With temperatures across Britain set to break record highs, Jeremy and I decided to try to survive the heat by renting a car and driving to the seaside town of Hunstanton on the Norfolk Coast. I can’t claim responsibility for this brilliant idea. Jeremy came home from a long day at work last week and made the suggestion that we treat ourselves to a day at the beach. I couldn’t agree fast enough.
It’s funny coming from such a driving culture in the US to view renting a car and having a little road trip as a treat, but after spending nearly four years in the UK without a car, relying on walking, buses, trains, and bikes to travel, being able to pack up a car and blast some tunes as we drove down the A14 was a lovely change. We packed up a picnic bag, threw in some towels, a blanket, changes of clothes, and lots of sunscreen and headed out to the seaside.
If you look at a map of where Cambridge is, you find out very quickly that getting to the nearest beach means at least a drive of an hour and a half. It’s sort of equidistant from either the north Norfolk coast or the south Essex coast. You could travel slightly further and be at the Suffolk coast, but in the end, it’s not terribly close to any coastal towns. (Close by British standards of travel.) We decided upon Hunstanton in Norfolk, a coastal town on the Wash. Jeremy was excited to tell me about the Wash and so now I’m excited to tell you about it. It’s an estuary and bay where Norfolk and Lincolnshire meet. It’s fed by four rivers and leads out to the North Sea. There, now wasn’t that fascinating?
I was just excited to be heading to the beach for the day. The heatwave had been getting to me and the thought of a sea breeze, sand, and cool water was the most refreshing thought I could think of. Because the weather tends to be mild here, most places are not air conditioned. It also happens that the design of our flat is not conducive to air flow and so even just sitting and watching telly meant that we would be dripping with sweat. It’s funny how in those moments where your body is struggling to cool itself, your mind will toss up funny quirks you had forgotten about.
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, we often were celebrating the last weeks of school in incredible heat and humidity. Air conditioning was an unthinkable luxury and so our teachers would often turn off the lights (not because they produced a great deal of heat, but because it made us think it was cooler), and there would be several fans going in each classroom. Schools would also hand out popsicles (iced-lollies for my British readers). Now these were very specific popsicles; they came in long, clear plastic, and were basically frozen artificial flavouring. They were amazing. We would all fight over who got the blue ones because they tasted the best.
Now, sitting in my flat in Cambridge, sweating from pores I didn’t even know I had, my mind began to crave one of those popsicles. Feverishly, I tried to explain what they were to Jeremy who didn’t quite understand what I was talking about. You see the problem with being an immigrant is that often familiar products are known by different names here. I began Googling and found them! Fla-Vor-Ice. Apparently here they are called ice pops. While we would eventually find them and buy a box to sate my heatwave-craving, I found the trip to the seaside was far more refreshing than any popsicle could be.
The drive went by so quickly. We arrived at the town and parked in a sandy lot next to the Fun Fair. It looked a bit like the Fun Fairs from Scooby-Doo. The rides were motionless, the stores boarded up. There were graphics of Disney-esque characters and a few scary clown faces. I suppose the fair is closed on Mondays. We made our way around the silent rides and out to the boardwalk to the sea.
It was beautiful.
The sky was blue and clear, the water was sparkling in the sunlight, and the pebbly, sandy beach stretched out before us. We found a spot a little ways down and laid out our blanket. After slathering each other in sunscreen, we picked our way a bit painfully over the sharp shells and stones to the water. It was lovely. We waded a bit and then headed back to our blanket for lunch.
Back in New Jersey, I had spent my fair share of days down the shore. Rarely I would go into the ocean. The surf can be a bit punishing and after being pulled under a few times, I tended to spend my beach days reading on the sand and going into the surf up to my knees and no further. On occasion I would go all the way in, but it was rare. I retained a fearful respect for the Atlantic.
After lunch, Jeremy and I approached the Wash and began wading in. It occurred to me then how gentle the water was. It was smooth and even, no waves or surf. The water was also very clear. I could see the rocks on the bottom and little schools of tiny fish swimming around me. The water was cool and it took me some time to get used to it but before I knew it I was swimming and jumping and splashing around without any fear of being pulled under. It was the most fun I’ve had swimming in open water.
After our swim, we realised we needed something to shade us. While it was cooler at the shore, the sun was beating down on us and despite multiple applications of sunscreen, we were both afraid of burning. Jeremy set off to buy a parasol from one of the shops along the boardwalk. It felt like an hour later when I spied a tall form in a blue shirt and a white panama hat walking down the boardwalk. It couldn’t be Jeremy, he didn’t own a hat like that and certainly didn’t have one when he set off. It was Jeremy. Turns out all of the shops in Hunstanton had sold out of parasols the previous weekend. The closest Jeremy could come was a pair of hats. I was actually very impressed with his sense of fashionable head-wear.
After laying on the beach for a bit longer, I decided to have another swim. It didn’t take as long to get used to the cold water this time. I spent as much time as I could out in the Wash. I wanted to soak up every moment I could in the water.
Later in the day, Jeremy and I returned to the car and left some of our excess baggage. We then went for a walk down to the striped white and red cliffs of Hunstanton. We strolled along, stopping to wade in the sea again and to look at a little tidal pool. We then walked back into the town a little ways and through a beautiful cliff-side garden overlooking the sea.
On our way back to the car we stopped for some ice cream, a necessary for anyone spending time at the beach. We tried to eat more quickly than the heat could melt our treats. It was a close race.
I felt quite sad when we got into the car at the end of our day. I didn’t want to leave. It had been such a perfect day. As we drove off, we began talking about the next time we could come back. It can’t come soon enough!