Britain: The beach before Baywatch

Frinton-on-Sea has a `strand', not a beach, and no modern nonsense like surfboards. Annie Caulfield visits this most genteel of English resorts

On Clacton pier there's a stern warning not to dive into the sea from the pier's sides or support struts. The warning notice ends with the words: "The pier proprietors and the District Council accept no liability for persons indulging in this foolish activity." And that firmly sets the tone for this part of England's east coast. Brighton has gone trendy, Cornwall inspires artists and Blackpool has been remarketing itself as post modern kitsch but Clacton and Frinton are proper, old-fashioned, no- nonsense resorts where holiday makers are known to be ill-mannered beasts from cities - and need to be told what to do.

In Clacton there are cafes that still warn patrons not to bring in their own bread and butter and proudly declare that they are "not a self-service establishment". And they are further instructed "please remain in your seats and wait to be helped".

Such cafes not only like to keep their customers in their place but don't believe in bourgeois Continental pretensions - instant coffee is served in white Pyrex coffee cups, plastic flowers in plastic vases are the extent of design or theming, and they would never dream of serving fancy nonsense like microwaved lasagne. What sort of a meal is that, when people could be eating wholesome egg and chips or meat pies?

Clacton has made some concessions to modern fleshpottery, with vast gaming arcades and discos lurking in the basements of the big pink-washed hotels. But the arcades still have the old Penny Waterfalls alongside Virtual Reality and you just know that the hotel discos will have DJs who talk between the records and play "Three Times A Lady".

Although the pier and promenades are sturdily Edwardian, there is an overriding sense of being back into late Fifties England, when notions like topless sunbathing or clubs that stay open after 1am would be greeted with blank incomprehension. But Clacton is a San Antonio, compared with Frinton next door.

Frinton District Council ferociously enforces a bye-law that forbids the building or opening of any commercial establishment along the mile of its front. The coast road is all discreet, rose-bordered bungalows - low rise blocks of sheltered housing and some astounding outbursts of Thirties architecture surrounded by lilac and more roses. There are a pleasingly large number of those white, curvy houses that took like cruise liners - the type of house that rich victims in Agatha Christie books inhabit.

Between the road and the lower promenade is a steep, grassy slope on which hundreds of old-fashioned beach huts nestle. They're pink, white, pale blue, apple green, teak veneer ... Each one has a distinct and lovingly cared for character.

On a fine day, elderly couples sit on the front porch of their beach huts and look out over a clean swathe of sea, sand and wooden breakwaters. Nothing to worry them but the occasional group of odd-looking characters from other parts of the country walking the promenade.

We odd-looking characters were very over-excited to find we had so much beach to ourselves. Although, somehow, calling it a beach seems as inappropriate as saying, "alright mate", to one of the colonel types taking constitutionals along the prom. Frinton is a strand, definitely nothing so bucket-and- spadey vulgar as a seaside, or as American as shore.

One might enjoy a swim here, in a sensible and vigorous fashion, provided one isn't sporting a too brightly coloured bathing suit - oh definitely bathing suits in Frinton, or, bathing dress, but no G-strings or unnecessary cleavages. And no confusing the local residents with bizarre equipment like surfboards. A spot of quiet fishing would be encouraged, or dog walking but not jogging, snagging, volleyball or, heaven forbid, jet skis.

This is a place where picnics are still ham sandwiches with a flask of tea and maybe a sticky bun. A place where the fright of a Frisbee still raises startled heads from newspaper reading.

If you did do something untoward, like turn exuberant cartwheels, as a friend of mine felt compelled to after ingesting excessive ozone, the locals wouldn't turn nasty or make a scene. They'd smile slightly, with baffled, very British politeness and turn away, pretending not to see.

There was something wonderful about being greeted with a courteous, cheery "good afternoon" by every passer-by. And in having discovered a stretch of coast that remains gloriously and resolutely eccentric. If Alan Bennett went to the seaside, he'd go to Frinton, along with the Queen Mother and the older characters from The Archers, although Frinton is really much more Mrs Dale's Diary.

Nothing happens here, it's not supposed to. The local paper had front page news of a forthcoming garden fete, the girls' school sponsored walk for new netball equipment, and the startling revelation of faulty water pipes in several public conveniences. Incidentally, Frinton has about one public convenience per half-dozen people; I don't know if this reflects on the elderly nature of its inhabitants and visitors, or is just plain considerate hospitality.

By not standing for any foolish behaviour, like attempts to commercialise, develop or admit the existence of decades after the Sixties, Frinton has kept itself pure - a pretty, unspoilt and gently soothing place to visit.

It's like a mad old aunt in a print frock you laugh at but always want to give a great big hug.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

SEN Science Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum + SEN allowance: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are ...

MLD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: MLD teachers required West Midlands...

Media Studies Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for a M...

History Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup