Day 1, Scarborough
I’m sitting in the restaurant of The Grand Hotel, Scarborough, with a perfect view out to sea with Scarborough castle perched on the cliff top beyond the harbour.
At least the trains were on time today AND the taxi turned up so I arrived in Scarborough on time, right at 2 p.m. Even though it was well before noon when I set off my fellow travellers were already in party mood, and I thought back to my train journey through Scotland just 2 days ago where it is illegal to consume alcohol on trains, something I wasn’t aware of.
I knew that checkin at the hotel wasn’t until 4 p.m. and according to their email this was ‘strictly enforced.’ As I was in the process of booking my stay I’d briefly noticed a video on YouTube describing the hotel as ‘The worst rated in Europe?’ and I dismissed it as another crank’s hyperbole, but it had mentioned that the lines for checkin can be over an hour long, both with the high number of guests and the gross incompetence of the staff. So I decided to take my time and I found a handy shoe store on my walk through town since last week in Stonehaven the strap had broken on my beloved Jambou sandals and was irreparable. The main street was busy, busy, busy and I had to pick my way around push chairs, dogs, toddlers on reins and mobility scooters as I wound my way to the hotel. It was only just gone 3 o’clock but my backpack was too heavy to cart around and sight see. The building is impressive to say the least. As are the list of previous guests: Frederick Delius, Gracie Fields and The Beatles, along with Sir Winston Churchill, Edward Vlll and Ramsay MacDonald, England’s first labour prime minister. And, if the Daily Express is to be believed ‘ADOLF HITLER dreamed of converting a seaside hotel into his personal palace if he had invaded Britain. The fuhrer planned to hold court at the spectacular Grand Hotel in Scarborough which towers over the North Yorkshire resort’s Golden Mile.’
There were three receptionists at the checkin desk and just one person in front of me. I waited 20 minutes and then I was called to the desk. Everything was going along nicely. He assured me that my room was ready and suddenly a supervisor appeared and announced a change of shift. Even though the receptionist was halfway through checking me in he had to stop and I waited for another person to log in to the computer, find where my booking information was and eventually complete the transaction. My room was on the fifth floor which was fortunate because that’s as high as the lift goes. I hadn’t paid extra for a sea view but I had paid extra for a window! There are many rooms named ‘city rooms’ without windows if you can believe that! It was already quite warm in my room with its west facing aspect so I went over to the window to open it.
Couldn’t. I immediately had visions of me roasting alive since the temperature was expected to reach 90F – or more. Hmm.
15 minutes after setting foot in my room I went off to start exploring the town – that’s so ‘me’ when I’m travelling. As I waited for the lift an employee was waiting too. “I can’t seem to open my window,” I began. “They all open,” he replied. “Can you show me how?” I felt as if I’d just turned into Emma Thompson in the movie I saw last week ‘Leo Grand’ so I took him back to my room and he worked his magic, and in moments the window was open to its full 6” capacity.
I made my grand entry into the lobby down the majestic staircase, designed specifically so that two ladies wearing crinoline dresses could pass with their escorts without impediment, and headed for the terrace, overlooking the sea.
Seagull poop is a major problem here, along with their shrill cries and propensity to want to come and eat or drink anything you have in your hand. In fact, the entire town has a major seagull problem and signs keep reminding people not to feed the birds, even at tuppence a bag, but I saw many people doing just that.
Each morning I would see someone with a giant hose pipe hosing down all the exterior flat surfaces to keep fresh poop from setting hard.
As I sat there watching the birds’ antics I began to differentiate the swooping calls of certain birds and then I heard little tweets and looked up at the amazing brick facade of the building above me. At the time of its construction this was the largest brick building in Europe, and the largest hotel in Europe.
It was designed by Cuthbert Broderick who designed the grand edifice of Leeds Town Hall and in whose memory I have been known to raise a glass at the nearby Wetherspoons, named after him. Cuthbert paid amazing attention to detail. The intricate moulding around the rounded arched windows is beautiful. He even personally designed the metal downspouts.
This evening, perched above many of the windows were nests, and the fluffy baby seagulls were tweeting to their parents “It’s tea-time, mummy.”
