May 7-9 2021
I must confess that the east cost has never really featured a whole lot on my adventure radar. Maybe it's because I'm not much of a morning person, preferring to watch the sun go down than to come up, naturally gravitating to the Lleyn Peninsula, Cardigan Bay, Pembrokeshire and the Scottish Islands for my fun. Then a few months back some friends invited us to join them in a socially distanced manner on a dive-boat off Lindisfarne to snorkel with seals. Seasickness aside (I've never had it over on the other side of the country) it was a very special experience and clearly just a peep at what the east has to offer.
Roll on the easing of another lockdown and a different set of friends offered us the opportunity to go check out a sea view apartment on the north bay of Scarborough. Visions of penny-arcades and knotted handkerchiefs battled a desperate desire to get away. This was followed by an instant re-appraisal on looking at pictures of the place online. At least we'd be able to hole up inside and make the most of the wifi, TV and comfy looking beds. Further investigation revealed that the north bay is somewhat different to its southern sister, home of the arcades and weathered Victorian B&Bs. Images of waves and rockpools evoked the recent memories of the seal colony a little further up the same coast and some firmly closed doors began to creak open in my mind. There was then a follow up with an offer to use the myriad of 'toys' in the rainbow coloured beach huts below the apartment. Toys such as surfboards, stand up paddleboards and sea kayaks. Toys like these surely mean surfing and larking about in the sea in wetsuits (it's still the east coast!). And where there's a wetsuit involved there's the scope for adventure. I'm hooked and it's taken all of about 60 seconds. How have I managed the previous 48 years without paying so much as a second glance to the area?
Friday arrives and we cram the car with wetsuits, boardgames (there's a storm forecast), books and the dog, before swinging by school to pick up the boys. This feels almost like the olden days, when we went on actual weekends away. Thankfully the roadmap out of lockdown is at a stage where weekends away are now allowed. I've long known that Sheffield is about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK but it's still a nice surprise when it takes us only two hours to reach the apartment, forging through unseasonable amounts of rain and standing water. But we arrive to rainbows and a sumptuous evening glow to the beach as we get out first glimpse of the sea for goodness knows how long.
Knowing there's another storm coming Dylan and I head straight to the beach for a quick dip. The swim towels still packed so we drip-dry in the last warmth of the day's sun, mesmerised by the reflections and light play on the herring-boned sand. The beach is quiet. It's low-season. We contrast starkly with distant dog walkers on the promenade, wrapped in scarves and coats as we revel in the salty freshness. It's one of 76 Blue-Flag beaches in England so we know the freshness is genuine.
Back in the apartment we shower and luxuriate. Fresh pizzas are cooked and eaten in the open-plan living space with open views towards Denmark (you can't actually see it, but we know it's out there in the distance), music live-streaming and managing to co-exist without bickering. This is pretty good. As I turn the lights out Soph requests that I pull the blinds closed so we are not woken by the sun. I mumble something about facing east and feeling obliged to watch the sun actually come up off the sea rather than from behind a hill. She doesn't argue, already half asleep in the comfy king size.
5am. I quarter open the eye that's not buried in my pillow. There's a pinky glow piercing the Venetian slats. I close my eye. Just for a minute. I know it will be worth it. I slide slowly out of bed trying not to wake anybody else. The pink glow is turning orange already. I grab the swim robe from the heated towel rail in the en-suite and ever-so-quietly open the door. The dog is stood wating for me, clearly excited in the way only a dog can be at 5am. I smuggle him outside as he clatters into bags and walls in his haste to welcome the new day. We are on the 1st floor. From the front doors it is approximately 10m to the sand! It's damp and cool, but positively golden as the first rays of the day begin to warm it. I try to find a sensible balance of mindfulness of the moment and the excitement of a genuine solo sunrise swim. The latter wins and I sprint into the water in the knowledge that the self timer selfie I've set up, if it works, will give me plenty of opportunity for mindfulness after the fact. Not to mention a killer post for social media!
I slip back in to bed to snatch a few more hours of sleep before making breakfast for the family. By now it's a whole different world out there. Heavy rain hammers on the windows. There are about as many people on the beach as there were at 5am. It is deserted. We gorge on croissants, eggs, toast, cereal, a spicy tomato salsa with a local seaweed-infused salt, seemingly unlimited orange juice and fancy coffee from the machine in the kitchen. The suggestion of a run in the rain is greeted with disdain from everybody but the dog who recognised the word 'run' begins to spin in giddy circles in anticipation. A little persuasion, a look into his longing eyes, and we head out to brave the elements. And elemental it is too. We soon realise that despite the fact that it is well into May, we are a long way north and it is unseasonably cold. Hands first begin to redden, and then numb as we trot along through the open air theatre - strangely empty - and the Japanese gardens before hitting the promenade. A few hardy dog walkers look at us quizzically as they bend into the wind. There are a smattering of cars parked randomly, housing people lunching on fish and chips no doubt talking about the weather. We revise our route to focus on some fun boulder hopping and wave dodging instead of any sort of mileage to keep things interesting. On our way back to the apartment we pick up hot pastries from a kiosk nearby and marvel at the tenacity of a couple buying actual ice creams.
Next up it's time to make the most of a high tide which is now pretty much lapping at the beach huts. We grab the sea kayaks and assess the situation. There's a strong on-shore wind pushing things north along the beach. There's a life-guard station in operation as there are a few small groups of surfers out in the swell which is rolling at about 3 or 4 feet. It takes a while to figure out how to get out beyond the breaking waves before we realise that these kayaks are virtually bomb-proof and glide over the top of the oncoming waves with ease. Again and again we tackle the sets of white rollers head on, paddle out some 30m, turn and ride one of them back in. It's more fun than I could possibly have imagined!
The evening is spent soaking off the salt, playing a few games, cooking, eating, drinking and watching a good film. This is exactly my sort of mini-break.
Sunday dawns more brightly than forecast, actual sun shooing away yesterday's grey, and bringing the temperature well up into double figures. We have a lazy morning. Then it's off to Peasholm Park, the Japanese garden to see it as it's meant to be seen. It almost feels busy with folk making up for being confined the previous day. It's quirky, part Japanese theme park, part gothic cemetery with references to Robin Hood, with an army of brazen squirrels which have the dog foaming at the mouth and heaving on the leash.
We have a surf lesson booked after lunch, but there's precious little surf so we opt for some stand up paddle boards. They're more fun than I gave them credit, but at six foot five I struggle to stay standing for long. After a quick paddle beneath the 4th century castle on the headland between the two bays which split the town, we make our way back to the patrolled bit of beach and try our hands at surfing the boards on the modest sized waves. The instructor is impressed with the boys and swaps their paddle boards for actual surfboards. They are light enough to harness the waves and are up and surfing in no time. And loving it!
With a tinge of sadness we pack and leave, wending down the coast to the bird sanctuary at Bempton cliffs for some openness and bigger views. The birds are raucous and plentiful. The cliffs twice as big as anything I’d imagined the east coast as laying claim to. A fitting reminder to not underestimate a place before checking it out. East coast, we promise we will be back.
These are the apartments we stayed in. https://coolspiritapartments.co.uk
Visit Scarborough - https://www.visitscarborough.com
Dexter's Surf Shop which is housed in the same buildings - https://dexterssurfshop.com
Seagrown - https://www.seagrown.co.uk
Beach Huts - https://scarboroughbeachchalets.com