Clacton and Walton on the Naze via Wivenhoe
WIVENHOE is a little quayside town that is subject to commuter clotting by those who want to avoid the stressful drive into Colchester (which can take 45 minutes). Parking space is so precious that the public car park has introduced a maximum stay of three hours, Monday to Saturday.
The town is gradually metamorphosing from a working port where the oyster catch was all-important, to a boating place with craft shops, attracting local artists and writers. At certain times of year the pubs bulge with students from Essex University, based in the tower blocks in Wivenhoe Park. It is distinct from Colchester five miles away and is cushioned by green fields which are fiercely defended from development. Old shipyards are being turned into new houses and prices vary from £150,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £285,000 for a five-bedroom town house. The ferry to Rowhedge (once used to take the doctor to Fingringhoe and bring men to work in the shipyards) is operated by volunteers from April to October. Detached period houses on the quay cost over £285,000. Smaller three-bedroom Victorian terrace houses come in under £150,000. Wivenhoe has an infant and primary school, and many local societies including the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, the Mercury Youth Theatre and the Pantomime Group. There is also an annual regatta. The new Colne Barrier controls the tidal flow south of town in order to protect homes from flooding during surges.
Great Bentley is chiefly notable for having what is reputed to be the largest village green in England. At 43 acres it swallows the cricket green, two football pitches and the annual gymkhana – and the houses on it are the ones to aim for. Something with three bedrooms off the green might cost £200,000. There is a pharmacy, a Tesco and a farm shop, a primary school and allotments for local residents.
Clacton may one day find itself a conservation area. It epitomises the pre-war seaside resort, where those with fond memories of holidays in bed-and-breakfasts and days on the pier might choose to buy their final bungalow and take up a round of golf on Sundays. The average three-bedroom semi costs £125,000; a two-up-two-down £115,000. It is described by some as being full of ‘East Enders-made-good driving their Range Rovers’.
My dear, if you live in Frinton, you have arrived. That is to say that you have certainly distanced yourself from that frightful candyfloss and razmatazz in Clacton. The old railway level-crossing gates are the heavenly portals to Frinton. Outside is where the modern estates are put, and it isn’t Frinton proper. For Frinton is very proper. There was a huge fight to stop the arrival of a pub (nicknamed locally The Stick and Zimmer), a fish-and-chip shop and even the first ice-cream shop is back from the beach in a discreet position on Connaught Avenue. It also has its commuters who use the direct trains to Liverpool Street. Solicitors, doctors, dentists and accountants are attracted to the cavernous houses – servants’ quarters and tennis courts included – worth over £470,000, that sit in swathes of garden in The Avenues. Connaught Avenue, with its designer clothes shops, jewellers and delicatessens, is known as the Bond Street of Essex. The local clubs and societies cover three foolscap pages, but it is bridge evenings that make the world go round, coupled with the Frinton Summer Theatre, the annual tennis tournament and the 18-hole links. Park Fruit Farm nearby has 40 varieties of apple, 10 varieties of plum, plus pears, raspberries and other soft fruit. They also sell wet walnuts, local honey, cider vinegar and other locally grown produce.
You get sand as fine, but house prices considerably cheaper in Walton on the Naze. A three-bedroom semi on the outskirts could take £185,000 off you. There are regulation seaside resort chip shops, safe bathing, fresh lobster to be bought in the summertime and a pier, but the main attractions are the sheltered inlets behind The Naze where the yacht club is located. The saltings and mudflats, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, are a staging post for flocks of migrating birds and there are monthly guided walks.
Kirby-le-Soken, two miles away, is sought after because of its proximity to Frinton. It was originally threaded on to a single long main street, in the Essex tradition, but has since sprung bungaloid growths around it. One village shop has closed, leaving a post office stores and two pubs. Everybody knows everybody in this village. Cottage windows are papered with posters flagging local events, and gardens are regularly thrown open to the public for good causes. Weed your front garden here and you could spend all day talking to passers-by.