I visited ‘Britain’s worst seaside resort’ – it’s like the British Library of bad tattoos

I narrowly avoided winning a plastic lizard. That’s a good thing, because otherwise I think I would have been robbed for it by a seething mob of septuagenarians.

At 49, I am the youngest person in the bingo hall by a decade or two, and the other patrons look at me with thinly veiled suspicion. It seems Skegness isn’t just the Midlands seaside town that time forgot; it’s the only time I was buried alive and then forgotten.

This means that much of what made it famous is still here, smelling only faintly of damp. Dodgems and donkey rides, cotton candy and caravan parks, Butlins and even bingo – it’s all right where Freddie Laker left it when his cheap holiday packages drove two-thirds of the city’s tourists away in the 1970s. Only now, in addition to the ice creams, vodka slushies are for sale. (Literally next to it, by the way, which marks an interesting path to early alcoholism, and perhaps explains the gangs of underage drinkers that make some streets vaguely threatening after dark.)

Skegness hasn’t exactly faded then; if anything, it’s gotten brighter and more sinister (the vodka slushies are neon blue, in case you were wondering). Welcome to what the locals call “Skegvegas”…

Takeaways on the beach selling donuts and waffles

There is a shortage of healthy food in Skeggy – Alamy

What is it really like?

The pier is the epicenter of Skeggy’s entertainment offering and the great white hope for its future. Currently a bit stunted – over the years storms have swept away chunks of it, and it is now only a quarter of its original length – it was bought in 2021 by the Mellors Group, an ambitious leisure company that has the distinction of zipline Boris to create Johnson got stuck. They have secured millions in regeneration funding from the government (presumably not from Boris) for their plan to rebuild and redevelop the pier to its full 582 metres, and they cite New York’s enviable High Line urban park as inspiration.

Manhattan isn’t (you’ll find fewer slot machines on Fifth Avenue), but they’ve already dramatically revamped the pier, with climbing walls, escape rooms and a not-terrible bar, Playa.

There has been little investment elsewhere too – the Ivernia Hotel, for example, has just had an impressive makeover (theiverniahotel.co.uk) – and some parts of the city don’t need a reboot at all, thank you very much (the traditional fair at the foot of the pier for example, and the long, wide, soft sandy beaches of the beach itself).

Skegness beach, Ferris wheel and fairground, early morningSkegness beach, Ferris wheel and fairground, early morning

The beach itself has changed little from its heyday – Alamy

What’s not to like about it?

The ‘strip’ here (South Parade, Grand Parade and North Parade, although the other name ‘the B1451’ better captures its romance) is a feast of migraine-like slot machines, unpleasantly padded accommodation options, nasty fast food joints and even nastier drinkers. Chief among the latter is The Hive, with “eight bars and clubs all under one roof open until 6am” – although when I was there in early May, only two were functioning (the wine bar, Tantra, would that may have been the case, but “there was an event there last night and someone ripped the sound system out of the wall,” the hostess explains wearily). I’m forced to content myself with Busters, the ‘nice 80s pub’, where none of the punters look old enough to remember that decade, and none of the (seven!) bouncers seem in the mood to allow a lot of fun.

On the other side of the strip, both literally and figuratively, are the North Parade Bingo Club (where I almost won that imitation reptile) and The Seaview (“family pub”). When I visit the latter, it is karaoke night and a woman who looks like Willie Nelson is singing that song about a little mouse wearing clogs. I won’t stay to hear what comes next.

Butlins Funcoast World, Skegness, circa 1987Butlins Funcoast World, Skegness, circa 1987

Butlin’s water park remains great value – Alamy

Do this…

Billy B set up his very first Butlins holiday camp here in 1936, and it is one of only three remaining. It’s worth the £27 for a day ticket for the people watching alone – it’s like the British Library of bad tattoos here – but if you have kids this is actually a great value day out. The water park in particular is excellent, but the new outdoor adventure playground Skypark is also fun (and features what claims to be “Britain’s longest interactive see-saw”). Unfortunately, day passes don’t allow you to take part in the evening entertainment, so I miss a tribute act with the brilliant name: Lewish Capaldi.

Accommodation blocks in ButlinsAccommodation blocks in Butlins

Accommodation blocks in Butlins – Alamy

Eat this…

Don’t even bother eating healthy in Skegness. My B&B didn’t offer breakfast (and that makes it… just a B?), so I walked fruitlessly through the streets for 40 minutes looking for a place to buy a piece of fruit (“We have donuts!” I got). I cheerfully offered in one cafe). Instead, surrender to the calories and get breakfast, lunch or both at Kirk’s, a family butcher with around a century of heritage on the town’s main street. I bought a hot pork bun, with stuffing and applesauce, and – simply because I asked for it – also got a piece of crackling as big as my head, and so exquisitely crispy that I suspect every dentist within a 10-mile radius heard me chew and shuddered.

But don’t do this…

Donkey rides are available on the beach in season. But isn’t it cruel that some poor creature has to lug extraneous weight around the beach all day in gaudy and unnatural clothing, pausing only to be fed non-nutritious foodstuffs, and then confined overnight in cramped and noisy conditions ? It certainly seems – wait for it – that way to the holidaymakers, so I can’t imagine it’s much better for the donkeys!

Cheeky jokes aside, there are many who question the ethics of donkey rides, although the family-owned company that runs these rides at Skegness insists that “the welfare of the animals comes first”.

Donkeys on the beach in SkegnessDonkeys on the beach in Skegness

In season, donkey rides are available on the beach – Alamy

From a local

“I have no idea why people come here. Me and my friends are all trying to leave. However, none of us make money in the off-season, so it’s impossible to save enough to get a spot elsewhere. I say one thing to Skegness: it’s cheap.” Rob, 23.

From tourists

“Britain’s worst seaside resort”. (More than 3,000 holidaymakers were surveyed by Which? for their views on more than 100 British seaside resorts and villages – and Skegness came in joint bottom, along with Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.)

Get there

Trains to Skegness run from Nottingham and Grantham (and it’s a lovely journey, through pretty villages and rapeseed fields, on the Poacher Line). But beware: in summer, the operator East Midlands Railway (eastmidlandsrailway.co.uk) often has a pre-booking rule for trains to manage crowds.

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