Back in Southend this week, I found myself on another blast beach but for very different reasons to the one I wrote about recently. Heading down the steps from the parking area, impressions were initially positive.
This is the Thames Estuary however, so the low tide reveals acres of mud and shingle, which are very attractive to dunlins, oyster-catchers, curlews and other shoreline birds, but don’t really fulfil the expectations of a beach.
This is East Beach at Shoeburyness; a pleasant walk on a sunny day, but be careful where you place your feet. For one thing the shell and shingle makes bare feet an uncomfortable option. For another the beach is studded with numerous protuberances that will trip you if you’re not paying attention. Lumps of masonry, and the wooden stumps of former jetties and breakwaters lie in wait to turn an ankle. Lengths of corroded chain rise from the gritty surface to send the unsuspecting walker flying headlong.
And why would the walker be distracted? At the eastern extreme is a structure that reaches out from shore to river. And reaches and reaches. The pier at nearby Southend may be the worlds longest, but it is a mere worm in comparison to this seaside serpent’s original length. This is a defence boom built out into the river during the Second World War, to restrict the access of enemy shipping and submarines into the Thames, and it hints at the martial history of Shoeburyness, for adjoining the line of the boom a fence continues inland; another barrier, this time preventing entry onto land owned by the MOD (Ministry of Defence). Shoeburyness was an important garrison for artillery for many years, and was also home to the testing of experimental weaponry. The blasts here were very different to those at Seaham, and are the real reason to be careful where you tread.
This violence and danger seem at odds with the name of the place. Shoeburyness. To me it conjures up thoughts of a feast of fruity eclairs. For Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and his collaborator John Lloyd it suggested something very different. In their book The Meaning of Liff, they have taken many place names and given their definitions of what the word might mean aside from its geographic significance. This is what Shoeburyness suggested to them.
The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.