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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Shades of grey: Iceland via Leigh

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. A day out to the Essex coast - to the little former fishing village of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex gave us a taste of the big skies and sustainability skills you have to have to survive anywhere, including Iceland. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
When get and icy weather gives a little hint of spring - at Leigh on Sea, Essex
“An eye to the future and an ear to the past in the heart of Leigh.” That’s what Leigh Heritage centre calls Plumbs Cottage which sits close to the shore line, a little clapperboard fishing cottage, two up and two down. The Burders were the last family to live there. Amazingly they raised 10 children in their home despite the lack of space and a long list of Nos – no modern conveniences, no piped water, no electricity, no gas, no phone, no toilet inside the house, no fridge, no washing machine, no radio, no TV, no computers. Upstairs there were just two beds and a crib (the kids slept head to toe until they moved out) and downstairs it was just fishing kit (oars, nets, places to dry things off) and a basic kitchen range. Even so, it’s a lovely little home, recently restored thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

There’s something so elemental about taking a day out to the seaside in winter. We love to do this because you can walk your dog on the beach, which is forbidden from May-October. But also there’s the amazing cloudscape and sand patterns to watch, the cry of oyster catchers, an army of winter waders and the chance to be buffeted by the wind as you storm along the sea front towards a warm pub. Add in a monster February hail storm and you can see what I mean about elemental.

Recovery in action - a walk by the sea.
Lola came to get over a broken heart; I wanted to forget work for just one weekend; Pete was upset about a book contract going wrong… but the excitement of a very easy journey and then seeing the sea just seemed to raise everyone’s spirits. We got excited about the beach – a swerve of pebbles, sand, mud and shells broken up by seaweed-covered groynes. We chased the dogs chasing each other and chatted as if we’d never stop. And then in Leigh we found a shed selling delicious fish and a plethora of pubs ensuring that we could find at least one that let us in with our two dogs, and had craft beer and sold fish & chips, and veggie stuff. The Crooked Billet is the last pub before the rail station (it’s a 10 minute walk) so the perfect stop-off point.

Leigh is a place of refuge. The current residents probably don’t think of it like that. But this is where many east enders went to in a bid to escape the dirty air and grim surroundings of industrial London, just two or three generations ago. Worldwide people have a tendency to be drawn to the city for work and lifestyle reasons. That’s one of the reasons more people now live in urban environments, rather than rural. But for many Londoners the journey has been the other way, at first to escape the dirt and poverty, and more recently in a search for more affordable housing.

It’s also a lovely day out. And as the visitors’ book at Plumbs Cottage reveals on the sunny Sunday we turned up, that most of us were day trippers from nearby – a lot of Essex addresses – plus a few down from London.

I wonder where those Burders are now? You get used to seeing grand National Trust stately homes and yet here’s a really very modest place that oozes with history, and stories of a bygone age, and yet there are no tales of what it was like to be growing up in such an idyllic place with plenty of access to food – fish and, at the right time of the years, scrumped and foraged fruit and leaves. On Islington Faces I often interview people who definitely knew hunger and neglect in childhood who have moved away and are now home owners. They often have one or more cars, regularly eat out and travel. When they tell me about their lives they so often have a grandchild’s voice of incredulity in their head. “You washed once a week!” “You played out with no adults!” “There was no wifi. Or phones!” Some also lived through the bombing of London during World War Two or were evacuated to a strangers’ house far from their family. It is extraordinary what the generation above me – my mum and dad – put up with or accepted as normal. 

At Leigh Fishmongers fish is sold in a seafront shed and
recipes are pinned to the entrance door.
That said I am fascinated by the way there’s a new generation – and it’s not mine, it’s the millennials – who are challenging accepted norms. Good for them. 

But don’t let any of us forget that we’re only seven meals away from the need to be self-sufficient. All of us (including me) certainly could learn some lessons from the sort of skills the Burders would have known just to survive the everyday.  I think that’s why the next day I made up a fire and lit it – successfully – craving a refresher of the knowledge needed to live so simply. Let’s hope that won’t be needed to ensure we simply live. Like I said, I needed a break…

  • Leigh Heritage Centre and Plumbs Cottage, 13a High Street, Old Town, Leigh on Sea, Essex SS9 2EN
  • Read the interviews on Islington Faces at https://www.islingtonfacesblog.com

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