Old-fashioned fun: 10 traditional UK seaside breaks
As the sailing venue for the Olympics, boat-shaped cafes on the beach, uplighters on the seafront, upgraded deckchairs. But underneath the gloss, it’s the same old Weymouth, thank goodness. For a panoramic view, take an airlift up the shiny new Sea Life Tower – which opened in June.
Beachy Head, East Sussex. Photograph: Patrick Ingrand/Getty ImagesIn the sunniest place in Britain – allegedly – a four-mile stretch of dazzling white shingle curves around Pevensey Bay. There are palm trees, tea dances in the Winter Gardens ballroom (every other Tuesday), rows of grand Victorian terraces planned by the Duke of Devonshire in the 1850s; a lovely bit of floral carpet bedding on a cheery promenade. Eastbourne is nowhere near as fast as neighbouring Brighton (think coach tours and pensioners in cardigans), but its Grade II*-listed pier is one of Britain’s finest – all rotundas and delicate wrought iron, strings of low-tech light bulbs and a curious little camera obscura that opens to the public in summer serves up brass, tribute and big bands and musical firework displays beneath a 1930s dome clad in aquamarine terracotta. The chalk cliffs of Beachy Head (the highest point on the south coast) are within hiking distance.
The up-from-Londoners who swarm into nearby Holkham or Wells-next-the-Sea tend to bypass Cromer but what are they missing? Lovely sandy beach, for a start; flinty sea walls, rock pools, the zig-zag paths that wander between cliff-top gardens and the North Sea shoreline, the slender spire of St Peter and St Paul (at 160ft, it’s the tallest church tower in Norfolk).
You can watch the local fishermen haul crab boats out of the water with mini tractors, or take the coast path to Overstrand or Mundesley-on-Sea, but Cromer’s speciality is the gloriously tacky Seaside Special – the last of its kind to survive. Showing daily at the pier’s Pavilion Theatre it’s a repertoire of song and dance, variety acts and saucy jokes performed by artists nobody’s heard of. Perfect for a rainy day.
Let’s be honest, it’s Southend-on-Thames or EastEnder-on-Sea: Shane Richie in panto at the Cliffs Pavilion, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express and seven miles of Essex beach that runs along the north shore of the estuary.
All this, and only an hour from the centre of London. Aside from the usual seaside bling (the twinkly lights of the pier head funfair, for example), there’s a Victorian cliff lift that trundles up from the promenade to pretty Prittlewell Square; you can cycle to neighbouring Leigh-on-Sea (for boatyards and clapboard cockle sheds) or up to the wilds of Shoeburyness. But Southend’s big draw is its pleasure pier. The world’s longest, it features a mile of railway line and, since 18 July, an end-of-the-pier Cultural Centre – a £3m, prefabricated arts venue complete with asymmetric roof and a geometry of glass and steel. The town’s first Comedy Festival took place on the pier last month.
The north coast yachting set can be a bit snooty about the Isle of Wight’s southern resorts but Sandown and Shanklin (they are more or less joined at the hip) have the best of the island’s long sandy beaches, the crazy golf, the sun on their seafronts, and you can get there via the Island Line which runs from Ryde to Shanklin in a restored 1930s Northern Line tube train.
The largest of the post-war holiday camps, Butlins put the town on the map back in 1961. These days Butlins has a Skyline Pavilion – it looks quite cool from a distance. But Minehead has other things going for it: a mile of sand and pebble beach, views of the Bristol Channel, a farmers’ market, narrow backstreets and the odd bit of Somerset thatch, plus lots of worthwhile day trip potential. North Hill, the big hump of wooded cliff which overlooks the town, is the beginning of Exmoor national park. Below, by the harbour, a giant sculpture of a hand clutching a fold-out map marks the start of the 630-mile South West Coast Path. In the summer, steam trains run from Minehead to Bishop’s Lydeard on the charming West Somerset Railway.
Bridlington went up in the world when David Hockney moved in. The artist has a house on Brid’s South Shore, overlooking the town’s vast blue flag beach and the Nautical Mile (an architectural promenade of sculptures, modernist beach huts and artworks by Bruce McLean). The North Shore is a noisy jangle of dodgems, bingo and candy floss, but Bridlington is full of surprises. The Old Town (a mile inland) boasts galleries, vintage shops and one of the most complete Georgian streets in England. There’s a ruined medieval priory. The 1930s Royal Hall theatre is now the Spa Bridlington, a multi-use venue with a jazzed-up facade – an uneasy shade of orange – and a restored art deco interior.
On a damp day, with the wind blowing in off the Irish Sea, Morecambe verges on the melancholy. But the erstwhile “Naples of the North” has its moments – mainly the iconic Midland Hotel, the big smile of cruise-ship art deco which helped revive this tired Lancashire resort when it reopened in 2008. What else? World-class sunsets, cockles and potted shrimps. And Eric Morecambe (a statue of the town’s famous son does a “Bring Me Sunshine” number on the seafront). Photographers snap away at beached wrecks on gleaming mudflats, the largest expanse in the UK. Nearby, there’s the lovely Lune Valley, or Lancaster’s Williamson Park with its must-see Ashton memorial: a Taj Mahal-style folly, built in 1906, it offers breathtaking views across Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland Hills. Back on the seafront, pop into the Formica heaven of Brucciani’s tea room – another mid-century classic. And gaze at the wonderful Winter Gardens (closed since 1977) and weep. A restoration wannabe, as deserving as the Midland, the ornate Victorian theatre is occasionally open to the public.
The name says it all. Mablethorpe. Old-fashioned. First impressions are wall-to-wall amusement arcades, Motability scooters, buckets and spades, buns and burgers, and Mr Whippy. But Mablethorpe pulled a blinder when it reinvented itself as Beach Hut Central. Not just any old beach huts but designer huts, novelty showpiece huts; there’s one shaped like a gin and tonic – with a slice of lemon and a cocktail straw. Jabba the Hut is an onion of striped laminate sitting alone in a sand dune. Along the long strip of blue flag beach that connects Mablethorpe to Sutton-on-Sea, there are roughly 300 huts; they include some jolly 1950s huts on Queen’s Park between the sea and the Thomas the Tank Engine miniature railway.
Set on a narrow isthmus between the Great Orme and the Little Orme – the two rocky headlands that sit either end of the town’s sweeping North Shore promenade – this is one of the prettiest of seaside resorts. And I’d say that, even on a rainy day. Its handsome Indian-Gothic pier is the longest in Wales; the seafront is trimmed with grand Victoriana laced with wrought iron; and from the West Shore you can look across the Conwy estuary to Snowdonia. Nice beach, too, But it’s the magnificent Great Orme Country Park that provides all the action. You can walk up to its summit (or take an Edwardian cable tramway), whizz down its slopes on a PermaSnow ski slope.
By Lesley Gillilan http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel
Concierge Service – Travel & Tours you can trust www.1stchoiceconcierge.co.uk