‘Some areas are rough and the nightlife is boring, but I still think Scarborough is beautiful’

All summer long we will be keeping an eye on the pulse of our most famous traditional seaside resorts, examining the efforts being made to revive them, and assessing whether they are still worth visiting. This week Helen Pickles explores Scarborough.

Scarborough is blessed: two large sandy beaches, a dramatic headland topped by a castle, a still working fishing harbour, a bright promenade full of fun and games, and some grand architecture.

I take it all in as I walk south from the cheerful Luna Park amusement that sits beneath the headland between North and South Bays, and along the Foreshore Road promenade.

Writer Helen Pickles is a big fan of Scarborough

Writer Helen Pickles is a big fan of Scarborough – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

To top it all off, Scarborough can claim to be Britain’s first seaside resort. In 1626, a mineral-rich stream was discovered flowing along the southern cliffs and found to have healing properties.

The news spread and Scarbrough spa was born. Bathing machines were introduced, as was mass tourism (by Victorian standards) with the railway in 1845. Inns, hotels, gardens, dance halls and entertainment venues were established.

The city lost some of its appeal with the advent of cheap European package holidays in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet it remains popular. Even mid-week, during the school year in May, the benches on the promenade are packed with people enjoying ice cream and fish and chips.

There are colorful huts along the beachThere are colorful huts along the beach

Colorful huts along the beach – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

“Better than Blackpool,” says Alice Gascoigne, 84, here with her sister, Marian Thomas, 80, both from Liverpool, on their first visit. “We didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful beach. Nice to sit and watch what happens.”

The city has Britain’s largest open-air theatre, two of the (original five) Victorian cable cars are still going strong, and a Big Wheel and a swanky water park have both opened in recent years (admittedly, controversially). But is Scarborough resting on its laurels?

What is it really like?

Pleasure! I head straight for the South Bay boardwalk. More specifically to the glittering, neon-lit slot machines of Coney Island (the name, so exotic!). It’s one of half a dozen amusement arcades along the strip, with fast-food restaurants and tacky gift shops—pink kiss-me-fast hats, boulders. It may be flashy, but it’s clean, well-maintained and fantastically brash – “the best fish and chips in Britain,” says Papa’s Fish & Chips seaside takeaway.

Scarborough's bustling high streetScarborough's bustling high street

Scarborough’s bustling high street – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

I stroll past the Ferris wheel. A bit controversial, this one. The 32 meter high wheel stands on the site of the Futurist Theatre, an iconic Scarborough landmark (built in 1921) that helped launch the careers of bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but was demolished in 2018 amid public outrage. “I was very sad to see it go, as were 90 percent of the locals,” recalled Elaine Micklethwaite, a supervisor at the Golden Grid seafood restaurant and a trained dancer who had performed there.

Still, the wheel isn’t bad value – £6 per ride – although it has a 21-point list of rules, including ‘no running’. Hmm. How does that work?

While South Bay is for sand castles and donkey rides, the atmosphere around the headland is cooler and calmer: serious swimmers, dog walkers and – a good rainy day activity – the Sea Life Centre.

At £6 per ride, the Big Wheel is great valueAt £6 per ride, the Big Wheel is great value

At £6 per ride the Big Wheel is great value – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

Behind the latter lies “Britain’s largest miniature railway”. Passengers and I wave to each other as the train honks along its stately route – a beautiful eighth of a mile.

There are plans to open a 650-metre (2,100 ft) zip-wire on the slopes here, for which, after initial rejections, planning permission was granted in April. The nearby Alpamare Water Park, which opened to much fanfare in 2016 – “A water park from another world” – before dramatically closing last October due to rising energy costs), will reopen this summer.

A clear success story is the Bike & Boot hotel, which breathed new life and energy into the former Mount Hotel in 2020 with a colorful, relaxed atmosphere, affordable rooms and a very dog-friendly approach. Elsewhere, the popular Cinder Track cycle route, between Scarbrough and Whitby, has been improved, a new arts and sporting events programme, Scarborough Fair, has been launched and there is an £11 million plan to revitalize the harbour’s West Pier.

What’s not to like about it

As you walk up the long street of the town’s main street (part of Eastborough, Newborough and Westborough), all the fun and energy of the seaside evaporates. Closed and tired-looking shops: flea markets, cheap bags, tattoo parlors, dingy pubs. Dishearteningly uninviting.

Even the bingo caller, whose voice is amplified across the street from Shaw’s Amusements, sounds like she can barely stay awake.

South Bay is one of Scarborough's two main beachesSouth Bay is one of Scarborough's two main beaches

South Bay is one of Scarborough’s two main beaches: Lorne Campbell/Guzelian

The Victorian Market Hall, after a £2.7 million renovation in 2017, is certainly clean and shiny, with a smart mezzanine and stalls ranging from colorful fruit and vegetables to a more esoteric bookbinder. But it’s soulless. Mid-afternoon there is hardly anyone to be seen, apart from three women sharing a bottle of wine in the café. A very affordable afternoon tea, mind you: £13.50 for the works, including quiche.

