I moved to London from Canada 20 years ago but until the pandemic made travel to Europe difficult, I had seen precious little of the rest of the UK. This year I joined the staycation bandwagon: my family spent our main summer break in a down-at-heel seaside town called Walton-on-the-Naze (pictured) in Essex. We dined at a cheery fish-and-chip stand on the beach and – no joke – a biker tea bar called Revved Up that draws owners of customised Harleys from across the country.
Wandering east along the remote Naze peninsula one morning, introducing our city-reared shiba inu puppy to the delights of sand and sea, we stumbled across a beach inhabited by haunted-looking figures: The Sea People, made from natural materials such as willow, hessian, wax, processed clay and terracotta pipe. Artist Nabil Ali was on hand to explain how he made all 15 life-size sculptures – even his paints – from things found on the beach. The tide was already lapping at their feet and they would be gone in a day; Ali’s goal was to draw attention to “the eroding coastline and to represent the forgotten ancestors and lost communities that lie beneath the sea”. Indeed, the remains of a once-coastal village are submerged 14km off the shore here and seaside Walton itself was formerly an inland farming town.
As pandemic restrictions begin to fade from memory and we look forward to going abroad again, I’ll remain a fond convert to the staycation. All the benefits of foreign travel – experiencing other cultures and histories, meeting people from different backgrounds and detaching from familiar routines – we achieved on the East Anglian coast, a 90-minute train journey from home. However far-flung your next destination, it’s worth remembering that the horizon-broadening benefits of travel can also be reaped in your own back garden.