Tourist Information, St Nicholas Cliff, Scarborough. 0723 373333.
(posted Nov 2011): York (0904 59790).
Scarborough is a stronghold and has been since the Iron Age. The Romans came and a signal station was set up on the dominating cliff, and after them the Vikings arrived. The Scandinavian brothers Kormak and Thorgils came to this dramatic piece of coastline and set up a village community. Thorgils had a ‘harelip’, we are told, and was known as Skarthi, hence ‘Skarthi’s burg’. So as a town it has its fair share of history, and as a resort it has attracted its fair share of the famous; Richard III, the Sitwells, Anne Bronte is buried here, Daniel Defoe came and wrote, ‘Here is such a plenty of fish that I have hardly seen the like’. Sir George Caley, ‘Father of Aeronautics’, and the actor, Charles Laughton, were born here and the poet Wordsworth was married here. Today it is one of the great resorts of the east coast of Britain and it can lay claim to having set the style and trend for all future seaside holidays; back in the 1730s it first introduced sea bathing. The fortunes of the town have ebbed and flowed over the centuries but it has remained an important fishing and commercial port and it still attracts visitors in their thousands. It offers sandy beaches beneath high towering cliffs, brash brassy arcades, gardens, a zoo, Marineland, and enough theatres and cinemas to cope with bad-weather days. The North York Moors National Park, footpaths and trails for walkers and some extremely attractive gentle roads for the meandering motorist to explore are nearby.
Scarborough also has something else going for it; annual rainfall of less than twenty-five inches, average daily sunshine throughout the summer of six and a half hours, and average maximum temperatures in summer of 18.1�C (64.7�F) and in winter 7.9�C (46.4�F) means that it is cool in summer and gently warm in winter. However it is on the North Sea and there can be sudden unwelcome incursions of mist drifting in and the occasional sea drizzle to cope with.
Scarborough began as a spa, with mineral waters to cure just about any ill, and Doctor Whittie, in the 1660s as advisor. Under the shadow of the imperious, impregnable, unconquered castle are bays to the north and south. It was on the south bay that the ‘diversions’ began – strolling players, a coffee house, the Spa itself, billiards saloons, horse-racing on the sands, a bookseller and lending-library and the sea bathing from bathing machines. ‘The gentlemen go out a little way to sea in boats and jump in naked directly’, wrote a chronicler of the time. The ladies, more decorously, had gowns to hide them and guides to help them. In the evenings there were Subscription Balls, at which the men had to pay one shilling to dance, and there was gambling of all sorts as well as theatricals and concerts.
It has not looked back since. Extremely fortunate in its resident playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn, many of whose plays get their first performances at the Theatre-in-the-Round, there is also the Spa Max Jaffa and the Spa Orchestra. Other theatres provide the chance to see the stars of television and radio in the round and there are cinemas too.
Once everyone came to Scarborough by train and acres of sidings were needed to accommodate all the carriages, but even today the large train station has its moments, welcoming visitors for a few hours as well as those making longer stays.