Friday, 7 October 2011

Walton-On-The-Naze Pier to Frinton-On-Sea (Circular Walk)

In which I walk from Walton Pier to Frinton-on-Sea, am generally impressed by the British ability to pile onto the seaside at any given notice, and consider it high time to reclaim Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Ordnance Survey Number: Explorer 184
Distance: 4 miles approx

Time: 1 hour 40  mins

Rating: Easy

Struck by an unseasonably warm October weekend, we did what a large section of the Great British public also appeared to do - we headed to the beach. The ability of the nation to drop everything, tear off their clothes and lie, gently perspiring, in even the mildest patch of sunshine is testament to how little we actually see any days of good-quality sun. Those of us on the Essex coast on the first week of October 2011 were not disappointed.

After the nappy debacle of The Aldbury Circuit last week, I was very keen on rebuilding my confidence with a walk with conveniently placed baby-change, which may in some way suggest why this walk takes you past not only a pretty part of the Essex coastline, but also a minimum of four public toilets.

The Chap is not amused.
Composure recovered.
The only downsides - if you are a baby - is that a) you can get too hot, and b) your parents insist on slathering you in sun cream. This is an enterprise that can take up to three full-grown adults - two to rub the cream in, and one to take the photos.

However, all was quickly forgiven, and the chap was stowed in the sling for his trip along the coast. This walk starts at the glamorous location of Walton Pier, over the entrance of which is emblazoned the legend 'The Happiest Sound in All The World is That Of Children's Laughter'. I find the whole place oddly menacing.

Stand facing the classic beauty of the pier (the charm of which is certainly improved now the letter A has disappeared, possibly stolen by Nathaniel Hawthorne fans), and then turn right towards the promenade and the beach huts.

This is a nice, flat, easy walk route that is good for prams, although you may have to dodge the odd family sitting on plastic chairs below their beach hut. One of the interesting things about walking from Walton to Frinton is seeing the change in the huts - Walton is definitely more brightly coloured, gaudier, and often in multiple rows. Frinton, on the other hand, is more restrained - huts may be blue, white or unpainted, because That's Just The Way Things Are Done. It's Frinton, darling. It's a place where currently, and without irony, there is a restaurant calling itself The Last Viceroy Of British India. That sort of bear.

The beach and serried ranks of beach huts at Walton.

The first half of this walk is very simple - you walk from the Walton end of the prom to where it stops in Frinton. The weather was weirdly better than it had been when we were last here in July, where the chap ended the day wrapped up in all sorts of woolly goodies to keep him warm.

Today, however, was sunny and lovely, and the joy of the sling is that you have hands free to enjoy a rum & raisin icecream - always helpful to the thought processes, I find. I've recently been reading the 'Wild & Wanton' edition of Pride and Prejudice, which advertised itself as Austen's work with some added Hot Bennet Action, but has sadly turned out to be rubbish - Lydia getting occasionally frisky and a few desultory Mr Darcy masturbation scenes doesn't really classify as Wild & Wanton in my book, but then again it all depends on your viewpoint. If you want an alternative P & P, I'd advise you strongly to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which opens  with the sentence 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains', and only gets more pleasing as it goes along.

Heading towards Frinton
Anyway, what Michelle M Pillow's atrocious attempt at gilding Austen's lily has done is made me look at the original and really appreciate the restraint of the original prose. But also on this reading I have been drawn towards the character of Mrs Bennet. For me, Alison Steadman's performance in the 1996 BBC production (and Colin Firth's big break in his lovely wet shirt) really nailed Mrs Bennet - shrieky, ludicrous, overbearing. Indeed, Austen herself is not a fan of the character, going as far to describe her as 'a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper'; and that's when she's feeling generous. But now with one baby giving me cause to clutch at my nightgown and demand that someone takes interest in the protection of my nerves, I begin to feel that Mrs Bennet has maybe been unjustly dealt with.

The woman has had 5 babies, and as Lady Catherine de Bourgh stresses, had no governess or staff to help in the raising of them. I've only got one baby, and some days I feel like my grip on sanity is pretty wafer thin. Not only that, but the baby I have was conceived by choice when I felt I was ready for it (or as ready as I'd ever be) - I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be relentlessly pregnant with the only choice of guaranteed non-conception being to refuse sex, and in doing so risk your husband going out to prostitutes and coming home to infect you with something horrific. Combine that with high mortality rates, and it's a wonder any woman managed to stay sane.

Maybe she would have found her nerves more easily dealt with if they'd all taken a carriage to Frinton beach, where some impressive fort building can be got underway. The endeavour below had all been achieved by midday, and as you can see from the gentleman in the middle left of the picture, Phase 2 of this imposing enterprise appeared to involve tunnelling. All very impressive.

Sterling work, gentlemen.