Leaving the hotel I took the steps at the side, running the length of the Victorian funicular railway, leading down the cliff to the beach. Known as ‘seagull’ alley the steps were deep in white guano. The road along the seafront was packed with people, most of them with young children, eating fish and chips and queuing at the fresh seafood stalls. The beach was a mass of people, some with beach umbrellas but many, many people in as few clothes as possible getting burned by the intense sun but women in saris seemed to have the best idea with loose fitting clothing but with all skin covered, especially those wearing burkas.
On hearing that I was bound for the seaside my morning taxi driver from Islamabad had recounted his recent visit to Turkey with his caucasian girlfriend who insisted in getting as tanned as possible. “In Pakistan we cover up when the sun is strong,” he called. “She cried all the next day because the burns hurt so much.”
I passed Scarborough fair full of screaming children enjoying the rides and headed towards the lighthouse which was less densely populated affording me great views of the castle and the bay, entire dominated by the Grand Hotel. Colourful tourist boats vied for position with the fishing boats and the two arms of the jetty were packed with prawn creels – all very picturesque.
By 6 o’clock I was back in my room, and after checking that the tv remote was present, and that the tv worked, and that the shower worked, I set off to find dinner. I’d booked dinner at the hotel (by accident) and I soon regretted it, although I hadn’t seen any places to eat dinner part from fish and chip stalls so far.
The dining room was absolutely enormous capable of seating several hundred people but there were only about 20 people having dinner. I had to show my room key to the receptionist who told me I could sit anywhere. I sat down at a table by the window and waited to be served – and waited, and waited. Eventually I went back to the check-in desk. A different receptionist looked up from her desk which I noticed had an interesting sign attached – on her side of the counter!
“Oh, didn’t she tell you? You serve yourself from the buffet table.” Got it.
It was a hot buffet. Just what you need when it’s the hottest day of the year. The serving spoons in the dishes of macaroni cheese, breaded pollock and roast pork slices had heated up under the heat lamps to the point where I was in serious danger of burning my hands if I used them. All the food had been sitting there for 2 hours under these heat lamps and there was only one cold dish – lettuce and cucumber slices. Dessert proved to be somewhat better with cool cheese cake available in several different flavours. The glasses for water were so tiny I had to go and refill mine 4 times during my meal. Coffee (instant) and tea were served in the lounge.
After this wonderful experience I took a walk to the south side of the bay passing the original spa building which was what sparked off the development of Scarborough as a town for wealthy tourists rather than just a fishing community. Adjacent to the building is an outside area with deck chairs and a bandstand that I’d seen on my previous visit to Scarborough in 2018 when I’d taken a special excursion steam train direct from Hebden Bridge.
A notice drew my attention. The Spa Orchestra was giving an outdoor performance here tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock. What fun it would be to sit in a deck chair, open to the elements, overlooking the sea listening to the orchestra in the covered bandstand. Farther along the promenade the seafront wall was edged with local rock, wonderfully weathered.
I returned to the hotel via the blue bridge that was constructed to allow access to the Spa from the rest of the town and my passage was accompanied by very persistent seagulls. I poked my nose into the cabaret taking place in the ballroom. As the website states: ‘LIVE entertainment is available every night in the hotel’s stunning ballroom, with dazzling cabaret shows featuring professional dancers and entertainers dressed in stunning costumes.’ Here a solitary singer was singing to a backing track while a grandad entertained his grandchildren on the dance floor.
I purchased a booklet about the history of the hotel from the front desk and retired to the almost empty lounge for my ‘happy hour,’ reading about the history of the building and writing my journal.
I slept remarkably well considering the thinness of the walls and the screeching of the seagulls through my open window. My breakfast companions were a group of heavily tattooed Belgian motorcyclists on one side and a table with two mums and five children under the age of three. One of the little ones had a piercing scream which she used to good effect and even when she had been whisked off out of the restaurant her cries could be heard from the level above. Going back to my room there were two men in the lift when we were joined at the next floor by a woman in uniform. “Yer work ‘ere, luv?” one of them asked her. “Yes.” “Well it’s raining in our room, pourin’ in through t’ ceiling. ‘Ere, look. A’ve taken a video,” and he pulled out his phone to show his movie. Well. I had woken up to strong winds, rain and heavy clouds which had completely taken me by surprise.
