Where do you go for a traditional British family seaside holiday, with plenty to do when it rains – and without breaking the bank? How about the Yorkshire coast?
Don’t get me wrong: I will plough against the elements on a rain-ravaged cliff top with the best of them. Trouble is, not everyone in my party feels the same way. I had to think back to my youth for inspiration for a holiday that would satisfy all the family's tastes and came up with the area around Scarborough, of which I had many happy memories.
So it was that we set off on our camping trip on one of the wettest days of the year, hoping that we could at least survive each other’s company without coming to blows, let alone have some fun. We pitched up at the Camping and Caravanning Club
’s Scarborough site at Scalby. Next day it was still raining unmercifully but the helpful Yorkshire Tourist Board website had pointed us in the direction of a number of all-weather attractions, including the Sea Life Centre at the top of Scarborough’s North Bay.
I’d gone in out of the rain, mostly for my daughters’ benefit, with rather a “seen one, seen them all” attitude to such places, but I was in for a surprise. Penguins - lots of them - plus otters and a seal rescue centre.
Even in the wind and rain, the North Bay is spectacular, with wonderful views towards the landmark Scarborough Castle. We didn’t find any amusement arcades or other traditionally tacky enterprises here; just a reviving blustery stroll along the lengthy prom. We turned the corner before the bay wound down towards the headland that separates it from South Bay and it was like I’d stepped back in time. Peasholm Park looked just the same as it did in the 1960s. The pagoda-style entrances, the fairy lights, even the bandstand in the middle of the lake, hadn’t changed one bit.
The great thing about Scarborough is that it has several ‘faces’, including a second huge beach at the South Bay. Scarborough’s shopping centre felt more 'upmarket' than I remembered, though the swathes of grand Victorian buildings overlooking the bay were just as elegant and imposing as ever.
On the other hand, Filey, further south, appeared stuck in a rather appealing time warp. The shops here are quaint, to say the least, with some curious window displays that look like they belong in the 1950s, featuring mannequins modelling what my mother would have called 'costumes'. The prom here has also been smartened up. Just the place for another brisk stroll to work off what is one of the best Chinese meals I have ever had. It always pays to ask locals for advice, otherwise we might never have found the Gold River restaurant (29-31 Mitford Street).
Feeling a bit lethargic next day, we set off along the cliff top at Flamborough Head. If we had been feeling energetic we could have climbed up inside the lighthouse. If it’s spectacular clifftop vistas that draw you, then there are plenty of them within short drives of Scarborough. Robin Hood's Bay, north of Whitby, is busy year-round with hardy souls ready to take on the cliff walks, or those like us who simply want to enjoy the picture-postcard scenery. Be warned, once you are lured down to the bay there is a very steep walk back up again.
Partly to drag the girls away from the gift shops, we meandered through tiny cobbled alleyways and discovered little gems away from the crowds; the tiniest of cottages and the most photogenic of views. At the water’s edge there is an excellent visitor centre overlooking the slipway, which is free, with interactive exhibits to keep the children amused whilst the adults absorb the fascinating history of this area, renowned for its smugglers.
For history buffs there is no more mysterious a place than Whitby Abbey. The darkening storm clouds above gave it an even spookier feel as we drew nearer the headland, fuelled by the thought that Whitby was once the home of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Whitby itself is a tourist magnet and quite rightly so. Which is how we came to find ourselves in a little museum overlooking the harbour entirely devoted to the life and voyages of Captain James Cook. Cook lodged in this very house in Grape Lane as an apprentice to shipowner, John Walker. I was mindful that the girls might not share my enthusiasm for studying the pictures and artefacts from Cook’s voyages, but it turned out to be, dare I say, quite an educational experience.
It was time to head away from the coast and on to Pickering and the North Yorks Moors Railway. Our train was packed with eager sightseers, most of whom were heading for Goathland and Heartbeat country. After a delightful chug through deserted countryside, we got off at the tiny station at Goathland and trudged up the hill towards what doubles as the Aidensfield garage and stores in the TV programme. Unless you are a Heartbeat fan, it is probably wiser to stay on the train and enjoy one of the other stopping-off points at Grosmont, Newton Dale or Levisham. as there is little else Goathland offers other than tourist mementoes.
Having determined to keep tabs on our purse, our last day found us at Bridlington. We could have spent a fortune on fairground rides. Instead we opted again for the best free enjoyment of all throughout the holiday – the coast itself. A walk along the seafront here in certain weathers is not for those who like to stay dry. Along with countless other children, our two had the most fun of the week trying to avoid the waves crashing over the barriers. Obviously we were very careful, but just watching the huge walls of water splash down on the prom is a spectacle in itself. Watching two laughing lads repeatedly getting soaked in their not-always-successful attempts to dodge the waves, it just about summed up the feeling I had at the end of our Yorkshire holiday; that of being carefree.