Us Brits do like to be beside the seaside, and with so many cheap flights on offer, it’s all too easy to whizz over to the continent for sun, sea and sand. But with coronavirus throwing many of our holiday plans into disarray, it’s time to rediscover the wonder of the UK’s bountiful beaches. Vicky Smith takes a nostalgia trip through her childhood holidays to British seaside towns…
Lead image: Trebarwith Strand (Zoblinski / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
As the uncertainty around whether or not we’re going to be able to go abroad this summer rumbles on – with the ‘can we, can’t we’ question throwing up different answers on an almost daily basis – I’ve decided to shift my gaze towards what’s right here in the UK.
It won’t be for the first time. Thanks to the fact both my parents refuse to get on an aeroplane, holidays when I was young were largely spent on British beaches, so I’m no stranger to the sandy stretches and rocky outcrops that line our shores.
In fact, it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan. With this in mind, I plan to return to the coastal towns and promenades that defined my childhood holidays, and I can’t wait.
My first stop will be Cornwall. It’s all too easy to recall moments from childhood through a gilded lens, but my sense of excitement at the prospect of revisiting the wild and wonderful Cornish coast is based on much more than rose-tinted nostalgia – it’s thanks to just how genuinely beautiful it all is.
Number one on my re-visit list is a place with the kind of rugged good looks that make you swoon: Trebarwith Strand on the north coast. There are a couple of reasons this magical spot sticks in my memory, starting with its name.
Say it out loud and it sounds like you’re speaking a mythical language – I can almost hear Cate Blanchett whispering it to Frodo as she sends him out on a mystical journey – and when you arrive, it looks just as magical as it sounds.
‘My overriding memory of Cromer is eating fresh crab sandwiches on the pretty Victorian pier while a brisk July wind blew salty spray off the North Sea’
To reach the beach you have to traverse a wide, flat plane of rock, shiny from years of salt water spray and visitors’ footsteps, before a swathe of golden sand and the glittering sea beyond open up in front of you. It. Is. Glorious.
There’s even a campsite that backs onto the sand, making it feel as though you’re basically sleeping on the beach – as alluring a prospect to my 36-year-old self as it was to the 10-year-old version.
While I could continue my love letter to the Cornish coast, and neighbouring Devon too – from Saunton Sands’ supermodel-perfect aesthetic to Brixham’s old-school fishing village vibes and Torquay’s nostalgia-packed promenade – I’ll be heading further north for my next stop, to Cromer.
My overriding memory of this traditional seaside town on the north coast of Norfolk is eating fresh crab sandwiches on the pretty Victorian pier while a brisk July wind blew salty spray off the not-exactly-balmy North Sea over my face.
I have it on good authority (a friend who recently spent the weekend doing exactly the same) that nothing much has changed, and so my desire to return is even stronger. Will the sandwiches be as good? Hopefully. Will the sea look as cold? Almost certainly. Will I enjoy every second? Absolutely.
From there, it’ll be a trip south, through Great Yarmouth (one of the holiday hotspots for traditional seaside pursuits thanks to its ‘Golden Mile’ of arcades, fairground rides and fish and chips) and into Suffolk to revisit Southwold, a place so full of quaint seaside charm and perfection, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked onto a television set (see also: Whitstable).
I can’t wait to see the neat rows of brightly painted beach huts lined up on the powdery beach, wander around the bouji boutiques and craft breweries in the historical town centre, and settle into a deck chair with an artisan ice cream.
But while I love Southwold for its understated elegance, to conclude my coastal trip down memory lane, there’s only one rightful last stop, and it’s a place where the lights are a lot brighter and the nights a lot later…
For many who, like me, grew up in London, Brighton was THE last word in summer holiday fun. An hour on a train from Clapham Junction and you emerged into its buzzing streets, poised and ready to dash through the crowds with your eyes set firmly on the prize: the perennially windy promenade, a massive pebbly beach, and the pier to end all piers.
Fish and chips, the Sea Life Centre, kamikaze rollerbladers and naked bathers; packed pubs, crazy coach parties, daytime revellers and sun seekers… This seaside city is memorable to me for so many reasons, and it’s a place that never loses its allure.
Indeed, I’ve revisited a lot throughout my life, so returning now won’t be an unusual move, but the childish excitement when I exit the station and clap eyes on the sea in the distance will remain as feverish as ever. I’m not convinced travelling anywhere further afield could provide that.
From Dover’s breathtaking chalky cliffs to the dreamy white sands of Camusdarach on Scotland’s west coast, the UK is full of first-rate seaside destinations to explore. Instead of navigating the ‘new normal’ when it comes to travelling abroad, consider getting on a train this summer and staying right here. Bucket and spade optional, but recommended.