Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside: Memories of Brean Sands

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside – and while we are all stuck at home we thought it would be good to take a trip down memory lane and share stories of our trips to the good old British seaside, from Blackpool to Brighton and everywhere in between.

With all of the current travel restrictions, we might just be gearing up for a summer of sunny (we hope) staycations, holidaying right here in the UK!

What better time to take a moment and reflect. Here, our Salford Community Reporter Chris Vickers shares his memories of Brean Sands with his sister Pat.

“Every July the Vickers’ family decamped to a caravan near Brean Sands, Somerset, for two weeks holiday. Every year, without fail, Dad turned the key in the lock and said ‘the holiday starts now’.

“The form of transport evolved down the years, from a motorbike and sidecar, to a van, then a van with converted windows. Nevertheless, it was always an epic journey. After an hour or so, Dad would say that it was time to stop for a cup of tea at Whitchurch, and not long after that, we would pause for lunch at Preesall.

Pat and Chris

“The endless journey along A-roads encompassed a ferry crossing over the River Severn at Aust, then on through the Royal Forest of Dean. Every year we hit the rush hour at Gloucester, as the local Walls factory changed shifts.

“When we eventually reached the great landmark of Bleadon Hill, even us kids knew we were within spitting distance. The caravan was owned by Ernie, a friend of a friend, who spoke in a barely decipherable Somerset burr. Every year without fail he and Dad would make some joke regarding the traffic on “Bleedin’ Hill”.

“The caravan stood in an early caravan ‘park’. It was a field with a path, where Pat and I would ride little hired bikes around, and in the middle, conspicuously, sat a row of fire buckets. It was quiet and peaceful, there were only a few others around. The caravan was our magical ‘tardis’.

“During the day, a table with bench seats accommodated the family for lunch and enabled board and card games at night, always accompanied by the BBC Light Programme on the transistor. When dusk fell, Dad lit the dim lights one by one, the smell of the Calor gas evoking a lifetime’s recall.

“At night, the table dropped down and the benches converted into a double bed, while partitions provided a second bedroom for us kids. A small chemical loo was adjacent to the front door. Nodding off as a closely-bonded family, with the lingering smell of Calor in our nostrils, soon to be followed by the sound of Dad’s thunderous snoring, was to be in holiday heaven.

On the donkeys at Burnham Sands

“The sands were just over a quiet country lane and were accessed via undulating, golden sand dunes, unlike anything experienced before. Having negotiated the dunes, the reward was an enormous family-friendly beach with an imposing headland. It was where all the great British holiday fun was to be had: sandcastle building, wading in the sea, blow-up beachballs, French cricket and kite flying.

“No donkeys- but Pat and I did get to ride them at Burnham Sands nearby! Despite his dialect, Ernie was an aero technician involved with Concorde’s development at Filton. Dad had been a Spitfire engineer in the war and because of their common interests, Ernie tipped him the wink when Concorde was to be tested, roaring through the air across the beach on its way down the Bristol Channel.

“Every year we visited the usual places- Cheddar Gorge, Blue Anchor Bay, Watchet and Wells Cathedral, where the highlight was the Black Swans that rang the bell at a given time. Every year, each place we revisited enthralled and delighted, as though being seen for the first time.

“Dad was a keen fisherman and I was his willing, though annoying apprentice. Annoying in that, I was constantly restless. I cast like a fly fisherman, ending up with the line in tangled knots, which Mum patiently undid as Dad silently fumed. As he meticulously tackled up, taking absolutely ages, I had invariably landed a fish before he’d even started!

“Mum and Pat would knit or read books on the bank as Dad and I fished and it was usually a peaceful, rural experience. I remember, however, the occasion we were cheerfully going about our pursuits, when suddenly there we heard a loud background ‘snorting’ sound. To our amazement, an enormous sow appeared head down, rootling away and seemingly oblivious to our presence. On she came, big, loud and voluble. Mum and Pat squealed and ran, quickly followed by Dad and me, as she ended up with her nose in our ground-bait containers.

Pat and Chris

“We usually fished until dusk fell and then stopped at a ‘local’ that Dad favoured, so that he and Mum could enjoy some ‘peace and quiet’. Pat and I would sit in the car with the Light Programme on the radio playing softly in the background. Halfway through their adult drinks, Dad would bring us a bottle of pop each and a packet of Smith’s crisps, with the blue bag of salt.

“Once they emerged, it was time to head back to the caravan…but the begging question was whether they’d stop on the way back for faggot and chips, which they invariably did. The car filled with heavenly savoury aromas, our saliva flowing with the delicious flavours. We scoffed as happily as the sow with our ground-bait!

“At the end of our holiday, both Pat and I were inconsolable, as I suspect were Mum and Dad. Our annual trips to Brean sands were special, precious family memories, and unrepeatable as Pontins later colonised the place.”

Enjoyed Chris’ seaside memories? Be sure to check out Gill’s trips to Colwyn Bay, Wales. And we would love to hear your memories too. Leave us a comment or email us at [email protected]


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