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The first seaside resort

Updated on February 9, 2017

Scarborough, Queen of the Yorkshire Coast

Scarborough proudly proclaims to be Britain's first seaside resort, and who would want to argue.

It is an excellent destination either for day trips or for holidays and is easily reached by road or rail. It makes a good base for touring and exploring the Yorkshire coast and inland to the North Yorkshire Moors beyond. There is lots to see and do all year round and there is something to please everyone.

Read on to discover more about the town and what to see, in particular two of Scarborough's most popular gems, the Castle and Peasholm Park.

Location! Location! Location!

Scarborough is an excellent base for exploring the North Yorkshire coast and inland to the Moors beyond ...

Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast

Scarborough North Yorkshire:
Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK

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Scarborough's Bays

Distinct and fulfilling experiences

Scarborough has been welcoming visitors for nearly 400 years and has a wonderful mix of identities; fishing harbour, seaside town, ancient fortress and holiday haven. With towering headland and cliffs, Victorian charm and tranquillity, modern amusements and an air of vibrancy, shops and accommodation, Scarborough offers fun, entertainment and enjoyment for all ages!

The town splits naturally into two halves, North Bay and South Bay, on either side of the ruins of the eleventh century castle which stands on a 300 foot high rocky promontory overlooking the town. The two bays are joined by the Marine Drive, the first ever marine carriage drive in the country, originally a toll road it is now free.

Started in 1898 primarily as a sea defence at the base of the steep castle cliffs to protect this headland from the sea, the Marine Drive was completed within 10 years and helped to transform Scarborough into today's modern seaside resort.

North Bay

The quieter side

The North Bay is the quieter side of Scarborough with sandy beaches backed by a promenade and traditional beach huts.

Nearby is the newly refurbished Open Air Theatre, the largest in Europe capable of seating 6000 people and the North Bay miniature railway which runs to Scalby Mills and a Sea Life Centre.

There are also pleasant gardens and a 'water splash' and boating lake. Across the road is Peasholme Park (a separate article appears below), a Japanese themed garden and large boating lake with a central island. Every summer sees the world famous Naval Warfare 'Battle of Peasholm', a re-enactment of a naval engagement fought between radio controlled ships, submarines and planes.

South Bay

Candy floss and crabs

The South Bay is Scarborough's busier and more commercial side and the focal point for many visitors.

Within the ark of the Bay there is the harbour with boats for pleasure trips around the bay and along the coast, a yacht marina and the old fish dock for the few remaining small fishing boats.

Families can enjoy the large sandy beach with popular traditional donkey rides and children's entertainments.

A fun palace, a fun fair, amusement arcades, cafes and ice cream parlours, restaurants and bars, and of course souvenir shops line the front .

And don't forget to visit the lifeboat station too!

What to do

Life's never dull in Scarborough!

The Castle

Scarborough Castle stands out on the skyline and dominates the town and harbour below. Standing on a large grassy headland 300 feet (90 meters) high it commands spectacular views north and south along the coast, and inland towards the North Yorkshire Moors.

The present castle was not, however, the first defensive settlement to be built on this headland. Remains of habitation from as long ago as 900 -700BC suggest there were late Bronze Age and early Iron Age settlements on the headland. The Romans built a signal station on the cliffs in the fourth century and after their departure from Britain the next noticeable signs of occupation were not until the seventh or eighth centuries when a Saxon monastery was built.

The Normans constructed the first stone gate tower and walls in approximately 1135, but this is not what you see today. The present castle and the Norman keep which gives Scarborough its unique landmark was built in the 1160s. Through medieval times and successive centuries the walls and fortifications were strengthened and improved until the 1600s and the Civil War. After a second siege by Parliamentarian forces the demolition of the castle was ordered in 1649. However, the damage already caused was so great this order was not carried through.

This was not the end for the castle and the view seen today, particularly from the harbour and South Bay of the curtain walls, is due to further additions. The outer buildings were used as a prison and barracks. The menace of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1746 and the threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars led to the refurbishment of the curtain walls and the establishment of Artillery Batteries. This lasted until 1914 when the castle was shelled by German battle cruisers patrolling the North Sea.

So next time you visit Scarborough for a short break, holiday or even just a day trip, make the effort to walk up the hill and see the castle and the views for yourself.

The castle is in the care of English Heritage. For information on opening times and admission prices please click on the link below.

Peasholm Park

No day trip or holiday to Scarborough would be complete without a visit to Peasholm Park! It is a delightful place to go and home to a varied range of activities for all ages.

Peasholm Park is in the North Bay area of Scarborough just five minutes walk from the sands and the Marine Drive and a stopping point on the route for the open top bus which links Scarborough's North and South Bays. There is also car parking nearby. Although the North Bay and Peasholm Park is perhaps more tranquil and slightly more reserved and less commercial than the bright lights, amusements and attractions of the neighbouring South Bay there is still much to tempt the visitor. A large boating lake, scenic walks, miniature golf and putting, live music and the famous model ships Naval Warfare display to name just a few. Or if you prefer, simply a nice place to enjoy an ice cream or coffee and watch the day drift by.

Peasholm Park was started in 1911, the idea being to create oriental Japenese style gardens and a boating lake with an island. Japenese statues, a large pagoda, streams and a water cascade, together with the planting of trees and exotic shrubs and flowers were incorporated which made Peasholm Park one of Scarborough's top attractions. Such was its popularity it quickly became the main venue for fetes, galas and firework displays and terraced seating was soon added for the growing crowds.

