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Scarborough Grand Hotel Scarborough's a funny kind of place, there's really no other way to describe it. It's positively schizophrenic in character but all the more interesting for it.

The main trouble is that it has two bays, a North Bay and a South Bay, the two of them separated by a headland topped with the remains of the castle. And these two bays have characters so dissimilar you wouldn't think they were part of the same town.

Scarborough was actually (and arguably) Britain's first seaside resort and it still retains much of its Victorian grandeur. It also had the distinction of being bombarded by the German Navy in WWI as they tried to lure the British Grand Fleet into a trap.

But one things for certain, it's interesting, and always a pleasure to visit.

South Bay

Scarborough South Bay

The South Bay is a bit like Blackpool. It has amusements, kiss me quick hats, lots of fish n' chip shops and a beach that's nice enough but pales in comparison to the magnificent Filey or Bridlington.

It hasn't yet got a blue flag like Filey, Whitby and the North Bay, but it looks to be getting there. That's a miracle in itself as in the early 80's the water board planned to dump semi-treated sewage down a 700m pipe off Scarborough.

The plan was eventually shelved after fierce resistance from the local group "Sons of Neptune", though the water board claimed it was "geological problems" that caused it to be shelved. Such an idea would never be contemplated nowadays which shows just how long a way we've come in the last quarter century.  

And for all that it's like Blackpool, it's on a much smaller scale and far more interesting. Blackpool is just mile after mile of never-ending tat in a dead straight line, but here the South bay curves round for a mile or so, and then there's beautiful scenery at each end. Or you can climb up the cliffs and pop into the town which offers a complete contrast

There's a small harbour which still operates commercially and gets some reasonably large vessels in. There's a museum and small funfair, but mainly there's people eating.

Scarborough Spa Complex

If you walk along the beach to the South it gets really nice as you come to the Spa complex. This is an absolutely majestic victorian complex which is well worth looking round.

During the Summer, the Spa orchestra perform two concerts a day in the Grand Hall, which really does live up to its name. Definitely worth a visit. You'll also see the suspension bridge which used to be popular as a venue for ending it all, but fortunately nowadays has good tall railings.

Continuing South there's some really pretty paths leading out of the town. In fact it's a part of the Cleveland Way long distance footpath and the clifftop walk from Scarborough to Filey is exquisite. Directions are simple, allow half a day and follow the coast path South till you reach filey - then catch a train or bus back.

The North Bay

The more genteel end of town, with a lot of rather nice attractions.

Peasholm Park

Peasholm Park is a traditional municipal park with a large ornamental lake. The lake itself is interesting, because during the main season they still recreate the WWII Battle of the River Plate with model warships. I remember seeing this about forty years ago, and being really impressed. Model ships about twenty foot long, lots of smoke and bangs, and of course the Germans losing.

I suspect I might be less impressed today and I'm really not sure today's generation of kids would be quite as enthralled as I was.

Interestingly enough the ships aren't remote controlled. Most of them have a council employee sat in the bottom steering whilst peering out through spy holes in the funnel. And of course, it's not the Germans who lose the battle anymore, it's an un-named enemy.

Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Over the main road is another park - Northstead Manor Gardens. There's a railway you can catch to Scalby Ness where the Sea Life Centre is. The Sea Life Centre is, well, a Sea Life Centre. If you've seen one you've seen them all - but good for amusing kids on a wet day.

Next to the railway is a small lake that you can go boating on, and a log flume, and next to that is the amazing new attraction - the outdoor theatre. Well it's not really new, it dates from the 1930's but fell into disuse in the 1970's, and has now been fully refurbished. It has 6,500 seats, and the really cool thing is that the stage is on an island in the lake. Ought to be ideal for "The Pirates of Penzance", "Mutiny on The Bounty" or "HMS Pinafore". Having been to take a look, it really is very nice indeed, and I wish them all the best with it. While I was there they were using the lake for a sort of "aqua sphereing", where children were placed in large rubber balloons that were then inflated with what looked suspiciously like a leaf-blower. Once inflated, they were then chucked in the lake. Looked like great fun.

Scarborough Miniature Tank Driving

Near the front there used to be an absolutely fantastic outdoor swimming pool called the  "Atlantis Water Park". It had unbelievable water slides curving down the side of the hill and was really exciting.

