by Harry Pope

our hotel

our hotel

The e-mail arrived, special out of season breaks at very sensible prices. One of the featured hotels happened to be where we had stayed a couple of years previously, so the phone was lifted, number dialled, and Pam was speaking to hotel receptionist.

A lot of people don’t realise that when you book your hotel through an online site, the price has to allow for 20% commission, so the room rate is raised to compensate. If you return to the old tried and trusted method of booking direct you can almost always negotiate a better rate. The discounted figure on the e-mail was very attractive, but after the phone conversation we had even more off, with a two night break with dinner bed and breakfast in a superior double room for £180. The hotel was the Kingscliffe, the location Holland on Sea.

Walton on the Naze map

Walton on the Naze map

This is a small place on the Essex coast two miles to the north of Clacton, which is a funfair filled holiday destination for families on a budget, mostly from the East End of London. Clacton is accessed via the military town of Colchester, site of an ancient Roman settlement. This town has a weird road system by-passing the town centre that can be confusing for those more used to driving on the right side of the road. There are double roundabouts only negotiable with care, as within 500 yards a further roundabout has to be carefully driven round. From one to the other there is a choice of routes, to the right or left, you will arrive on the same road, just be confused as to how you got there. In the meantime keep your peripheral vision on maximum awareness.

But the roadside flowers are nice.

Twenty miles or so further on is Clacton, turn north, or left, they are both the same, and either drive along the coast road or the inland one, doesn’t really matter, just one is more pleasing to the eye than the other. The inland road is just under a mile away from the coast, and is interesting in itself because of the contrasting buildings. This is bungalow land for retired East Londoners, local planners have given consent for a post WW2 building boom where no two single storey houses look the same. Of course there are homes with upper levels. When you arrive at Holland shops, you are still a mile away from the coast, which doesn’t really matter because you have arrived in a little Britain enclave. Funeral offices outnumber charity shops.

Walton on the Naze pier

Walton on the Naze pier

There is a main connecting road to the coast, at the end is the Kingscliffe Hotel. This is owned by Surya Hotels, a select group mainly in the south of England. The Kingscliffe is on two floors, ground and upper. The main bar, restaurant and function room are ground floor, with seven rooms, all other accommodation above. We were there on Sunday and Monday nights, restaurant supposedly only open until 8pm, but there was a party of ten staying, and the kitchen remained open despite them inconsiderately arriving half an hour later. We were amazed that the chef didn’t throw a public wobbly, maybe he only indulged privately. Monday morning after breakfast we read papers in the bar for a while, then off to Frinton on Sea.

This is about ten miles to the north, an enclave of middle-class civility. Only one road in and out via the level crossing, because to the south is the golf course, and north a headland. The two-way high street has the ubiquitous undertakers, as well as one on the roundabout opposite the level crossing. There are many charity shops selling quality goods, one even specialising in musical and camera equipment. Cafes abound, a post office, pub, no chain shops, all locally privately owned. Our chosen coffee shop had a big sign on the door stating push only, which I didn’t see so pulled. Fortunately, no regrettable consequences. Delicious homemade cakes as well as Americano coffee far superior to any found in larger chains. We had a wander around, then back in the car for a drive round. North again, this time to Walton on the Naze.

Brightlingsea harbour

Brightlingsea harbour

The Naze is a small tributary river flowing into the north sea above Southend. A strange place, with a short pier, quite a long seafront access, culminating in a dead end observation café with large car park inaccessible to coaches. There is a general impression of retirement poverty, not somewhere you would necessarily stay for a luxury break. The children’s playground had an unused feeling, the shops didn’t make you want to get out the car and spend, so we returned scenically to the Kingscliffe.

Both evening meals were excellent but unexceptional. The service was very attentive, the only fault is with the drinks prices, which were on the high side. We were pleasantly surprised that cocktails were available, albeit a Cosmopolitan with some ingredients not found elsewhere and an initial surprise to Pam’s palate. She soon recovered.

We took a different route for our return journey via Colchester, via Jaywick and Brightlingsea. The former is a summer destination with most homes temporarily constructed for year long occupation. Single storey caravans that should have been demolished years ago, Jaywick is accessed by one road through a parade of shops, all with protection and few windows open to vulnerable vandals. There is a long, high sea wall protecting a road and lower lying mobile homes. Again we didn’t stop, but a further twenty minute drive away Brightlingsea is a real contrast, money being invested in new buildings, an appealing coast, and little cafes serving appetising tasters.

Holland on Sea beach

Holland on Sea beach

An enjoyable break, reasonably priced accommodation, with interesting places to visit. We shall return.