In 1927 the now world famous Naval Warfare, the 'Battle of Peasholm', re-enactments of famous naval engagements, was started with replica 20 foot ships controlled by a 'captain' seated within their hulls. These battles are still fought weekly throughout the summer to this day, though now with the additional help of radio controlled ships, submarines and planes.

The noise and the smoke and sound of gun fire are only temporary. Peasholm Park soon becomes a peaceful summer haven once more. A place to walk in the sunshine and follow the streams meandering through the gardens and woodlands and across the many small bridges and observe the abundant wildlife or sit listening to the music drifting over the lake from the floating bandstand. For the more energetic there is always the lure of taking to the water and hiring a swan pedalo or rowing boat or Indian canoe. There is also a putting green and miniature pitch and put course.

Enjoy your day out!

Entry to Peasholm Park itself is free. Admission to the Naval Warfare and various activities are charged separately.

Open Air Theatre

Largest in Europe since Antiquity!

Scarborough's Open Air Theatre, built in the early 1930s and opened in 1932 by the Lord Mayor of London, is the largest in Europe since the days of Antiquity. Located in Northstead Manor Gardens near to Peasholm Park in the North Bay area of Scarborough the stage is set on an island and was built to take advantage of the natural contours of the land creating a natural amphitheatre. In the theatre's heyday it was a venue of national repute staging lavish musical spectaculars with casts up to 200 strong in productions including Merrie England, Hiawatha, Annie Get Your Gun, The Desert Song and many more up until 1968. The following years saw a decline in the theatre's fortunes and in 1977 the stage and dressing room were demolished and the seating removed.

However, in 2008 a major restoration and refurbishment programme has breathed new life into the theatre and with a seating capacity of almost 7000 it is once more staging major events. The theatre was re-opened by her Majesty the Queen on 20th May 2010 and a later grand opening gala performance included Dame Kiri The Kanawa and Jose Carreras.

The Town Centre

A plethora of activities

The bustling town centre, which can be reached by Victorian cliff lift, sits above the South Bay and the harbour has a full range of high street chain stores, independent shops and boutiques, pedestrianised streets, shopping centres and an indoor market. Restaurants, bars, traditional and family pubs and nightclubs cater for all.

There is accommodation available from luxury hotels including the magnificent Grand Hotel, smaller family run hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast establishments to self catering flats and caravan parks. The Stephen Joseph Theatre where plays of Scarborough based playwright Alan Ayckbourn are premiered, the seafront Futurist Theatre and Cinema and the Spa provide entertainment to please all tastes. There is also an art gallery, exhibitions and the Rotunda Museum housing an extensive geology collection.

For cricket lovers Scarborough Cricket Club on North Marine Road hosts Yorkshire County Cricket Club for a number of four day and one day matches (including the Scarborough Cricket Festival now in the 125th year).

The Rotunda Museum

Yorkshire's Jurassic Coast Museum

Constructed in 1829 The Rotunda is one of the oldest and finest purpose-built museums in the country built to a design suggested by the 'father of English Geology' William Smith to house one of the most foremost collections of Jurassic geology on the Yorkshire coast.

Over 5000 fossils and 3000 are on display, many in unique glass cabinets now restored and which date from 1850. Items on show also include George Cayley's original flying machine from 1853 and an early model steam car.

The museum is open daily from 10am-5pm (excluding Mondays and Bank Holidays) and charges a modest admission fee for all over 18

The Spa Complex

Classical Romance

Walk further along the Bay to the south and you come to the Spa complex, also reached from the town by a nineteenth century iron bridge, where the discovery of mineral enriched waters first drew visitors to the town. Now the Spa is home to the famous Spa orchestra and popular for afternoon tea and concerts. Follow the promenade for delightful views looking back across the Bay and to see an illuminated 'star disk', thought to be the largest in Europe. From here paths also lead up the cliff meandering through pleasant formal gardens adorned with fountains to the Esplanade and more gardens all offering an opportunity to spend peaceful moments to enjoy the fine views over the town and harbour.

Scarborough South Bay Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size

You may be surprised by a list of some of Scarborough's famous visitors.

Scroll down to read more.

And finally....

..some of Scarborough's more famous 'visitors!

The Romans. They built a signal station on the cliffs in 370.

1066 Hardrada, King of Norway, and a Viking army sacked the town

1201-1216 King John stayed on 4 occasions

1253 Merchants and traders from across Europe to the annual Scarborough Fair

1484 Richard III

1645 Sir John Meldrum and an army of 3000 Scots

1665 George Fox, founder of The Society of Friends (the Quakers) imprisoned in the castle for 16 months

1779 John Paul Jones won a hard fought engagement at sea against the Royal Navy, the Battle of Flamborough Head

1824 William Smith, the ‘father’ of English Geology and author of ‘Geological Map of England and Wales with part of Scotland’

1849 Anne Bronte, writer, suffering from the early stages of tuberculosis came for her health and unfortunately died.

1871 Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Edward Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra stayed as houseguests of Lord and Lady Londesborough

1914 The German battle cruisers Derfflinger , Kolberg and Von der Tann who shelled the town for 30 minutes killing 17 people

1932 The Lord Mayor of London to open the Open Air Theatre

1934 Baron Henri de Rothschild in his 1000 ton yacht Eros for the tunny fishing

2010 Queen Elizabeth II to re-open the Open Air Theatre

If you know of any more I shall add them to the list!

Peasholm Park Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size

About me

The author

Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.

Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.

His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.

And further along the coast.....

The North Yorkshire coast is full of surprises and interesting places to visit. Here are just a few:

© 2011 Antony J Waller


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