The haunting British seaside spots that inspired Gabby Hutchinson Crouch
01/11/2021 | POSTED BY Rob Wilding
On the wonderful, sorely missed Writers’ Jolly (by which I mean, ‘very business-like industry conference’) Craft of Comedy at Llandudno, I would regularly annoy fellow writers by pointing at the Hydro Hotel and loudly declaring ‘that’s haunted’. In my defence, it’s a very haunted-looking building. The Victorian gothic grandness adorned with Edwardian and 20th-century modernist additions gives it a feeling of not quite belonging to any one time. Add to the fact that, like so many grand Victorian hotels, it faces out to sea and you have got yourself a building that fills my mind’s eye with creeping ghosts.
I love spaces that don’t feel quite right. ‘Liminal’, as the kids say, and seaside towns, to my mind, usually have that vibe, especially in the winter, when only a few ice cream kiosks are still open, when eating chips is a race against heat loss and seagull gang violence, when the ‘stroll along the prom prom prom’ is an act of attrition against the weather, being taken by brave dog walkers, joggers, and the sheer bloody wilful. This is a silly little archipelago with coastlines full of these slightly faded Victorian seaside resorts.
I’ve wanted to write a story about a haunted island resort for ages, so when Farrago finally gave me the chance with Wish You Weren’t Here, I took inspiration from some of my favourite real-life seaside spots that make me go ‘that’s haunted.’
Anglesey, as seen from Caernarfon
I lived in North West Wales as a young girl, and we used to go sailing on the Menai Strait. At night, there’s something about the disparity between the lights of Caernarfon’s streets and castle, right on the water’s edge, and the comparative darkness of the stretch of Anglesey’s coastline on the other side of the black water that I always found in equal parts disturbing and comforting. The idea of a dark island sitting, waiting across the water from bright, busy streets gives me a pleasant, ASMR-like shiver even now. Also, while it doesn’t have the dilapidated Victorian vibe I went with for Coldbay, the tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn – where we used to sail – has a desolate, limbo-like beauty. I could cross dark water to that place in sleep or death and find a cold, windswept peace.
Herne Bay, Kent
Even though Coldbay is set near Skegness, it’s much more based on Kent, Sussex, and Wales than it is Lincolnshire. Herne Bay, like Coldbay, lost the majority of its pier to fire and now has a desolate, crumbling zombie of a pierhead left all alone out at sea like a sad little dead wooden island. Sometimes in Herne Bay, you can hear ghostly, echoey explosions from an MoD site on the other side of the estuary, in Essex. This would be creepy enough, but the eeriness is added to by the Maunsell Forts – the rusting, abandoned husks of WW2 gun turrets jutting out of the water on thin legs like alien fighting machines, dead and rotting and the colour of Mars.
Hastings, East Sussex
My husband’s home town, still home to my in-laws and therefore the seaside town I visit the most. A good, haunted-atmosphere British seaside town is like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard – kinda crumbly now but by GOD, you should have seen her in her heyday when the moving pictures were silent. Hastings is like that. It’s actually kind of cool and artsy, a slightly more affordable Brighton, but the seafront itself is all once stunningly grand buildings with little bucket & spade kiosks on the ground floor. Occasionally big chunks of the cliff just collapse and there’s nothing you can do about it. One of the main car parks is underneath said cliffs. Good luck with that. Like Herne Bay, it was cursed with a curiously flammable pier and now has a perfectly nice, very cold little new pier with fairy lights and huts selling nick-nacks, which I based Coldbay’s new pier off. ‘The Ship’ pub is based on the wooden fishing huts on the seafront, which remind me of a shipwreck.
Cold Harbour in Canterbury. Coldbay was named after a set of boarded up council flats in Canterbury, near a bus stop I used to use. They have since been knocked down for a fancy new retail estate. They looked almost certainly like what you’re picturing right now.
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch
Want some useless trivia? Well, you’re getting some anyway
Skegness: It has been rumoured that the name ‘Skegness’ means either “Skeggi’s headland” or “beard-shaped headland”. This is because the Old East Norse word “skeg” meaning beard, or “skeggi” meaning bearded one, is thought to have come from the Viking who established the original settlement. As if you needed more of an excuse to let that goatee loose in the bracing winds. Man buns are not acceptable however – put it away.
Llandudno: During lockdown, the wild goats of Llandudno took the town by storm causing chaos as they deemed neighbourhood gardens fair game for a spot of lunch. The randy Great Orme’s missed out on their annual contraceptive programme due to lockdown restrictions and their numbers have continued to rise. Locals remain hopeful that the herd heads for the hills soon and tire of their adolescent lovemaking.
Hastings: If the Hastings Direct jingle is the first thing to pop into your head when we say ‘1066’ you’ll relish in this nugget of myth-busting goodness. The Battle of Hastings – which arguably takes second place following this summer’s Gurning Competition as the greatest event to grace the southern shores – did not actually take place in Hastings. It in fact took place in a field seven miles away, which is now the appropriately named village of Battle…
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