You are never too young or too old to enjoy the great variety of attractions that Scarborough, England’s most picturesque holiday resort, has to offer
Scarborough was the UK’s first holiday resort, and remains my first choice for a seaside holiday. The 17th-century spa town was transformed to the holiday destination for the aristocracy and new rich of the Industrial Revolution when the Grand Hotel opened its doors in 1867. With 365 rooms on 12 floors, and an elegance that bankrupted the original developers, this was Europe’s premier hotel at the time, and still dominates the sea front.
The reasons Scarborough was chosen are still clear to see. Set high above the sea with dramatic coastal views, two wide sweeping bays separated by a headland dominated by the ruins of a 12th-century castle, wild cliffs beyond these bays, and the town’s streets tumbling steeply down to the sea and small fishing harbour, it is truly a picturesque setting.
With the coming of the railways Scarborough developed as a resort for all, and still has everything you could want for an English seaside holiday. Having enjoyed a short break here in 2009 with my wife, we returned in 2010 for our annual Easter week get together with my brother and sister’s families. Between the 14 of us, covering three generations, and ranging in age from two to 64, we put Scarborough to the test, and it did not let us down.
Activities for the young
For the children the vast expanse of sandy beaches on both North and South bays provides the main attraction, with shallow waters, rock pools, donkeys and plenty of space for beach football and cricket. However, there is much more to entertain them. The South Bay is the more commercialised with amusements, cafés and a small fairground. The dodgems and helter-skelter were particular hits with our group. The North Bay is more peaceful, with an occasional café, and the advantage of parking next to the beach. An open-top bus runs every 15 minutes along the North and South Bay promenade, enabling us to easily get around the town, and we only used our car once that week!
There are endless attractions to keep youngsters happy, boat trips on the Hispaniola, Pleasure Steamers for an hour long cruise, and fishing trips. Boats can be hired on the lake at Peasholm Park but beware, the “dragon” pedal boats are hard work. The miniature North Bay Railway runs for three quarters of a mile from Peasholm Park to the Sea Life Centre; one of only two water chutes still operating in the country is found nearby at Northstead Manor Gardens, and there are countless crazy golf courses. At the northern side of the headland older children risk life and limb on a state of the art skateboard park.
If you are unfortunate enough to experience poor weather there is an indoor swimming pool, and a huge indoor softplay centre (Scarborough Playzone at 9,Columbus Ravine; tel. 01723 366611; www.scarboroughplayzone.co.uk suitable for children three months – 12 years old. In addition, the Sea Life Centre at Scalby Mills (tel. 01723 376125; www.sealifescarboroughguide.com), has clearly been designed with children in mind, with a multitude of small tanks with interesting occupants, and a feeding time nearly every half hour. The highlight for our youngsters was being able to feed the native sharks and rays themselves. It is relatively expensive (£14 adult, £10 child), but there are many half price offers available in the newspapers and on the web.
Activities for the not so young
I particularly enjoyed strolling along the promenade, or through the formal gardens and along the paths descending from the Esplanade on the South Bay. On more energetic days the Cleveland Way provided coastal footpaths in both directions and some stunning views. On the other hand, my father-in-law always said that you had to be a mountain goat to enjoy Scarborough, so when the steep climb up from the sea front is not so appealing, there are two vintage lifts, one next to the Grand Hotel and a second next to the Spa Complex.
There is a wide variety of entertainment available. On our first visit we enjoyed a tea dance at the Ocean Ballroom in the Spa Complex at South Bay (tel. 01723 357869; www.scarboroughspa.co.uk). This building has recently been renovated, and also accommodates the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, and the Victorian Theatre, home to the second-longest running Summer Season show in the country. There are also holiday shows at Futurist Theatre on Foreshore Rd (tel.01723 365789; www.futuristtheatre.co.uk). We enjoyed a comedy at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, located on Westborough (tel.01723 370541; www.sjt.uk.com), which is 'home' to Sir Alan Ayckbourn, the world's most performed living playwright. Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre, the largest in Europe, is sited off Burniston Road. It re-opened in August 2010 following a £3.5 million revamp and expects to host a wide range of music, opera and sporting events www.scarboroughopenairtheatre.com, (tel 0844 888 9991).
Where to eat
You must experience the faded elegance and great views from The Grand Hotel on St Nicholas Cliff by visiting its public bar and terrace for a drink (www.britanniahotels.com/hotels/scarborough, tel 0871 222 0047). Another time visit Bonnet & Sons on Huntriss Row to take a traditional afternoon tea, or sample chocolates made on the premises (tel 01723 361033). For the taste, and also for old times' sake, I bought a fresh locally caught crab from one of the many shellfish stalls on the promenade. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my grandmother, from Pickering, bringing me on a shopping trip to Scarborough, and going home with a delicious crab. Another part of the Scarborough gastronomic experience is a visit to one of the many fish and chip restaurants, of which I found Harry Ramsden's to be the best (www.harryramsdens.co.uk; tel 01732 376727). For dining out there are a great variety of restaurants in town, but the “chicken silsila” at the Eastern Paradise on St Helen’s Square (tel. 01723 501725) was the best Indian food I had tasted for a long time, and the Thai Manor Restaurant on North Marine Road (tel 01723 507744) was almost as good.
Where to stay
For our short visit we enjoyed a stay at the Esplanade, with wonderful views in two directions from the corner room we had chosen, and great views from the dining room. On a previous visit we found The Royal Hotel, located in the centre of the town overlooking the sea, with its good food and imposing Regency architecture, a great base for exploring the town.
For our family holiday we rented a stylish and comfortable seven bedroom house, Green Tor, next to Peasholm Park, from Cottages4you. Alternatively, a recently constructed development of luxury flats on North Bay Promenade (Beachlife Apartments) would provide ideal accommodation for smaller groups, and can be booked for a minimum of two days.