I called the Spa to find out if the outdoor concert would still be held outside. I wasn’t interested in attending if it had been moved indoors because of the rain – I wanted the experience the special ambiance of the outdoor setting. I was assured that since it had now stopped raining the concert would go ahead in the courtyard so I made my way down to the Spa. There was a small coffee stand in the Sun Court and a long line beside it. There was one person making the tea and coffee and dealing with the money. Coffee? I can’t honour the bitter brown drink that I was served with by that name. Hot water had been poured on the contents of the sachet of instant brown stuff that passes for coffee in many establishments in England. Ugh! Anyway, I found a comfy looking deck chair and plonked myself down to relax beneath the racing clouds.
Although the repertoire wasn’t my cup of tea (more like the coffee) the standard of performance was excellent, many of the instrumentalists doubling up on a second instrument. The orchestra consisted of ten members and the director who had a degree from York University. It’s the last remaining professional seaside orchestra in the country and performs 8 concerts a week during the ten week season. Although almost without exception the audience were grey haired the orchestra were definitely not. In fact, the trombonist appeared to be in his mid twenties. The concert finished at 12:30 and then I followed my plan of catching the bus and spending the afternoon in Robin Hood’s Bay. The bus ride took 50 minutes mostly through rolling countryside where the corn, oats and barley were golden in the sunshine which had made its appearance during the concert. The heather on the open moorland was just beginning to show its purple colouration. I hadn’t been to Robin Hood’s Bay since hiking 39 miles of the Cleveland Way from Saltburn to Scarborough in 1982. I saw a sign pot for Boggle Hole youth hostel where we had stayed.
The village is also the starting/ending point of the famous Wainwright’s Coast to Coast footpath, 117 miles of which I hiked, beginning at Richmond and ending at St Bees. Since we were hiking both to and from the village I hadn’t remembered that there is no traffic allowed in the village – or perhaps there was when I went before, but the bus stopped at the top of the village in a large car park with toilets available. I popped in to use the facilities but popped out again immediately. You needed two 20p coins to access the facilities and I didn’t have a single coin in my purse. Fortunately I soon found someone to give me change. I thought pay toilets were a thing of the past.
Suitably refreshed I set off down the one street that leads to the sea. It’s so steep in many places that steps have been put adjacent to the road to assist the heavy foot traffic, and busy the village was.
In its terrain it is similar to Hebden Bridge but with its golden stone and picturesque bolt holes the village has a much prettier feel to it – less Yorkshire Grit, more Yorkshire colour. I recently watched a travel program about the village’s history and the bolt holes were escape routes and places of hiding for the pirates who made this almost hidden village their headquarters. These side streets were wonderful with their nooks and crannies, buildings on top of other buildings, covered passageways and tiny well kept gardens in full bloom at the moment. If you look up Robin Hood’s Bay on the web you are confronted with page upon page of Holiday Lets. A very small proportion of the houses are owner occupied but there are some interesting tourist shops and lovely pubs.
I took a look in the dinosaur ‘museum’ which, alongside the dinosaur skeletons has fossils to purchase. I bought another ammonite necklace in honour of my ancestor, Samuel Gibson, (1793-1849) a notable fossil collector from Hebden Bridge whose fossil collection I have been to see in the back rooms of the Manchester Museum. He lived for a while in Mytholmroyd, keeping a pub in which were displayed his collections. I had to clarify with the shopkeeper that this was a genuine ammonite fossil since it was only £1. And them I just had to buy a lapis lazuli bracelet, £6, and two more stone bracelets.
From one of the little shops I bought a fresh crab sandwich and wound my way down to the beach at found a spot on the cliff wall to sit and eat my picnic.
I didn’t realise it at the time that a tunnel from my sitting spot into the cliff wall was actually a smugglers’ tunnel leading to one of the tiny streets with the cottages so that the smugglers could take their goods directly from the boats to their homes. I took off my new shoes and paddled through a few rock pools, got an ice cream from the van parked on the sand and then an iced latte.
On the way back up I explored the mosaics on the cliff wall and then headed up to the bus stop at the top of the village. I didn’t have long to wait and in 50 minutes I was back in Scarborough, the view having been better from the upper deck of a double decker.