However, Mr Bennet refuses to go to fashionable Brighton, much less Frinton, so there's no joy for Mrs Bennet on that front. Moreover, the five babies she has all turn out to be girls, leaving her in very real danger of being out on her ear when her husband dies. Jane Austen sets Mrs Bennet up to be ridiculed for her relentless banging on about the estate being entailed away to Mr Collins, but say Mr Bennet died in Chapter 27 - what would happen to the family then? If Mrs Bennet's brother Mr Gardiner was not kind to her, then she would be a gentlewoman with no house, no home, nowhere to go, no staff to look after her. It was very important if you were part of the gentry to uphold those ideals, so there's little likelihood of her knowing how to make her own cup of tea, let alone cook or earn a wage. The chances are that if Mr Bennet did die before one of her daughters married 'well', it's a long slow slide to poverty, prostitution and death. I rather think that would pray on your mind. When Lydia doesn't quite elope with Wickham, Mrs Bennet complains of 'such flutterings, all over me, such spasms in my side, and pains in my head, and beatings at heart, that I can get no rest by night or by day'. Knowing that your daughter eloping seriously affects the chances of your other daughters making 'good' marriages probably would  lead you to panic attacks, because you know what is coming to you is a pretty poor old age.
The Greensward, Frinton-on-Sea
By now we had reached the end of the prom - you can choose either to go up a set of annoyingly shallow (and slightly uneven) steps or up a ramp to the Greensward and the Frinton public toilets - now is your time if the baby needs changing. The chap, of course, didn't; he likes to save his epic nappies for more awkward occasions.

Once you reach the Greensward, turn right and head back towards Walton Pier, visible in the distance (or, if you have had enough, you can head straight up Connaught Avenue in the direction of the station and a train back to Walton). Either route, you can feel a little unnerved when your son starts babbling at passers-by - it would be all very cute and lovely if the syllable he hadn't recently started on wasn't "Die! Die! Die! Die!".

So why does Austen set Mrs Bennet up as a character for ridicule? In many ways, she probably is a vain and silly woman. She doesn't seem to exist as a holy fool to make some noble pronouncement and redeem herself - she's silly at the start, and silly still by the end. The only thing she does achieve is that she atually does have three out of five daughters married before the year ends - she is, in fact, wholly succesful in her aims, and Jane and Mr Bingley's relationship does indeed 'throw the girls into the path of other rich men. '. Austen may set out to sneer at her, but Mrs Bennet is a wholly succesful product of her time - society says she must get daughters married off and protect her future, and so she does. Of course, you can argue that Jane and Elizabeth married despite Mrs Bennet's efforts, and poor old Lydia is probably going to die in penury or from syphilis due to her husband's gaming and whoring - if childbirth doesn't get her, of course. But whatever the argument, in the end it's all semantics: society says she needs to marry her daughters 'well', and she does it. She is, in that respect, made of win.
The beach and Walton Pier from the Greensward

My suspicion is that Jane Austen saw these women in real life and despised them, despised their witterings and their attacks of nerves. However, she herself never married, never had to deal with the inevitability of a pregnancy that could lead to her own death in childbirth, and, if you survived, having to worry about the death of your own child. Doing that five times, combined with the threat of having your entire life being taken away from you upon the death of your husband, I think would leave you somewhat stressed. Before I had a child I was completely on the side of the team that claims the woman is a fool. Now, however, I think there is space for Mrs Bennet to be reclaimed. She is loud and overdramatic, but is this not a coping strategy she has developed in a house where there are five children all clamouring for her time, and a husband who disappears off to his library every chance he gets? Is it so far to imagine that all her attacks of nerves she has are symptoms of a genuine distress - the fear of being left to fend for herself and five daughters when you have little ot no money or means to support yourselves? I still wouldn't want to find myself trapped in the kitchen with her at a party, but I think that Mrs Bennet may not be as unreasonable and ridiculous as Austen appears to want us to think.

Keep going past the marker for fallen policeman Brian 'Bill' Bishop until you reach the end of the Greensward. It finishes in a little dirt path that leads you onto a tarmaced walk. You can turn left up this walk and take the pavements of Woodbury Way, and then take the first left down Southview Drive (good if it's hot and you would like some shade for a little bit), or you can turn right and head down the walk and then take the first left that will lead to a grassier route past the caravan park. Either way, you will appear back on the front, and take a paved path past the backs of some houses. You will shortly come to a gate - pass through this onto Southcliffe, straight on to Woodbery Way for a hundred metres of so, then bear right all the way down The Parade until you find yourself back where you started.

It's all very pretty, really. I love Frinton and its excessive primness - indeed, I urge you to pick up a copy of The Frinton and Walton Gazette, which is a publication that fills me with inexplicable joy. It is cover to cover mutterings over goings-on in Clacton and Jaywick, the people of Walton wagging fingers at Frinton's nimbyism and Frinton hissing back 'but not INSIDE the gates!'. I have a great fondness for it. And everything looks a bit better when the sun is shining - except, perhaps, Walton Pier.

Things I Learnt
  • As noted, babywearing leaves you free to enjoy a seaside icecream as you walk - a previously unconsidered advantage over prams, which I just can't steer one handed.
  • Despite a reputation for restraint, the Great British public need only a mild glimmer of a nice day before we all run to the beach and strip off.
  • My son is like a canary - wide awake one minute, but cover him over with his hood and he'll be asleep in seconds.


  1. I retreat to my library (or computer) every chance I get and I only live with one woman. Mr Bennet has my sympathy.

    Where has the 'A' disappeared from? There appears to be a sizeable 'A' in you picture.
    I will have to look up the Hawthorne reference. I hate it when that happens.

  2. It's not a fabulous picture, I grant you, but the letter A has fallen out of the word 'all', leaving an 'ole behind.

    As to the Hawthorne reference, I think it may have been one of the books I pretended to have read. However, for further information, see

  3. I love this. It has made me rethink my opinion of Mrs. B so much that I think i will reread the book now ;)

    Also I greatly enjoyed the Scarlet Letter, even if it left me depressed for a few days and concerned for years after whenever someone mentions it.