Mablethorpe's 'Famous' Sand Train
Every year since the early seventies my partner's entire extended family de-camp to Mablethorpe for one week in August. Three or four generations descend on the small, faded, seen-better-days resort and treat it like a trip to Mecca. For anyone marrying or living with a member of this tribe, the trip to Mabo is an initiation ceremony. I passed my test ten years ago and haven't missed a year since. His is not the only family to do this. The majority of tourists in Mabo are from the East Midlands and have been going for generations.
So what is it about Mablethorpe that draws me back, year after year? Well, I have to admit, at first it was obligation to my partner and his family, but after a while I started to find myself falling under its salty spell. Mabo simply isn’t like other places. It might be situated on the English east coast but at its heart it is a weird, little mid-western town on the fringes of nothingness. Even approaching it by car, with the flat-dusty grasslands stretching for miles, and the wind-turbines lazily spinning, you know you have left normal. So come with me on a mystery tour. Let me show you Mabo. My Mabo.
The shop of dreams
First of all, you might want to consider taking part of this tour by mobilityscooter, or, as the family calls them, ‘Mablethorpe Mercedes’. Mobility scooters are king in Mabo. I suspect there are possibly more mobility scooter shops in Mabo and Sutton per square mile than anywhere in the country. Not only can you buy them, you can also hire them for the day. Lincolnshire is made for them because it’s so flat, thus the mobility lovers flock to the resort. Mablethorpe Mercedes are sold with small dogs attached to them by leads. The scooters themselves are often highly decorated with flags, cuddly toys, key rings and hooters. They are an art form unto themselves.
Trundle up Victoria Road, then slip off your scooter to enter Ye Olde Curiosity Museum. One of my favourite places on Earth, this is technically not a museum on the basis that everything in it is for sale, yet the old gent who owns it is a compulsive collector. On my first trip I was amazed to discover a Morris Traveller parked in the shop. Last year I was astonished to find it was actually still there; I’d just missed it for the last few years because it had been engulfed by bric-a-brac. Every single inch of the building is covered. Hundreds of pendant lamps, puppets and signs dangle from the ceiling. Shelves groan under the paraphernalia of domestic life gone by. Taste is irrelevant, but taste doesn’t matter here. It is a shrine – no, a cathedral – dedicated to the lost and discarded, reclaimed and re-loved. Here rules the God of Abandoned Things. Long may He reign.
Next, hustle yourself along to Queens Park which offers a smorgasbord of holiday activities, such as bowling, crazy golf, a children’s paddling pool and a tiny railway. For me, the crowning glory are the gigantic, plastic pedalo swans on the boating lake. For any cash-strapped bride dreaming of a wedding at Disneyland, I would say don’t lose the dream, just adjust it. Imagine saying your vows in a giant white swan then celebrating in Sharky’s Family Bar where the kids can run riot in the games area while the adults get legless in the bar. Reception photo opportunities include pretending to have your limbs or head torn off by the wall-mounted plastic shark’s head – a dead ringer for Jaws.
Right, let head ‘up top’ to the beach. Mablethorpe’s beach is fantastic, having the perfect type of sand for building castles. It provides miles of shell-strewn bliss. Yet, that’s not all it has. It also holds host to ‘Mablethorpe’s Famous Sand Train’ (‘Famous’ according to the sign painted on the side, but rightly so). Not a train on a track, it actually goes in the sea. That’s right. IN THE SEA. But always on the way back. Generally that’s the highlight of my holiday. Totally terrified by roller coasters, the sand train provides enough whip-crack adrenaline to carry me through the year. Best still, it will take you all the way to the Seal Sanctuary and Wildlife Centre - simply the sweetest little paradise for rescued animals you could hope to find.
She's no Zoltar, but...
Heading back into town, if you fancy slipping out of the sun into the shadowy world of the spiritual, Mablethorpe offers it all. Want to know your horoscope? Ask Mystic Peg, the ancient fortune-telling machine. Just drop a shilling in her slot. Or, if it’s a breathing clairvoyant you need, pop along to Spanish City. This is where the spirit world meets the physical. Pick up a crystal from Catwitches World before dining at the one of the numerous eateries. Not sure what to choose? Why not have a reading and find out what you’ll be having for lunch.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling jaded by sugar tits and rock cocks, then head for Sutton on Sea, Mablethorpe’s upmarket sister. Sutton is a lovely, sedate resort with no arcades or funfairs. It sells fruit and salad, so if the Mabo diet is giving you scurvy here’s the antidote. Reaching Sutton without a Mablethorpe Mercedes involves walking about a mile along the seafront, jolly enough in itself, but nothing compared to the japery to be had taking the Mabo to Sutton charabanc. Veering dangerously along the promenade, scattering all in his way, the driver plays raucous 80s music, rings his bell constantly and keeps up a ‘comedy’ routine all the way. It’s a cross between Noddy and Bernard Manning. WARNING: not for the fainthearted.
Finally, return to Mabo’s promenade in the softening dusk, where the Dunes funfair beckons with twinkling lights and ‘All Rides 99p after 7pm’. Play the slotties, ride the dodgems, see the miniature railway, but above all go on the ghost train. Please go on the ghost train. The man who runs it, year after year, takes more genuine delight in his job than anyone I’ve ever encountered.
So, that’s the tour. End it with a nightcap in Jesters or Shampers and some more chips, and maybe a saveloy, in the Clock chippy. Mablethorpe may well be ripe for middle-class mockery if ever a place was, but let those who scorn it wear their Boden prints to Southwold or go vintiquing in Brighton. Mablethorpe doesn’t need them. Mablethorpe offers its own unique pleasures. The saying ‘you don’t get owt for nowt’ is wrong. In Mablethorpe you pay practically nowt but you get a hell of a lot of owt if you just know where to look.
This piece is dedicated to Aunty San 1945 – 2012
S.C Maxfield is the author of The Consequences of Preserving Outlaws in Arsenic which is reviewed in the current issue of LeftLion48. You can read an interview with her here.