I spent an hour or so wandering around the town, suddenly seeing a hotel whose name seemed familiar – the Falcon Inn. It looked closed up but the front door sported a handwritten sign saying ‘Please ring the bell for service. Don’t knock.’ well, I tried but no service appeared. It looked abandoned but some of the windows were open. I asked a couple of my taxi drivers but they didn’t seem to have heard of it despite it being quite a large establishment. one of my ancestors, Stansfield Gibson married, in 1901, as his fourth wife the widow of the man who kept this hotel. His story can be found on another post in my blog.
Eventually I took up temporary residence at an outside table at the King Richard lll inn, and spent an hour people watching. As the pub’s website says: ‘We take our name from THE King Richard III! It has long been believed Richard III stayed in the Grade I listed building whilst on naval business in Scarborough back in the 1400s.’ Some of today’s people’s summer outfits were stunning. Back in the hotel I had a quick shower, chatted to Anna from the terrace about how her new job is going, being serenaded by the seagulls throughout our conversation
and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. After writing my journal in the bar I headed off to my room by 9:30 and watched a couple of quiz shows on tv before switching out the light.
On waking up next morning I was relieved to find a coolish breeze issuing from my open window. I watched a YouTube video about the history of my current residence, and after breakfast took a little stroll into town to judge the severity of the heat since the government’s extreme red alert health warning was still in place. The highest temperature ever recorded in England would be today, 104F which was why I had selected Scarborough as my destination, where it was only predicted to reach 80F. And, oh yes, I bought another pair of sandals from the same shop since the blisters I incurred yesterday were very painful. All three of my Jambou sandals have worn out and my only remaining pair of sandals are on their last legs.
Back in the hotel I set off to explore the ‘hidden’ rooms- the premier restaurant, the cricket room and a couple of completely empty lounges with furniture that looks as if it’s never been sat in. My attempts to call a taxi from the free taxi phone in the foyer took a while but I eventually got a response and so after an iced frappe and a poppy seed muffin in the
courtyard of The Cat’s Pyjamas I got the taxi to take me to Peasholme Park from where I could hop on a miniature railway to take me to Scalby Mill,
reminding me of the little railway I took with Anna in the Bois de Boulogne on my last trip abroad before Lockdown. The ride was only ten minutes long but I saw the extent of the park with its boating lakes full of dinosaur boats – certainly a place worth exploring on a cooler day.
I took a little wander around the north bay with the same view of the castle we had when we were just completing our Cleveland Way hike. I thought about going to Sea Life aquatic centre but many of the animals are outdoors. In normal circumstances I’d have walked back along the beach into town passing the brightly coloured beach huts and climbed up the cliff to the castle and the church where Ann Bronte is buried but with such heat I didn’t think that would be wise.
So I walked back to the little railway station and waited for the train in a covered area serenaded by birds nesting on the ledges above me. I had a hot dog (ha!) in the park but it was just too hot to explore the park though I did pass the giant outdoor arena seating 8000 where big names were being advertised. I was surprised to see Simply Red are appearing there this month and also George Ezra, two of my favourite acts. Built in the 1930s and revamped in 2010 it has played host to Elton John, Brittany Spears and Noel Gallagher.
Back in town I tried to book a two hour boat trip to Whitby passing Robin Hood’s Bay but despite the heat, it was currently 85F, apparently there was too strong a wind out at sea to run the trip, so I settled for a short half hour sail around the harbour. As people boarded the little boat I really felt like Jacques from As You Like It- an observer rather than a participant. The volume at which many of the people speak to each other (with no alcohol involved), and the yells and screams every time the boat swayed or bounced over the wake that the speed boat in front of us made me cringe. They were so intent on taking selfies too. Of course I was the only person of the 20 of us on board traveling alone which gave me the opportunity to watch the British, mostly Yorkshire folk, at play. One man looked remarkably like Mark Twain!
The ship’s mate pointed out the headland of Filey Brigg to the South and we could just make out Flamborough Head beyond. As the boat turned and headed back north into the harbour I found it quite incredible to think that I’d walked the entirety of the cliffs in front of us.
On the way back to the hotel I wandered around the Bolts, the back streets of what is left of the fishing village of Scarborough, providing me with my daily fix of abandoned doorways and rusting bannisters on well-worn staircases connecting the old streets, here all encrusted with guano.
Dinner in the dining room was a very hot, gloomy, uncomfortable affair since the management had closed all the windows and drawn the heavy curtains in a vain attempt to stop the heat getting in. A hot buffet was just what I needed for dinner 🙁 Back in my room I was treated to a lovely golden sunset.
