Having just returned from a great week in North Yorkshire I’ll be blogging on Scarborough, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby and sharing a few photos in the coming weeks…. First up is Scarborough. I’d never been to Scarborough and had only passed along the Yorkshire coast, so I was interested to form my own opinion having read AA Gill (predictably) attack the resort, following an episode of Town in which travel writer and geographer Nicholas Crane was keen to highight the positive.
I’d seen Nicholas Crane get excited about Scarborough’s prospects as he stripped and dashed into a frigid North Sea in BBC’s new series Town. I’d read AA Gill’s predictably critical review of this episode, branding the seaside town a ‘dank and miserable place’ where you’d be on ‘antidepressants within a month if you had to live there.’
It was my first trip and I liked Scarborough. We had our four and seven-year-olds in tow and an aging Jack Russell terrier. The boys were welcomed and Milo was fussed and petted all over town. Yorkshire seems very welcoming to dogs. Almost every pub, café, shop or visitor attraction has a saucer or bowl of water outside and people are always patting him and asking me about his favourite food. Pork and apple sausages, if you’re interested. He has suspiciously middle class tastes for a scrapping terrier.
I had no previous visit to compare it to, but my wife assures me Scarborough has turned a corner. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the town was hit hard by budget flights to dependable sunshine. You can still see the signs of neglect – show me a seaside town where you can’t – such as the crumbly, dirty New Steps which run from the High Street to the shore.
Scarborough’s biggest asset, like Llandudno, is its special geography. At the centre of two bays is a huge rock, used as a fort for thousands of years. Scarborough’s sands sweep in a gentle curve from north to south and the bay sits beneath the rock and castle, spared the harshest weather.
The Grand Hotel is no longer in its black tie Edwardian pomp and tufts of turf sprout from the brickwork, but the hotel is busy with guests. It’s adapted with the times. It’s August and a bright, sunny day, following days of sea mist and heavy rain and Scarborough is busy. The beach is golden and gently shelving and crowded with surfers. White horses break on the sands and a pair of RNLI lifeguards patrol in scarlet shorts and caps. Further along the front there are donkey rides. Perhaps it is the candy floss, chips and burgers, but plenty of children won’t make that seven stone weight limit.
A pirate ship plies the shore at a reasonable £3 per journey. There are kiosks selling dressed crab and cockles and mussels. There are rock emporiums, chip shops and lewd postcards. Work has taken place at the harbour. It’s an interesting mix of standard chippies and burger joints, but a more upmarket pasta restaurant has moved in. A few doors down from Winking Willy’s chippie there’s a pub called The Richard III. It’s a wonderful building carved from local stone and poor old King Dickey reputedly slept here sometime in the 1480s.
You’re standing next to a shop selling talking fish and five sticks of rock for £2 and there’s a pub next door that’s over 500 years old. Americans would mortgage their whole town for that pub. Poor old Dickey had some of the worst PR in history. He may not have been a hunchback and he probably wasn’t responsible for Two Princes. If you want to blame anyone for that, blame the Spin Doctors.
Scarborough’s heritage society has dotted plaques around town to show Wesley preached here, Dickey slept there and, as we make the slow climb from the harbour, Anne Bronte is buried here. A fresh bunch of wildflowers marks the St Mary’s churchyard grave of the author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (read more here). It’s a great spot. The golden sands of the bay curve far below and the church is sheltered by trees and castle. As I stare at the grave the Macarena drifts from an amusement arcade on the seafront. Scarborough is bright and bracing and fun. And great for a spot of people watching. More about the Castle in Part Two……