"Harwich - like a trip to eastern Europe?" Harwich by arturowan
Harwich Travel Guide: 68 reviews and 145 photos
I've a theory about how to sum up a place from a first impression - check the town clock - if it's telling the wrong time, then it ain't the sort of place worth hanging around in. Harwich town clock (on the crossroads, corner of Kingsway), has never told the correct time - it tells different times from day to day, but never correct, so it appears to be in a timezone all of its own. I think this reflects a lot about the sort of place that is Harwich, & as another contributor on here observes, "it's an oddbod sort of place..." & I think "oddbod" manages to sum up Harwich in 1 word; both the downside of the resort, but also a part of its charm, because it's strangely alike eastern Europe, but on the North Sea coast. Ever since travelling to 0dessa & Varna, I'm reminded of these sister, port towns, whenever I stroll beside Harwich waterfront, with Bob Dylan's lyric from 'Simple Twist 0f Fate', surging through my mind. Port towns, sharing a similar bond to the sea, will have a superficial similarity, but Harwich is such a rundown place, quite contrary to the obvious prosperity being generated from the franctic activity, at its own port & across the bay in Felixstowe. Felixstowe port IS the 0dessa of UK - though I should state, '0dessa is the Felixstowe of the Black Sea', because Felixstowe can handle bigger freight, yet its town, is somehow resistant to development & remains a resort of village proportions. It contradicts what any humanities teacher, teaches - settlements develop into cities around rivers - London was once a village aside the Thames. Harwich also seems stunted, & like 0dessa, the obvious prosperity of its location, seems to bypass the benefit of the place & its people. Like the town clock, Harwich exists in its own time, that is somehow out of step with the rest of UK. 0bserve the town railway station - the windows are all boarded over like a derelict building - it's an eyesore, & in this respect, UK is more like eastern Europe than eastern Europe, because over there, such a centre of passing people would DEMAND enough ENTERPRISE, in order to contain at least 1 cafe, a newspaper stall & assorted vendors of refreshments & souvenirs. In eastern Europe, they understand that where there are travellers, there is a market for selling fast food & drink, but this simple fact is lost on the so-called, 'managers' of UK railway stations, who allow the buildings to become empty shells & go to wreck & ruin. This attitude to utilisable buildings is all too prevalent throughout this town - there are too many boarded up shops & factory units - indicative that greedy landlords have more money than sense, so won't reduce their exhorbitant rents to suit this recessionary era. In UK at present, storage is a growth industry & there is a shortage of available units, yet in the Harwich area, dozens of recently watertight industrial units, stand abandoned to be ruined by vandalism & the encroachment of nature. The smug attitude that causes this, has been the deathknell for many an English seaside resort, & without its port, 1 has to wonder where would Harwich be now?
Look at Beacon Hill Fort, whose concrete towers dominate the far end of the promenade, like sculptures of redolent decay. It was built in WWI, but really came into use during the 1939-45 conflict, when the Luftwaffe regularly flew over Harwich, attempting to drop bombs on the port. Since being decommissioned, the fort has fallen into a serious state of decay, that was considered a danger to the public, to the extent that the local council wasted £10,000 erecting a fence around it. This, supposedly, was to stop Harwich's children, who were responsible for vandalising the place, from going in there & doing any more damage, & earning their deserved fate & hurting themselves in the process. It should be clear to a hedgehog, that a fence around such a site achieves only 1 thing for children - creation of an obstacle to climb over. So, £10,000 of local taxpayers money that could & should have been spent on developing this rundown resort, was absolutely wasted...
If Harwich is 'the seaside town they forgot to pull down', then I suppose that makes Walton-on-the-Naze, just across the bay, 'the seaside town they forgot to bomb'. Walton-on-the-Naze is a traditional seaside resort, whose population escalates 2 fold in peak season, when the caravan camps are crammed to capacity. Harwich has also succumbed to the development of seasonal mobile home camps, most notably on the site that used to be the Warner's holiday camp, & in both cases, these towns have lost character because of this. The estuary side of the Naze is clearly visible, unless its a foggy day, with its tall tower on the cliff side, rising up from the landmass across the sea. From Dovercourt beach this stretch of coastline, from Walton, through to Kirby & both 0akley's, is the most prominent scenery, but much of it is inaccessable for hiking. However, on the reverse side of Harwich peninsula, where the estuary runs towards Manningtree, from Parkeston, into Bradfield & Wrabness, this is linked by public footpaths. Most of this coastline is recognised as a conservation area & is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, or RSPB. If you enjoy birdwatching, then the estuary here is exceptional, & I think the view is made all the more interesting by the backdrop of Parkeston ferry passenger terminal & the Carless fuel storage facility. A fundamental part of the charm of Harwich, is its combination of the old & new - untouched nature & ancient sea port, together with modern chemical synthesising industry. It is a contrary mix, but on a gloomy day, the lights from the fuel terminal on the industrial side of town, cast an inspiring glow upon an otherwise bleak, apparently uninhabited backwater...