Unfortunately that was closed down and for a couple of seasons was replaced by a few crappy fairground rides.

Today the site is still semi-derelict, but is now used for paintball, toy tank driving and stuff like that.

Click here for a picture of what's been lost.

Scarborough Sands

Next door to it has appeared the "Sands" development - a spectacularly ugly development of buy-to-let holiday flats and a collection of garish beach huts. And all in the name of regeneration.

To be fair to the council they tried to install a cracking modernistic sculpture called "The Wave" along the sea wall, though due to local opposition to it and cost overruns the project had to be abandoned. Talking of cost-overruns, I don't think they'd want reminding about the major cock-up they made in rebuilding the sea wall. A near 100% cost overrun, an illegally awarded contract to begin with and then an abortive attempt at suppressing the report which documented the whole sorry farce.

Scarborough Town Centre

Scarborough town has a very great deal going for it. It's a mediaeval layout, which itself is probably based on an even older layout and it has to cope with the weird geography of having two bays. It really is easy to get lost and there's a surprise round every corner, but best of all it's totally unpretentious.  Loads of good little shops, loads of great pubs and no shortage of places to eat. I guess the only downside is that it's awfully hilly so not so good for the old folk.

There's a lot of grand hotels and large terraces which make the place a pleasure to wander around, but if you're looking for interior design emporia, designer clothes shops and rubbish like that you'd be better off elsewhere.

There's also a rather good auction house where I once bought a rather fine mid 19th century Italian duelling pistol. It shot beautifully too. Just as an aside, here's how crazy British firearms law is. You can buy an antique gun without a licence, take it home and hang it on the wall. If you then want to shoot it you need to go through the bureaucratic nightmare of adding it to a firearm certificate and keep it locked up in a steel cabinet. When you tire of shooting it you tell the police to take it off your firearm certificate and you can hang it on the wall again. Couldn't make it up if you tried!

Scarborough Castle

Scarborough castle

Scarborough has a very fine Norman Castle, occupying the prime spot on the headland, and offering an oasis of peace and tranquility in this very busy town. But because of the weird geography of Scarborough it can be a real pig to find. You can see it from both bays and from large parts of the town, but once you try and find it from the town centre it vanishes and you end up walking right past it. So a word of advice; if approaching from the town side, follow the signs.

The castle itself is in the care of English Heritage, and standard admission charges apply. As ever, you're funnelled through a gift shop, but I wasn't subjected to the heavy sell I've had to put up with at other English Heritage sites.

Of the castle itself, there's not an awful lot left. The Keep was severely damaged in The Civil War, and the curtain wall demolished afterwards when Parliament ordered the castle slighted. The Motte and Bailey are still there though, and the grounds are far bigger than you'd expect.

What's left today though is an enormous open space on the top of the cliffs, with a magnificent sense of grandeur. A wonderful place to chill or picnic.

Cliff Lifts

I do like cliff lifts. There used to be five of them in Scarborough, now sadly reduced to two.

The North Bay Cliff Lift was closed by the council in 1998 because it needed £120,000 of repairs , and was promptly given away to Launceston in Cornwall. Twelve years later, in 2010, Launceston have still failed to rebuild it! Fred Dibnah must be spinning in his grave. There aren't many tourist towns stupid enough to scrap their heritage like that. Perhaps Scarborough Council should admit what a stupid decision they made and ask for it back.

The St Nicholas Cliff List is the most magnificent of them all. But it's the same old story - closed in 2006 because the myopic council didn't want to maintain it. This time it was a paltry 650k that was needed, but oh no, far better to close it and give it away. The one hopeful note here is that they haven't managed to destroy it yet, and they've now applied for a lottery heritage grant. So here we are in September 2010, about to face the most severe public spending cuts ever and that's the best plan they can devise. Words fail me!

The Spa Cliff Lift is still functioning. Hoorah! Mind you it only runs as and when they feel like it out of season. Built in 1875 it was originally powered by sea-water and counterweights with two steam engines pumping the water up the cliff. Since 1947 it's been electric, but what a fantastic project it would be to convert it back to the original spec. Now that would be a tourist attraction

The South Bay Cliff Lift(1880) or Central Tramway is right in the middle of South Bay and takes you up to the town. Unfortunately it has a pig-ugly 1970's frontage that woefully disfigures it. It's still running though, so can't complain too much.

