate across the wintry sands; but then living in Dunwich, the crawk of the seagull is the soundtrack to dy to day life. Out at sea great passenger ferries bound for Scandinavia sail stately past, bound for or just out of Harwich, and on a clear night one can just about make outthe flares of far away oil rigs on the dogger bank.
A strip of grass seperates The Promenade from the beach, and it has a small Victorian public toilets, open all night, and a number of park benches set among attractive flowers dying with the frosts. Ten pence will allow use of the Telescope mounted at the viewpoint, which allows a wonderful look at the expanse of grey heaving icy water, and the freezing white foaming waves. If you are lucky you might see a porpoise or even a seal, but they are uncommon here now, and the seals never beach.
The smell of rotting seaweed, dead fish and salt water permeates everything. When the weather is poor, a beach out of season is a godforsaken, desolate place.
The Victorian Pier projects from close to Bryant Bros. Amusement Park for a hundred and fifty yards out in to the North Sea. Few fall off it, owing to the iron fence which runs along the edge, but standing looking over the edge the twelve foot down in to the raging sea can be unnerving.
The entrance is a large gaudy wood and iron frontage, with two turnstiles, a locked fire exit gate, a small ticket office and a kitchen/toilet for staff. In winter the decrepit careetaker Herbert Wrongdon appears at dawn to unlock, and locks up again an hour fater dusk, taking £3 from anglers for adays fishing from the end of the pier. At night securit guards ar epaid to viist, and occasionally drive up, and more irregularly unlock and wander round with flashlights.
The Pier can be divided in to three sections.
The first part is the Pier Amusements has the great Ferris Wheel, which looms over the beach,and ana assortment of tiny fairground rides of the sort catering to toddlers, flanked on each side by carefully shutered food concessions, hoopla stalls, cococunut shys and a small arcade machines hut. It's really just an extension of the Amusement PArk, but not owned by the Bryant Bros who own that. In winter the only thing still working is the noddy car (cost ten pence, noone over the age of 5) and the bubblegum dispenser.
Further up is Discotheque 1999, asmall white metal shell partially hiding the Victorian Pier Theatre beyond. The Theatre has been closed for five years now, and only ever held an audience of 200 persons in cramped and dingy conditions. You can walk past its boarded up and dilapidated front past faded posters recalling the days Tommy Cooper and Sid James played here, and the "Black and White Minstrel" Show did Summer spectacles, along the right side of the Pier. Its wood is long since rotted, the lightbulbs which glared out the roof from it all broken. It si scheduled fo demolition, but the Council never seem to get round to it.
Finally one reaches the end of the Pier, with a small selection of booths, a souvenir shop and a shed used by anglers to brew up and avoid the worst of the weather. Bizarely an old but working red BT phone box stands here, and is sometimes used by Anglers to call taxis to pick them up form the gate at the end of a wearying day.
There is some real concern about the structural soundness of the Pier: Discotheque 1999 may be stretching the century old beams futher than they can support, and next season may be its last. The Pier is closed from September 15th to May 15th inclusive; in season admisison costs fifty pence.
Finally under the pier is an unsavoury place, where discarded condoms, needles and garbage deter all but the filthiest tramps and teenage glue sniffers. Brave adolescents do however enjoy the thrill of climbing out over the sea on the network of wooden and iron girders, and taught rusted wire which holds the structure together.
It was built to enable large steamers to tie up at the end, as their draughts wouldn't permit them to go nearer to the shore. At the same period as the nearby dockland was being developed it was heavily modernised, with a miniture railway, fun palace and rides being added to it. In 1939 it was taken over by the Army and mined to prevent it being used by the Germans in the event of an invasion. There are still a couple of overgrown pillboxes on the landward end.The ferry terminal took most of the pier's ferry business away from it, but the Waverly and Balmoral still stop there during their coastal cruises.
The Bryant Bros. Amusements Park
A great wooden shell wall, 30 feet high, garishly painted and festooned with signs encircles this large oval shaped amusement park, firmly closed off season. In the summer it is a high point of the beach scene, thronged with screaming children and exasperated parents. In winter, it is like a great mausoleum, a tomb to summers past. Buile in the 1930's, it has a great roller coaster, a haunted house, hall of mirrors, six different gambling and arcade areas, many roundabouts, a waltzer, dodgems and many more stalls and shops. All are locked, and the only life is in the administration building, a two storey building with anumber of offices, off season home to the bored team of two security guards who are paid to loiter, while performing routine maintenance. Shrouded in tarpaulin the rides look eerie, and the roller coaster is locally said to be haunted, but so dangerous are the reputatiosn of the workers who double as security off season that absolutely noone local wou;d even think of breaking in. There is a story of a girl who vanished years back in the hall of mirrors, and the ghost on the roller coaster is said to relate to a tragic accident in 1955 which claimed 4 lives when a car plunged off the rails... An eerie, silent and thoroughly miserable place, filled with dark corners which in the summer shelter young lovers. Students avoid it.