Britain's Beach Resorts
Britain's seaside resorts are still pulling in the crowds but now they are doing it with the wow factor, as John Law reports.
It’s enough to make you drop your ice-cream or choke on your candy-floss. Few summer afternoons start in a more stimulating fashion than with the sudden deafening roar of the Red Arrows scorching over your head. Not so long ago a kissme-quick hat and a quick dip in the briny were about as much excitement as you could expect at a British seaside resort. These days, families are more likely to be thrilled by a screeching Typhoon fighter, wartime Spitfire or the RAF’s display team being put through their paces.
Air shows have become a star attraction at top resorts around the country. They’re fascinating – and they’re free.
At Eastbourne, you can treat yourself to a spectacular helicopter flight along the coast from Beachy Head before watching fantastic air acrobatics over the sea which don’t cost a penny.
What else can you do at resorts around the coast this summer?
Within a few years of the Prince Regent’s ornate palace the Royal Pavilion being completed in 1823, Brighton had become the country’s favourite seaside bolthole. Today, this East Sussex town is one of the busiest and buzziest of resorts, with a thriving arts and cultural life as well as traditional holiday attractions.
It has a pebble beach and one of the best piers. There are also attractive gardens, water sports, horse-racing, Sea Life Centre, live entertainment at the Brighton Dome, marvellous shopping and restaurants – and this year a new Regency fashion exhibition at the elegant Royal Pavilion.
Eastbourne’s established attractions include award-winning beaches, a unique seafront bandstand with summer concerts, a Victorian pier, Beachy Head and the start of the South Downs National Park.
This year’s International Airshow (August 11-14) is among several special events. New ones include a Cycling Festival (May 21-22) and Eastbourne Fiesta (May 28-29) featuring food from around the globe, live music and dance.
Seeking somewhere quieter? Bexhill-on-Sea is undergoing a £5 million redesign of its seafront, giving it new shelters and seating, and a new-look Metropole Lawn. The refurbished Colonnade is opening a new restaurant and kiosks, while the iconic De La Warr Pavillion arts centre is again staging a full programme of events and exhibitions.
In neighbouring West Sussex, Littlehampton and Bognor Regis have award-winning beaches and promise plenty of traditional family fun. You can jump on a waterchute or walzer at Littlehampton’s Harbour Park and catch your breath afterwards enjoying views across the Channel from the resort’s surprising new Long Bench, made from reclaimed driftwood and claimed to be the longest in the world. An Armed Forces Day (June 25) features a vintage vehicle show, land and air displays including a pipe and drum band.
For something a bit different, Bognor’s annual International Birdman competition (July 16-17) offers the intriguing spectacle of would-be fliers leaping off the pier. If you miss that one, Worthing stages a similar madcap event on August 13-14. Another peak-season
Worthing draw is the Festival (July 22-August 2), where holiday crowds gather for the fireworks, bus rally and American Rod and Custom Car Show.
In Dorset, Bournemouth is a once genteel resort that’s getting trendier by the minute. Here you’ll find seven miles of golden sands, surfing and other water sports, a lively nightlife and good range of accommodation and classy restaurants.
New this summer is the £3 million Pavilion Dance, where boppers can join 48 different classes from hip hop to samba. The award-winning gardens and an Oceanarium stocked with sharks and stingrays are popular, while special events include Carnival Week (August
1-7) and the Air Festival (August 18-21).
The opening of the railway line from London in 1843 placed Folkestone and its neighbouring Kent coastal towns firmly on the Victorian holiday map. Today, its attractions include the award-winning Lower Leas Coastal Park, with its sheltered bays for swimming, a sandpit and adventure playground. For somewhere quieter, try Folkestone Warren, which has a sandy beach with rock pools and fossils.
Deal has been a resort since Victorian times but was a flourishing port before that. It has many B&Bs and holiday cottages, and its winding streets house many speciality food shops. Nearby Ramsgate is a harbour town but has an award-winning sandy beach. From
Pegwell Bay round to Reculver, which takes in Ramsgate as well as Broadstairs and Margate, there are 15 sandy beaches and bays, of which nine have been awarded Blue Flag status.