Scarborough - Spa Cliff Lift Scarborough - South Bay Cliff Lift
Picture of Spa Cliff Lift © M Evison

Transport Links

Transport links are good. The main route in being from York which is now a pretty fast route all the way. In the 70's there were notorious bottlenecks at Tadcaster, York and Malton but all now have bypasses. For a prettier route you come up Sutton Bank and across the bottom edge of the North York Moors through Helmsley and Pickering. It's slower but prettier.

There's a really fast cheap bus from Leeds called  The Yorkshire Coastliner. The journey takes about two and three quarter hours, you don't need to book, services are frequent and it only costs around thirteen quid for the Day Rover style ticket. In fact services run to all the main places on the East coast so it can make for a really relaxing day out - especially for pensioners who all get to ride for free nowadays.

What's not relaxing is working out the Byzantine pricing structure. I still haven't managed to decipher what the following means: The Single Fare is not the Standard Fare. Should you fail to purchase any other type of ticket from the bus driver when you board, or present a valid pre-purchased ticket; pass; or travel permit, you will be charged the Standard Fare of £20.00. I'm guessing it translates as "Fare dodgers will be fined £20"

If you fancy the train, that takes about 1 hour 20 from Leeds and costs about twice as much as the bus. No doubt you can get a cheaper fare than that if you have a super-adult-family-day-earlybird-easyrider rail card signed with the blood of your firstborn child and can spend three days or so studying the pricing structure.


Scarborough and the surrounding area is packed with holiday cottages. A Google search will pull up plenty of individual ones, but here's links to some of the big players:

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Comments (9)
Clearly you have never actually visited the "poxy star disk" because it isn't on the old site of Atlantis, but a couple of miles away next to the spa.Atlantis has now been demolished ( it was never left in disrepair for years) and a new complex called The Sands is being built there.
posted by S.Moseley 01/04/2008 18:07:58
it's a shame about the water park, it should have been refurbed and marketed as an attraction. The new development looks like a huge mistake.
posted by ave Alexander 13/04/2008 11:54:27
Aaah! Scarborough - memories of the annual coach trip to the Open Air Theatre (make sure you take your raincoat, and it will be cancelled if the weather's really bad). Put me off the theatre for life. But the interesting trip (when there was still a railway line from Kirkbymoorside via Helmsley) was the very occasional shopping train excursion that ran to York. Helmsley, a thriving market town in those days, is now post industrial twee, I hear. Twee bank, too: the old Midland Bank is now a sub-branch of Kirkbymoorside HSBC, yet retains its own sort code to fool us.
posted by dreamingspire 01/12/2008 07:07:46
What a shame that the corner and atlantis have dissapeard i thought it was a perfect balance for the whole area.The sands looks fantastic. But where it is on the site of what was a very exciting, relaxing place to be, for many of us over the years.?
posted by ian harvey 08/02/2009 20:46:42
oohhhhh scarborough is a beautiful place!
posted by EMMA AND AMY 03/03/2009 12:47:01
chill out
i live in scarborough and go to the college
u cannot change the past so chill out about the sand project
enjoy Scarborough for what it is now
posted by Wouldn't You Like To Know? 10/03/2009 19:20:20
stunning and as lovely as ever,dont miss out get there as soon as you can
posted by marknjane 14/09/2009 12:27:15
cool beach -
posted by captain Fantastic 08/08/2010 09:58:23
Thank goodness for the Sands resort that we only discovered on the last day of our break it is the only part of our Scarborough weekend that we enjoyed. We stayed at the South Bay at the Crown spa which was something out of the 80's it was dirty and not what I would call 4 star bordering 3 star. The main promenande was a hell hole and my husband was so disappointed until we found the North bay finally a bit of luxury and normality and not a donkey in sight. Thought at one point that we could have been abroad. What a difference the northside is and a totally different variety of people it goes to show from the comments of the person writing this website we are all very different people and have different levels of what we expect and the south side of Scarborough is somewhere I would run a mile from. The regeneration of the Northside is probably down to the sands development although expensive to stay has brought a much nicer clientelle and a less sleazy side to holidaying in Scarborough and I would definitely want to go there again just wish the South side would follow in the same direction slightly and clean up all I remeber is a lot of bedsits on the front in disrepair and yobs on the promenade. tacky!!!
posted by julie 09/03/2011 12:24:19
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