BITTEN BY THE BEACH BUG
Much of what follows is rather a digression from the subject of beach bungalows, but I believe it offers some clues about the place they occupy in many people's hearts. In October 2006 I had a phone conversation with Stuart Flett (who features on a couple of other pages of this website) in which we discussed his addiction to coastal living:
Technically, it began in Workington where he was born, but in reality it began generations earlier, on Flotta at the mouth of Scapa Flow in Orkney. On this little island were five crofts belonging to members of the Flett family, but one day, possibly inspired by the cosmopolitan bustle around Scapa Flow during the Second World War, Stuart's grandfather decided to move to bustling, cosmopolitan Workington, where the family eventually established a butchery business. Other relatives remained on Flotta, so a generation later young Stuart was able to visit their little cottages on an island where it's impossible to get more than about a kilometre from the sea. He remembers how they were built with stone slab roofs, which, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, could be waterproofed with regular applications of bitumen (unfortunately the modern technology caught up with the ancestral home a few years after Stuart's first visit, and the croft was compulsorily purchased during the development of a massive oil terminal).
From an early age, he learned the art of sea fishing, and when the family lived in Seaton, he and his friends would cycle to the shore at Siddick to try their skill. From the age of 9, in the mid-1970s, Stuart went to a boarding school- but the school was St. Bees, which had the dual advantages of being close to home and being on the coast (though for safety reasons, the beach was out-of-bounds). St. Bees takes pupils from all over the world, so Stuart formed close friendships with the only other Cumbrian boys in his class, John and Simon. They visited each other's homes during holidays or on the one-in-three weekends when they didn't have lessons on Saturday (the school had long days and long weeks- but also long holidays). John Tear's family had a bungalow on Braystones beach, south of the station, and Stuart was sometimes invited to join them there for the weekend, when his father was away from home. See here for the abrupt end of that pleasant arrangement! It wasn't the end of his association with Braystones though, for the beach offers particular challenges to the sea fisherman. The theory is that you dig for bait as one tide recedes, then as the next tide comes in, you cast a line with "gripper weights" which anchor it in the sand, so you can retreat before the incoming sea paying out more line as you go. The challenge at Braystones is that the tidal zone does not slope very much, so when the tide comes in, it comes rather fast- if you like your sea fishing a bit less energetic, try Drigg (or sit on the quay at Whitehaven). By the way, for some reason, night fishing brings in quite a lot of luminous seaweed along that stretch of coast.
After leaving school, Stuart worked for a while in the family business. Among their commercial customers were the Tow Bar Inn at Nethertown, and a club nearby with a swimming pool. As delivery driver, Stuart would try to time his runs so that he could end his shift at the club, have a swim, freshen up, then go on to the Tow Bar Inn for the evening. Things didn't always go smoothly, of course- on one occasion, for example, high winds hurled some loose boards through the air and straight through the overhead power-line, which then behaved exactly as you see in the movies, its end dancing and sparking on the ground (by way of contrast, Stuart mentions some holiday caravans near Silloth which were firmly tied down to avoid such dramas). And in the end, this pleasant arrangement ran into problems... One night a Rugby Club from a town some way up the coast arrived at the Tow Bar, already well lubricated and looking for some laughs. It wasn't at all funny for other patrons, particularly as the management tried to deal with the problem without calling the police.
Flash forward a few years, and Stuart Flett had become a police officer himself. He began his career in Barrow, but was eventually moved to Kendal. It took him some time to understand why he felt ill-at-ease in what most people considered a pleasant (if traffic-clogged) town on the fringe of the Lake District- it was too far from the sea! So now he's back in Barrow. What's more, he's a police representative on the joint-services scheme for dealing with coastal emergencies.
Stuart's sister, who still lives in Workington, would love a holiday in one of the Braystones bungalows, but Stuart, it seems, is happy enough where he is. The coast is as much inside him as outside his windows, and he's reached the stage where he is keeping one beach-bungalow experience subconsciously out-of-reach. One day, when he was trying to spot a 4x4 which had failed to cross the Duddon estuary (I seem to hear quite a lot of stories from people who live near estuaries about 4x4s getting embarrassingly stuck) he visited the control tower at Walney airfield, from which he caught his first sight, out at the end of the island, of the Black Huts. Will he ever visit them, to see whether they are anything like the little cottages of Orkney or the bungalows of Braystones, or will they remain for him, like Schrödinger's Cat, forever uncertain?