Down in the basement things are a little more interesting, with vintage vinyl records, second-hand books, obscure collectibles and all kinds of haberdashery.

At the top end of Westborough, the modern dark-brick Brunswick Shopping Center still signals the staff entrance to Debenhams, even though the store, along with Dorothy Perkins and Topshop, has left. It is due for redevelopment as “an enhanced retail and leisure destination”, which promises to include a multi-screen cinema.

Morgan Margetts, 19 years old, has doubts: “They say they’re going to do things, but then they don’t. The city center could be so much nicer. We have to go to York for decent shops.”

Do this

It sounds kitsch – lakeside gardens with an oriental theme and a man-made island with waterfalls on top of a pagoda – but Peasholm Park, near North Bay, is a beloved Scarbrough institution. From the oriental gateways, Chinese lanterns and colored strings of lights to the pedal boats with dragon heads: it remains timelessly charming.

Attend an outdoor concert at Sun CourtAttend an outdoor concert at Sun Court

Attend an outdoor concert at Sun Court – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

As does the Spa Orchestra (Britain’s last professional coastal orchestra, founded in 1912), whose open-air concerts – show tunes, Viennese waltzes, big band and classics – in the Spa building’s exotically named Sun Court will see you join the regulars let’s dance along. , some of whom book their holidays to coincide with the performance dates (August 4 to September 25).

Eat this

Countless seafood restaurants beckon, but the Golden Grid has a history dating back to 1883 and has been under current ownership since 1954. The specialty is crab and lobster, brought from the harbor across the street.

Be sure to drop by for an ice cream at The Harbor BarBe sure to drop by for an ice cream at The Harbor Bar

Retro ice cream parlor The Harbor Bar has been owned by the Alonzi family since 1945 – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

For dessert, The Harbor Bar pays tribute to 1950s dining with yellow formica, chrome garnish and red banquettes, and has been owned by the Alonzi family since 1945. Ice cream, made in the back, is whipped from soda into all your favorites soars to banana splits and knickerbocker glory.

But don’t do this

As iconic hotels are known, The Grand, high above the South Bay and the largest in Europe when it opened in 1867, is a stunner: six million stones, four domes representing the seasons, 12 floors (months), 365 rooms (just work out) and a V-shape in honor of Queen Victoria. Then I step inside… arcade machines in the foyer, dirty coffee mugs on the sun terrace (admittedly, great view) and discarded MacDonald’s packaging on a balcony table.

While the Grand Hotel may look impressive, our writer is not a fanWhile the Grand Hotel may look impressive, our writer is not a fan

While the Grand Hotel may look impressive, our writer is not a fan – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

Despite the Corinthian columns, decorative metal balustrades and grand arches, the place is devoid of atmosphere. Hoping for a cup of coffee in the Empress Suite, I discover black leatherette furniture and an afternoon TV quiz blaring. I turn tail when I see more winking slot machines.

From a local

“I would never leave Scarborough,” says Scarborough native Dan Hargreaves, chef at Embers restaurant. “We [he and his partner have five children] can cycle to the beach every Sunday. We love cities, but we are happy to come back; it is a slower pace of life.” He agrees that many residents can be negative, especially about the city center. “But she [the locals] gotta do something about it. I started [food] festivals because I was tired of bad food.”

Dan Hargreaves is from ScarboroughDan Hargreaves is from Scarborough

Dan Hargreaves is a local Scarborough chef-patron of Embers restaurant – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

“I think Scarborough is beautiful,” says local native Morgan Margetts, 19. “Some areas are a bit rough and the nightlife is boring. But 100 percent I think we’re lucky to have the coast. In the summer we sit on the beach with friends and have a barbecue.”

From a tourist

“I have a soft spot for Scarborough. I came here when I was eight or nine and my parents spent their honeymoon here,” says Yorkshire-born Jim Lindsay, who lives in Germany with his German wife Dina and is visiting family. . “The character of the place has not changed.” Dina adds: “Bridlington is more commercialised, there’s not much to do in Filey, Scarborough is more sophisticated. And I love their dressed crab!”

Dina and Jim Linsday are regular visitors to ScarboroughDina and Jim Linsday are regular visitors to Scarborough

Dina and Jim Linsday are regular visitors to Scarborough – Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

“The last time I came here was in 1956 with my sister and friend,” recalls Sylvia Stenson, who is on holiday from Stafford with husband Alan and both in their 80s. “I have never forgotten the beautiful beach. It’s as much as I remember. I expected it to be more run down and was very surprised. It’s cheaper here too! Coffee, tea and two custard tarts for €5.80!”

Get there

Scarbrough station is served by the TransPennine Express, 50 minutes from York for mainline connections.

Helen Pickles was a guest at the Bike & Boot hotel (01723 655555; bikeandboot.com; doubles from £108 B&B) and Discover Yorkshire Coast (Discoveryorkshirecoast.com).

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