1 of the quirkiest things about Harwich, & something greatly in its favour, is the number of independent retailers around it streets, so it appears more like an English town as I remember from the 1970's, before the multi's & chain stores made everywhere generic. The only exception are the supermarkets, & Harwich must be 1 of the very few places left in the British Isles, not to have been thoroughly taken over by Tesco. Like many towns in the local area, it was monopolised by the Co-op group, but they closed their '5-ways', so now, 4 different brands are represented in the central shopping area. But no visit to Harwich is worthwhile, just sightseeing the towncentre, because what makes the resort so SPECIAL - is its side streets & waterfront. It feels like every street corner has its story to tell, & there are too many episodes in its history to relate here, but if you visit, I think you will want to know more, so if its a rainy day, why not check out the local history section in the library (up the hill from the crossroads, in Kingsway). Harwich library opens 09:00-06:00 Monday & Tuesday, 09:00-05:00 Thursday - Saturday, & its 1 of the better facilities of its type, in Essex. Like any coastal resort, Harwich does suffer out of season, & the bleak weather, typical of such time, makes the place difficult to recommend all year around, unless you're dedicated to knowing more of the place. However, if you're visiting Harwich in order to acquaint yourself with its many pubs, the weather is not so important, as around the old town, there seems literally to be 1 around every corner, so even in a rainstorm, several steps will take you between establishments. In Church Street, the sacred spire dedicated to Saint Nicholas, was once sandwiched between 2 pubs, though such competition has not survived in this time of pub closures. It might seem ironic that Church Street might better have been named 'pub street', but the neighbour to Saint Nicholas, that closed - The Three Cups, once had a Biblical legend attached to its name. A clever excuse I should suppose, in order to justify attendants at the church, having the excuse to stop off next door, after Sunday service. Another drinking establishment in the waterfront area, worth its own mention, is The Alma - properly known as The Alma Inn & Dining Rooms, this is no longer applicable, since the government outlawed cigarette consumption in public places. Its atmosphere might be clearer now, but The Alma has not altered in appearance - its frosted glass windows & huge globe lamp, that glows a vivid orange, even in the foggiest night, giving the inn the look of a Dickensian establishment of ill-repute. Weather a pub person, or not, these old drinking establishments, are all part of Harwich's old world charm, but you do not need a stuffed wallet & hollow legs to enjoy this resort. 0n a dry day, there is nowhere better to stop off, than Ha'penny Pier, 1 of the many jettys, crammed together beside the docks & promenade. A half penny, after which the pier was named, after the original charge to enter, is no longer UK currency, & it now has free access to anybody, having become an observation point for those wanting to observe the local sea traffic, or activity at Felixstowe docks. It is right beside the yacht club jetty & the dock for the passenger ferry, & when 1 of these ferries glides quietly in from the Continent, sitting on this tiny pier can feel like a very precarious place to be. Another gem, to be found in King's Quay Street, is the tiny, members-only cinema, The Electric Palace, officially the oldest-surviving picture palace of its type, in UK...
- Pros:Harwich port & Felixstowe docks create constant entertainment on dry days; Electric Palace cinema or the local library, or the many pubs, for rainy days...
- Cons:The town clock never working, the railway station appears derelict & town very rundown/eastern European looking in places; & some of the local folk are embarassingly ignorant...(Essex chavs)
- In a nutshell:"...& walks along with a parrot that talks, hunts her down by the waterfront docks where the sailors all come in..." (Bob Dylan)
The River Stour is a west-east running, major waterway, depicted by Constable where it flows through the Dedham Vale,... more travel advice
Harwich Maritime Museum is housed in a disused former lighthouse, built along the esplanade, in the old town area of... more travel advice
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