Yarmouth’s expanse of beach pales in comparison with Gorleston’s quaint, three-mile counterpart, which is less vast, less gull inhabited – and less packed on a hot day. Moving with the times, Gorleston now boasts, as well as the standard fistful of traditional seaside cafes, a run of newer, flat-white-type joints and chic terraces for city folks suffering withdrawal symptoms.
The Fig restaurant has converted its top floor, an old bucket-and-spade shop, into a rooftop bar with views across the cinematic sands.
There has been a boom in quality, family friendly eateries – from all-American burger joints to tapas – as well as scores of independent shops and businesses built from the ashes of the formerly mundane high street. The excellent 1930s Palace cinema, which was a bingo hall for many years, is showing films again, and by the water’s edge is
the Pavilion, one of Europe’s last remaining 19th-century music halls, complete with oxidized green copper roof domes. For many years, the local rumour mill has been spinning yarns about the Tate soon making a move on Great Yarmouth, so now might be the time to get in early, before Damien Hirst starts dipping gulls in liquid gold. The Pier hotel, which featured in Yesterday, has doubles from £80, room only. Ben White
Bognor Regis & Littlehampton
The atmospheric pier is where a very young Noël Coward won the song and dance competition in 1904”
The view from Bognor pier. Photograph: Ian Woolcock/Alamy
There should be crowds, but this Wednesday lunchtime Bognor Regis is deserted. If the skies were blue, however, the windswept 2.7-mile West Sussex promenade, stretching from Felpham to Aldwick, would be heaving; after all, Bognor is among the sunniest towns in the UK.
As with many traditional resorts, the town has a rich history. Its regal suffix was gained when George V convalesced here in 1929. Near the seafront’s Royal Norfolk hotel is a blue plaque dedicated to WE “Billy” Butlin (1899-1980). His amusement arcade opened here in 1932, before the famous Bognor holiday camp.
The ping and whirr of modern-day amusements are in evidence around Bognor’s Waterloo Square, which is also home to a bowling green, mini golf and sunken gardens. The adjoining pier dominates, with its bleeping arcades, sports bar and Sheiks nightclub. The structure is far shorter today than when it opened in 1865: a widened section was lopped off in 2008 for safety reasons. But its tip is nonetheless an atmospheric spot from which to gaze back at the beach where a very young Noël Coward won the weekly song and dance competition in 1904.
A path through the dunes at Littlehampton. Photograph: Simon Turner/Alamy
Further along the promenade, past the soon-to-be-regenerated
Regis Centre, a train whisks holidaymakers east from Whittington’s kiosk to Butlin’s – perhaps fuelled by chips from Yanni’s fish and chip shop (tip: a “small” £3 portion is huge). Behind is Hotham Park, with its boating lake and tropical gardens. For a caffeine hit, the Coastal Coffee Co (1 Waterloo Square) has sea views, and smart cafe-restaurant Mustards does coffee and a cake for £6 (set lunch from £29.95). Micropub the Dog & Duck (65 High Street) does a selection of local ales.
Eighteen minutes away by train is low-key Littlehampton; like Bognor, it has been a beneficiary of the government’s levelling up funding. At the end of its freshly repaved high street is an engaging
museum with 600 pieces of art, while down on the seafront, which is about to have a £7.2m revamp, is the UK’s longest bench, a unique, twisty 324-metre artwork. Here, too, is the Riba award-winning East Beach Cafe: starchitect Thomas Heatherwick’s first UK building when it opened in 2007. The 40-metre-long rock-like silhouette is awe-inspiring, and its bright interior, packed on our midweek visit, offers panoramic views.
We perch on benches in the briny air, devouring sublime salt and pepper squid, ox cheek bites and cured salmon. Handily, the chic
East Beach Guest House (doubles from £99 B&B), is a few minutes’ walk away on South Terrace. After lunch, it’s a pleasant stroll along the River Arun, past seafood bistro 47 Mussel Row, award-winning Fred’s fish and chips, the Harbour Lights Cafe and the Boat House in the marina. At the pedestrian bridge over to West Beach, the Arun View’s waterside terrace makes a welcome spot for a pint overlooking boats piled high with fishing nets. Stephen Emms
Scarborough & Scalby
The queen of Yorkshire’s coast has weathered its decline gracefully, and with innovation aplenty”
The Harbour Bar, Scarborough. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer
Scarborough is the measure of all traditional seaside resorts, not only because it was Britain’s first – the spa waters were discovered in the 1620s and drew aristocratic visitors – but because it has everything: amusement arcades, noisy boozers, shellfish stalls, a funfair, a cliff railway, and Victorian hotels that have seen better days.
On bank holidays there are mods, rockers and punks, although some are on mobility scooters rather than Lambrettas. On sunny days the harbour walls are packed with kids hand-lining for crabs, and the beach is always golden.
