Sunday 28th and Monday 29th April 2019
Having booked relatively early flights from Southend Airport for Monday morning, we decided to stay in the airport hotel the night before to avoid the stress of the M25 during rush hour.
With time to spare, Matilda persuaded Robert that a trip to Southend Pier would be a pleasant way to pass the afternoon.
Travelling to Southend Airport Station from Liverpool Street is straightforward [and is much cheaper than the fare to Stansted]. It is then a very short walk to the terminal or the hotel. Having deposited our luggage, we returned to the station to get the train into Southend itself. There is a lift down to the promenade which features a row of arches housing almost exclusively fish and chip shops extending into the distance and which probably has not changed for decades.
Southend Pier is the longest leisure pier in the world at 1.33 miles or 7,080 feet. As the estuary is quite shallow at the edges, the tide goes out a long way stranding boats as the waters recede.
There is a train along the pier so it is strange that we have not visited before now. We opted to walk to the far end and return by rail. In a shrewd commercial move, the journey from the end of the pier back to land is more expensive if you walk out and then decide your legs need a rest than it is if you book the return journey when you are still on land. We did the latter, not because a mile or so walk is particularly tiring but, obviously, because we needed to experience the train.
As with so many of these beautiful and iconic seaside constructions, fire has taken its toll and the pavilion which graced the shore end of the pier burnt down in 1959.
There is a certain pleasure, which the Victorians must also have enjoyed, in walking out above the ocean with the waves visible through the cracks in the planks of the pier beneath your feet.
There is an RNLI station and shop at the end of the pier and these waterways are a sobering reminder of both past conflicts and military ineptitude. While we were in the shop we were told that at low tide you can see the masts of the wreck of the US Liberty ship, the SS Richard Montgomery. This vessel still lies where it sank with 1,400 tonnes of unexploded ordinance aboard.
You can also see the remnants of a stranded Mulberry Harbour which broke up and was never deployed.
A reassuring sign informed Robert that he could “Catch a beer on the pier”.
On the train ride back the tide had turned and re-floated the stranded boats.
Matilda has long realised that she needs to be very careful what she wishes for. Southend provided further proof. She has been wanting to go to Southend Pier for some time, but whilst there Robert picked up a leaflet and discovered that it is possible to travel via boat from Rochester to Southend Pier and thence to the airport and on to, perhaps, Gdańsk. Knowing Robert’s penchant for multiple modes of transport, you can expect a journey using this route some time in the near future.
Monday morning was very foggy and a combination of flight delays, travel from Reus to Barcelona and then on to our hotel and the hour difference meant we did not have any time for culture other than a stroll down La Rambla and some beer and tapas.