The weather forecast was for it to be the hottest day ever recorded in England, and the met office got it absolutely right. While the temperature in Hebden Bridge was forecast to be 98F
I was to enjoy the comparative cool of 89F in Scarborough. So faced with the prospect of a considerable hiked up to the castle so I plumped for an hour’s bus ride hoping that the open windows of the bus would give me some semblance of a breeze. Bridlington’s high was predicted to be a mere 76F .
The bus wound its way through the Yorkshire Wolds through loads of caravan sites! These vast places were something else with their own bus stops (sometimes 2, so extensive were the sites), boating lakes, playgrounds, indoors sports dome, supermarket, fishing lakes, and at one I even saw a tractor pulling a train taking residents of the park up from the beach since all the caravans are perched on the cliff tops.
The most famous of these sites is The Blue Dolphin with 350 sites for touring caravans and tents and 1000 static caravan, and this was just one of the sites the bus drove through.
I’d never been to Bridlington before and I’d imagined it as a fishing town so I was expecting an industrial town centred around an active fishing industry. No way! The place is a Mecca for tourists with its huge bay and welcoming sands, fish and chip shops in every second building – not what I expected at all. My first stop was a stroll around the harbour and an iced coffee at Tilly’s coffee shop, the name of my kitty.
Many of the boat tours had been cancelled due to the strong south east winds causing rough sea conditions further out to sea than I could see. I watched a pirate ship, complete with its Jolly Roger flag sail from the dock but it was only a 15 minute ride.
After picking up a seafood platter at one of the ubiquitous seafood shops I found one of the few benches in the shade. I’d just sat down to eat when I found myself looking at a dead seagull chick in a shop doorway. The ladies on the next bench told me they’d heard it fall late last night (!?).
I decided to walk along the South Promenade. It sounded so grand, and indeed, there was a Spa that’s now a theatre. Various water features were scattered along my route, pools in full use and an artificial water course for paddling on concrete. I selected to go for a paddle in the sea and its coolness was very much appreciated. At one point I was passed by a land train and every so far a train logo was painted on the promenade, so despite the heat I thought I’d walk the full length of the promenade knowing I could take the land train back into town. It ran every 20 minutes so when I’d had enough walking I sat on a bench and waited for the train at the next painted logo. I stuck out my hand as the train approached. It slowed down. It stopped. The driver leaned out of his cab. “I can’t pick you up. The nearest place to get on the rain is a mile further along, at the Spa.” I pointed to the logo painted on the promenade. “Oh, that’s just to warn people to beware of the train. Sorry luv.”
With heavier steps I headed back into town and made my way to the bus station which wasn’t easy since it’s in a residential neighbourhood and completely surrounded on all sides by Victorian terraced houses.
I couldn’t decide whether or not to break my journey at Filey on the way back. I’d only ever been there once and that’s when I was 6 years old and I went with my dad for a week at Butlins holiday camp. My mum wouldn’t go. Very odd. I think she thought Butlins was “common.” Knowing I’d be in the vicinity I’d watched a YouTube video about the old camp. It closed down many years ago, its station, where I suppose we must have arrived, abandoned and houses built on the site. I also found out that Butlins had once owned the Grand Hotel where I was staying. Anyway, I thought I’d give it a whirl so I got off the bus at Filey bus station and found my way down the steep hill to the beach. Nothing much attracted my attention, or maybe I was just hot and tired. I’d no recollection of going in the sea but I did find a photo proving that I did, all those years ago.
I didn’t stay very long. I got the bus back to Scarborough and relaxed on the terrace with “Enduring Love’ my chosen book for this trip. Again the restaurant was really too hot for me to eat in and I asked the receptionist if I could take my dinner out onto the terrace. She replied that she didn’t know what the rule was about that. “Well, I’ll just do it and see what happens,” I replied. I filled my plate with food that had been sitting under the hot lights for over 2 hours, covered it with another plate and headed onto the terrace. It must have been 20F cooler there but I did have to recover my plate with the spare plate immediately between every bite otherwise the seagulls would have whisked every morsel away.
I had very little packing to do, mainly the two pairs of new shoes I had purchased. Next morning I took at taxi back to the railway station and had an uneventful journey back to Hebden Bridge.