Piers, pleasure and promenades…
there’s nothing like the Great British seaside...
We’ve been holidaying by the sea for hundreds of years but it was the Victorians who cemented the British seaside tradition, establishing the unique entertainments we love today. We speak to three families making British holidays great…
The beach shack owners
Jane Tyler runs The Winking Prawn café and barbecue on North Sands in Salcombe, Devon, with her partner of 26 years Mark Goodey.
‘I’ve always loved the seaside but never saw myself settling there until I discovered Salcombe, 16 years ago. Mark and I fell in love with its charm.
‘All our food’s locally sourced: Salcombe crab, Salcombe Dairy ice cream, and business is non-stop from April to September.
‘Being here helps you get back to basics and appreciate the simple things in life. A lot of regulars come every year – they’ve become friends.
‘Our children Lucy, Luke and nephew Lawrence are a big part of running the café and we love going rock pooling with our grandchildren. My granddaughter is desperate to run our vintage ice cream van.
‘It’s a much healthier, relaxed lifestyle here. Everyone’s so friendly and we can go to work in our jeans and flip flops. Now I’ve found Salcombe, I never see myself leaving.’
The Codman family has been bringing Punch and Judy to Llandudno, north Wales, since 1860. Jason Codman-Millband now runs the show.
‘Ours is the oldest running Punch and Judy show – my great-grandfather started it 153 years ago, carving many of our 70 puppets himself.
‘We stick to the traditional 350-year-old story – babies get thrown down stairs, Punch hits Judy… I’m really against watering the story down; it just wouldn’t be the same.
‘I took over the show from my dad in 2009. The kids love it, and I love getting them involved and seeing their reactions. They can be quite evil! At the end when the policeman is looking for Punch to have him hanged, they give Punch away.
‘I feel like I’m passing on a bit of seaside history. We don’t charge – any donations we get go to the upkeep.
‘Llandudno is much more traditional than other seaside resorts, it’s like stepping back in time - I think that’s what keeps people coming back.
‘Seaside resorts are a British institution. Punch and Judy is part of that.’
The lighthouse keeper
Retired engineer Mike Ennis helped restore the National Trust-run Souter Lighthouse in Sunderland and now gives talks about the landmark and its history.
‘I’d like to think this lighthouse has saved thousands of ships. Back when it was operational, there would have been hundreds of them out at sea each day in the area.
‘Most lighthouses are set out at sea on rocky outcrops but this one looks out from limestone cliffs across grasslands filled with wildflowers.
‘I’ve worked on and under the sea my whole life – I started as an apprentice in a shipyard before joining the merchant navy. I started out by helping to fix the lighthouse’s light and foghorn. As we worked I got into the history of the lighthouse and it’s become a passion. So many famous engineers and physicists worked on it.
‘Buildings like the lighthouse are iconic. There’s an art to them and they give people insight into engineering and machinery. That information must never be lost.’
Britain’s best family beaches
Pack a bucket and spade and head off to one of our pick of Britain’s most family-friendly beaches…
West Cliff beach, Whitby
Apparently it was this beach that inspired Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll to write his poem The Walrus and the Carpenter. Get inspired while lounging on a hired deckchair or perhaps taking a donkey ride. It's a Blue Flag beach too, meaning it’s been recognised for high standards of safety, beach management and clean seawater.
In summer, a colourful tractor train carries visitors the length of the seafront of this pretty seaside town. Relax on the large beach or in a beach hut (which you can rent) with the little ones, while older children check out the buzzing arcades.
Tenby South Beach, South West Wales
A mile and a half long and backed by sandy dunes, Tenby is a beach playground for families, even at high tide. It’s got a café and plenty of activities including a trampoline in high season. You can also take a boat to pretty Caldey Island.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Perfect for little explorers, the gentle sloping waters and rock pools at West Wittering beach are a haven for all kinds of interesting creatures. There’s even a special crabbing pool as well as activities such as horse riding, water and boat trips (August only). And, wherever you end up in the car park, you’ll never be more than 100 metres from the beach.
Burntisland, Fife, Scotland
This is a great little beach in an accessible location. You could hire beach huts along the seafront and watch the water lap the shore, but the kids might be more enticed by activities such as crazy golf, bouncy castles or the annual summer fairground. There are also baby-changing facilities and a pushchair ramp.
Southend on Sea, Essex
Along with seven miles of seafront, you’ll find the longest pleasure pier in the world. Southend Pier is a whopping 1.33miles long, with a railway that travels its full length. Enjoy brand new attractions including lighting displays as well as traditional seaside bucket-and-spade fun on the sandy beach. It’s also one of the driest places in the country…
Brilliant beach activities
Try these out for fun on the sand…
Forget paying for a round of crazy golf and make your own course in the sand instead. Dig little holes to putt into and create ramps, pathways, moats and dams near the shoreline. Grab a toy golf set and you’re good to go.
Create a treasure hunt. Agree on the boundaries for your hunt then hide a doll or beach toy behind a rock or half-buried in the sand for your children to find. Whoever finds it first gets to hide it for the next go.
Take building sandcastles to a whole new level and model anything you can imagine – an open-top racing car, a mermaid, a boat… Check out the Sand Sculpture Festival in Weston-Super-Mare (now until the end of September; westonsandsculpture.co.uk) for serious inspiration.
Five iconic British seaside resorts
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Often called the Brighton of the North, Scarborough became Britain’s first seaside resort when Scarborough Spa opened here in 1660, plus the first rolling bathing machines are recorded here, in 1735. These days, tourists enjoy donkey rides, rock pools and the Sea Life Centre on its North and South Bay beaches. Also worth a visit is the Sun Court Enclosure: an outdoor theatre where the last-surviving seaside orchestra in the country plays.
This iconic seaside town is world-famous and has three piers, donkeys and a fair (Pleasure Beach – the most visited amusement park in Britain). As well as marveling at its homage to the Eiffel Tower, visitors flock to the annual Blackpool Illuminations – an annual light extravaganza along the promenade that’s on from the end of August through to early November.
The 2013 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards ranked Bournemouth’s Hengistbury Head as the fifth best beach in Britain. Bournemouth boasts seven miles of golden sand, a traditional pier with a theatre, and you can hire out beach huts.
St Ives, Cornwall
In 2011 St Ives was named the UK’s number one beach resort, with Porthminster Beach currently rated the third best in the UK. The town is home to numerous seafood restaurants and a branch of the Tate art gallery, while just off shore; sharp-eyed visitors have spotted seals, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks.
A great example of the Victorian seaside, where visitors can enjoy the sandy beach, rock pools and renowned Cromer crab. This town on the north Norfolk coast is well known for its Summer Seaside Special – an almost-daily performance at the pier’s theatre (the last of its kind), featuring songs and dance, variety acts and saucy jokes.