Chuck Berry and Elvis still rule the roost on the funfair, but beyond it is a town rich in history, culture and quiet escapes. A lovely footpath sneaks up from opposite the funfair to St Mary’s Church where
Ann Brönte is buried (the only tombstone with flowers in an overspill graveyard largely devoted to Victorian children).
The Cleveland Way offers peace and solitude away from Scarborough. Photograph: Britpix/Alamy
There are ruins there, too, of a
medieval castle built by Henry II, further fortified by King John and knocked about by Oliver Cromwell’s men, who set up a cannon in St Mary’s churchyard. Further damage was inflicted by the German navy in December 1914 during a bombardment of the town along with Whitby and Hartlepool.
By the seafront are dozens of
fish and chip shops, one of which stands out: it’s the former premises of the Tunny Club, a relic of the 1930s when big game fishing was all the rage and a motley array of big game hunters, aristocrats and matinee idols came to try their luck with bluefin tuna. Specimens caught include the British record of 851lb ( although a 900lb fish caught off Wales last year may supersede this). The chip shop has some interesting photos. The tuna, inevitably, were soon fished out, but there are hopes for a revival.
A walk south around Marine Parade may offer a sight of the resident harbour porpoises. Crabbing equipment and bait is sold all along the front, along with buckets and spades, windbreaks and seaside rock. The town has its rough edges, but has weathered its decline well and there’s plenty of innovation. The
MV Southern Star, tied up in the harbour, is both a cafe and part of an offshore seaweed and shellfish farm.
Escaping to some peace and quiet requires an hour’s walk, or a short drive. Scalby is a couple of miles north, a quiet village with a good pub-with-rooms,
the Plough (from £152 room only). It’s inland, so not as touristy as, say, Robin Hood’s Bay, but 30 minutes along footpaths brings you to the coastal Cleveland Way. There is good fossil-hunting on the rocky scars, with dinosaur footprints on some boulders. Kevin Rushby
Swanage & the Isle of Purbeck
Traditional attractions and ‘natural surrealism’ on a stunning coast with Enid Blyton overtones”
Swanage has plenty of traditional seaside attractions. Photograph: Graham Prentice/Alamy
Swanage, on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck peninsula, is a perfect small-scale seaside town. On a visit this spring, I was struck by the number of traditional attractions: recently built beach huts, an amusements arcade, a funfair from which a plastic Tyrannosaurus rex roars, and pedalos with painted eyelashes. We bought fish and chips and sat by the harbour.
Swanage has an appealing edge. In the 1860s, George Burt, a building contractor who had made his money in London, began importing bits of the capital’s buildings to decorate the town. Close to the harbour is a clock tower that once stood on old London Bridge. Had Burt not moved it, it would today grace
Lake Havasu City in Arizona, along with the rest of the structure.
Burt built himself a house that included marble chips from the Albert Memorial – then under construction – and elements of Billingsgate market and Millbank prison, mashing them into every imaginable architectural style. Most strikingly Burt gave the modest town hall a whole new facade – which had once been the frontage of Mercers’ Hall, off Cheapside in the City of London. Swanage’s quirks appealed to artists, especially to
Paul Nash and Eileen Agar, who photographed Burt’s flourishes and were inspired by the town: Nash said it displayed a form of “natural surrealism”.
The Flying Scotsman visits the Swanage railway, passing Corfe Castle. Photograph: Graham Hunt/Alamy
The Isle of Purbeck around Swanage boasts magnificent coastal walks towards Dancing Ledge, a natural shelf of flat rock jutting out into the sea, and to now-disused Winspit, one of the many quarries along this coast from which cathedrals were dug. We walked to the huge chalk stacks called Old Harry Rocks, an echo of the Isle of Wight’s Needles, which are visible in the distance.
If the landscape feels familiar it may be because
Enid Blyton used the Purbeck countryside as her inspiration. On this visit, one friend, who loved the Famous Five series through childhood, was taken aback by the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle, rendered even more Blyton-ish by the sight of the steam train that runs from Swanage to Wareham, huffing over the nearby bridge.
Edward I’s plan to establish a city on Poole Harbour’s southern shores was unsuccessful and Purbeck remains largely unpopulated. In
her account of life in Tyneham, the now-ruined village requisitioned by the army during the second world war, local author Lilian Bond wrote of Purbeck’s “clean, cool air”; this, and the rugged coastline, make it a wonderful place to visit. In Studland, a few miles north of Swanage, we stayed at Littlecroft, a charming, book-filled B&B with just two rooms (from £125 B&B, which must usually be booked together). For a fancier night, there’s the Pig on the Beach (from £260 a night) on the north side of Studland, while the friendly Bankes Arms, which brews its own beer, has doubles from £85 B&B. Jon Woolcott, author of
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