Margate’s Old Town is undergoing a transformation and a new Turner Contemporary gallery is due to open this spring. Besides the beaches, visitors can go water skiing or play bowls, golf or tennis at Westbrook Bay, or stroll along the prom and hitch a donkey ride along the Main Sands.
Adding to the appeal of Herne Bay’s Victorian architecture are events including Continental markets and carnivals, while Whitstable is noted for its oysters. You can tuck into them overlooking its north-facing beaches, followed by a pint at the Old Neptune pub right on the beach.
Just across the Thames estuary in Essex, Southend-on-Sea offers seven miles of seafront and the world’s longest pier. There’s plenty of family fun and some cracking free festivals lined up for summer. These range from the Air Festival (May 28-29) to the Carnival (August 12-20), a Grand Puppet Festival and Old Leigh Regatta (both dates to be confirmed) where events include Morris dancing and a cockle-eating contest in addition to sailing.
Still in Essex is Clacton, long popular with Londoners wanting to escape to the sea. This area of England boasts the lowest rainfall in the UK, so the chances of your holiday being spoilt are lower. Clacton has sandy beaches, a Victorian pier, themed gardens and factory outlet shopping. It also holds an annual air show over August Bank Holiday and stages an annual carnival and jazz festival.
Frinton is Clacton’s more refined neighbour and has some fascinating Art Deco buildings.
On the Suffolk coast, charming and unspoilt Aldeburgh has a great musical heritage, started by composer Benjamin Britten, whose Aldeburgh Festival (June 10- 26) remains an annual highlight. The town began as a port and fishing village and visitors can still buy the daily catch from fishermen on the beach. Southwold is a sleepy little resort with a pier, brewery and lighthouse.
Great Yarmouth is set on a 15-mile stretch of soft Norfolk sand perfect for families who can also enjoy a Golden Mile of amusement arcades in the town, along with theme parks. Six museums include the Potteries and Smoke House and the award-winning Time and Tide. Sports fans enjoy the golf and regular summer horseracing. Nearby Caister stages an annual Weekender soul music beach party over the May Day bank holiday.
Cromer visitors can swim or surf from the sand and shingle beach, delve in rock pools and enjoy a clifftop walk to the old lighthouse. Attractive Victorian buildings rise up from the beach chalets and crab boats and there are museums tracing the history of this historic fishing town.
Norfolk has several small, charming resorts including one-time fishing village Sheringham and Wells next the Sea, popular for its holiday caravan sites, as well as Hunstanton, which faces west towards The Wash on the so-called “Sunset Coast”. It offers pristine beaches, cliffs, nature reserves and sport on land and sea.
Dorset resorts Weymouth and Lyme Regis are major gateways to the Jurassic Coast, a 95-mile stretch of coast encompassing glorious beaches and fossil-strewn cliffs stretching into Devon. Devon and Cornwall’s marvellous beaches and countryside attract many longer stay visitors from the South East.
The English Riviera in South Devon incorporates Torquay, Paignton and Brixham; Torquay alone has nine beaches. Lovers of crime fiction enjoy following the town’s Agatha Christie Trail. The writer lived there for much of her life and fans can track down Hercule Poirot at the Museum and for the first time this summer take a vintage bus tour to Christie’s splendid house, Greenway, now owned by the National Trust.
A fun event for youngsters is the Brixham Pirate Festival (April 30-May 1). Last year, to an accompaniment of sea shanties and folk music, 1,744 budding Bluebeards and Captain Hooks set the record for the most pirates in a single gathering.
Cornwall scooped top honours in the 2010 British Travel Awards, being named Best UK Holiday County and having St Ives voted Best UK Seaside Town. St Ives also collared the Best Family Holiday Destination title in the Coast Awards. The town is home to Tate St Ives and famed for its arts scene, superb beaches, scenic harbour and its warren of lanes with stylish cafes and working artist studios and galleries.
Newquay is Cornwall’s liveliest resort, offering some of the country’s best surfing and plenty of nightlife and decent restaurants. Relentless Boardmasters, Europe’s biggest surf, skate and music festival, celebrates its 30th anniversary from August 10-14. Due to open this summer is a new four-screen digital cinema capable of screening 3D films.
Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset is famous for the donkeys that trek along its wide stretch of sand and this will be the first summer for Weston’s newly re-opened Grand Pier. Between July and September 13 sculptors will use 500 tonnes of sand to create masterpieces up to 13ft (4m) high in the annual Sand Sculpture Festival.
The neighbouring North Wales resorts of Rhyl and Prestatyn are traditional seaside towns with miles of sandy beaches and lots going on. Rhyl has plenty of family attractions, plus a theatre, marine lake, miniature railway, botanical gardens, and an airshow (August 6-7). The Seaquarium will even boast its very own resident mermaid this summer after advertising the post!
In Prestatyn you can splash around the Nova Centre, with its pools, slides and waterchutes, or get the family rolling at the North Wales Indoor Bowls Centre. For a more sedate holiday, Tenby in Pembrokeshire is best known for its three Blue Flag beaches and pretty harbour.
Boring it ain’t. Resorts don’t come any bigger or brasher than Blackpool, where iconic attractions and round-the-clock action continue to pull in the summer crowds.
There are miles of golden sand and thrills galore on the Pleasure Beach Resort whiteknuckle rides and Sandcastle Waterpark’s huge rollercoaster. A new Nickelodeon-themed attraction is due to open at Pleasure Beach, while the town’s other top crowd pleasers include the famous Tower, the zoo, Sea Life Centre and autumn’s Blackpool Illuminations.
Less boisterous is Morecambe, which has a wide stretch of sand on the edge of Morecambe Bay. Here you can enjoy magnificent sunsets or spot the seabirds on a Cross Bay Walk. Architectural gems include the Victorian Winter Gardens and recently-restored art deco Midland Hotel, while a stroll along the prom reveals a cheery bronze statue of the town’s most famous son – comedian Eric Morecambe.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
If you’d rather avoid the tourist masses and sizzling nightlife to enjoy glorious sandy beaches and spectacular scenery, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast has much to commend it.
Northern Ireland has eight Blue Flag beaches where families take to the water to swim, sail, windsurf and canoe. The neighbouring resorts of Portrush and Portstewart both have superb beaches and highly-rated restaurants. Portrush also has a golf course and an
amusement park with thrill rides and children’s entertainment, while Portstewart is handy for Barmouth nature and wildlife reserve.
The Ayrshire Coast has some of Scotland’s best sandy beaches, with the town of Ayr offering the most seaside entertainment. It has a decent beach with a children’s playpark nearby – and a wealth of history and other attractions.
UK resort facts
Brighton: www.visitbrighton.com Eastbourne: www.visiteastbourne.com Bexhill-on-Sea: www.visit1066country.com Littlehampton/Bognor Regis: www.sussexbythesea.com Worthing: www.visitworthing.co.uk Bournemouth: www.bournemouth.co.uk Folkestone: www.discoverfolkestone.co.uk Margate: www.visitthanet.co.uk Southend-on-Sea: www.visitsouthend.co.uk Great Yarmouth: www.great-yarmouth.co.uk Cromer: www.visitnorthnorfolk.com Aldeburgh: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk Scarborough/Filey: www.discoveryorkshirecoast.com Weston-Super-Mare: www.visitsomerset.co.uk English Riviera: www.englishriviera.co.uk St Ives: www.stives-cornwall.co.uk Newquay: www.visitnewquay.org Rhyl/Prestatyn: www.rhyl-prestatyn.co.uk Tenby: www.visittenby.co.uk Blackpool: www.visitblackpool.com Morecambe: www.visitmorecambe.co.uk Portrush/Portstewart: www.northcoastni.com Ayr: www.ayrshire-arran.com
National Piers Society: www.piers.org.uk Weston-Super-Mare: www.grandpier.co.uk Cromer: www.cromer-pier.com Southend-on-Sea: www.southend.gov.uk Brighton West: www.westpier.co.uk Brighton Palace: www.brightonpier.co.uk Eastbourne: www.eastbournepier.com Lowestoft: www.thesouthpier.co.uk Southwold: www.southwoldpier.co.uk Deal: www.dealpier.com Southport: www.visitsouthport.com
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit.