In her yellow-and-white striped beach hut, Melanie Whitehead boils the kettle for a cup of tea and sits gazing out over the North Sea.

Brightly painted wooden huts like hers line England's coastline and have enjoyed a boom during the pandemic, as people rediscover seaside breaks close to home.

Brightly painted wooden beach huts along England's coastline have enjoyed a boom during the pandemic Brightly painted wooden beach huts along England's coastline have enjoyed a boom during the pandemic Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

In the resort of Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, eastern England, beach huts run along the shore for miles, in some places rising up in five tiers.

Huts in the area have sold for over ?80,000 ($111,000), said Barry Hayes of Boydens estate agent, based in the adjoining resort of Frinton-on-Sea.

That amounts to nearly a third of the ?255,000 average house price in the UK, but it's far from a record: a hut in Dorset on the Channel coast sold for ?330,000 this month.

For Melanie Whitehead, 49, her beach hut has been a welcome getaway during the pandemic For Melanie Whitehead, 49, her beach hut has been a welcome getaway during the pandemic Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

Despite such astronomical prices, the huts are basic: most lack mains water or electricity, and staying the night is prohibited.

As huge waves crash onto the esplanade at Walton-on-the-Naze, inhabitants read books and newspapers, snooze or chat, often in multi-generational groups.

In the eastern English resort of Walton-on-the-Naze, beach huts run along the shore for miles In the eastern English resort of Walton-on-the-Naze, beach huts run along the shore for miles Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

Huts have names such as Paradise Found and Serenity.

Traditionally, beach huts were a place to change into your swimsuit -- but also offer a chance to make a cup of tea Traditionally, beach huts were a place to change into your swimsuit -- but also offer a chance to make a cup of tea Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

Outside one, a group of women are drinking prosecco, celebrating 60 years of friendship since primary school.

Whitehead, a 49-year-old former town planner, does not use her hut for its historic purpose of changing into a swimming costume.

"I really hate swimming and going into the water," she said.

Beach hut prices have roughly doubled in the eastern Walton-on-the-Naze area in a year Beach hut prices have roughly doubled in the eastern Walton-on-the-Naze area in a year Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

She is clear about the hut's real purpose: to "make endless cups of tea".

The hut, which she bought in 2008 for ?6,000, has proved a welcome getaway during the pandemic when her husband and daughter were both at home constantly.

Pitfalls can include the need for regular repairs and the risk of vandalism by bored teenagers Pitfalls can include the need for regular repairs and the risk of vandalism by bored teenagers Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

It has white-painted walls and a narrow couch topped with a patchwork quilt, and colourful blankets she crocheted herself.

A gas cylinder powers a hob and oven, which she uses to bake scones.

"It's perfect. It comes into its own on a horrible day," Whitehead said.

Sarah Stimson, who runs a rental business called Walton-on-the-Naze Beach Huts, says this has been her best year yet Sarah Stimson, who runs a rental business called Walton-on-the-Naze Beach Huts, says this has been her best year yet Photo: AFP / Justin TALLIS

As a seasoned beach hut owner, she is well aware of the pitfalls, however: the need for regular repairs and the risk of vandalism by bored teenagers.

She is chairman of the local beach hut association and carries out regular patrols.

Many owners live far away and can't keep an eye on their huts, Whitehead said.

Beach huts are a peculiarly British passion. Designed to shield holidaymakers from fair weather or foul, as well as offering the perfect spot to make a cup of tea, the cabins have shot up in popularity during the Coronavirus pandemic, with most overseas t Beach huts are a peculiarly British passion. Designed to shield holidaymakers from fair weather or foul, as well as offering the perfect spot to make a cup of tea, the cabins have shot up in popularity during the Coronavirus pandemic, with most overseas travel curtailed, and at Walton on the Naze a beach hut in which overnight stays are not allowed can fetch up to 40,000 pounds (46,000 euros). Photo: AUDIO NETWORK / William EDWARDS

Many huts are also rented out by the day, some offering Instagram-worthy features such as cocktail bars or table football.

Sarah Stimson, who runs a rental business called Walton-on-the-Naze Beach Huts, says this has been her best year yet.

All her huts are fully booked until September.

"I think Covid has made people look for certain things to do in the UK," she said. "It's made us a bit more visible."

Most renters are women in their 20s and 30s with family in tow, and 70 percent of bookings come via Instagram.

For an upcoming client, she is arranging a photographer and a cream tea delivery. He plans to surprise his wife with a proposal to renew their wedding vows.

Stimson, 46, used to commute to London to head a charity that promotes diversity in the PR industry.

Wanting to spend more time with her family, she and her husband started their business three years ago with three huts.

This year they are renting out seven of their own and managing three more.

Her own family uses a hut named Queenie after her great-grandmother.

Painted bright green, it has space-saving elements such as a fold-down table, storage bench and overhead storage for paddleboards.

"It is a bit like a grown-up Wendy house," Stimson said, describing a children's playhouse.

The pandemic-related surge in prices means Stimson's family has no current plans to buy more, though.

Prices have roughly doubled locally in a year.

"The last one we sold was over ?80,000," said Hayes, the estate agent, calling the pandemic a "game-changer".

An average hut in Frinton-on-Sea, seen as more up-market than Walton-on-the-Naze, goes from ?50,000 to ?60,000.

"Last year we were selling those for 30-ish," he said.

Whatever the market does, Whitehead is not going anywhere. "I can get snug in here, look at the view, and forget about the world really."