As a child, Fishpool used to regularly visit the Dorset town of Swanage, where many relations still reside. In the summer, the town was abuzz. The bay was always full of sails, the beach a mass of splashing children and sun-bathing parents. In the evening, the lights of the pier would shimmer in the waves – the cries of gulls would be replaced by the laughter of people and the salt of the sea would be complemented by the vinegar ooze of the seaside chippies.
It felt alive, and I felt alive with it. Yet, just a few months later, a visit to Swanage would feel like a trip to another world.
In the grey of winter, with the deserted sand and padlocked beach huts, the cracks of reality became apparent. Without the flash of lights, the boarded up arcades seemed nothing more than tatty lean-to’s in desperate need of a lick of paint. People no longer filled tables outside the bars and cafes, and instead the streets seemed desolate and tired – the 20p nets and buckets and spades packed away until the spring. I used to struggle with the sobriety of it all, but in recent years I have come to realise that this is the perfect time to visit such places.
Aside from the empty roads and ample parking, winter gives us a chance to find the true soul of the seaside town. There are still fishing boats working from the harbour, and still people casting lines from the pier. Only the finest chip shops will be open, and best of all you have time to stop and take it all in…