Monthly Archives: July 2016

British seaside towns

download-23The Great British beach holiday is back in vogue. Ruth-Ellen Davis rounds up the best coastal resorts for a summer staycation.

1) Margate, Kent

Eating fish ‘n’ chips on the promenade. Licking ice-lollies on the beach. Paddling in the surf with your trousers rolled up. Think of the quintessential British beach holiday and Margate might well come to mind.

One of the original Victorian seaside towns, like so many others it was abandoned by holidaymakers in the 1990s when low-cost airlines promised better things abroad. But today this down-at-heel resort is enjoying a renaissance thanks to an influx of artists, high-speed rail links with London and the reopening of Dreamland, the UK’s oldest pleasure park.

2) Brighton, Sussex

A lack of sand hasn’t stopped Brighton from establishing itself as the UK’s coolest beach town. With its anything-goes attitude, hip inhabitants (Nick Cave lives here) and pier filled with classic attractions, this kitsch seaside resort is a whole lot of fun.

Its winding Lanes are an Aladdin’s cave of retro trinkets, and there’s a good nod to the city’s green credentials – pick up everything from biodynamic wine to vegetarian shoes. This August marks the 25th anniversary of Brighton’s annual Pride parade: as the UK’s self-proclaimed gay capital, it’s sure to be one heck of a party.

3) Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth is booming. This buoyant coastal town has the UK’s fastest-growing digital economy and is being touted as the next ‘silicon city’. Its unassuming football club has also made a surprise leap into the Premier League and its generous sandy shores are becoming a hotbed of action.

A new pier-to-shore zipline is the latest high-speed way to take in the coastal views. Participants are launched from a tower at the end of the pier, out over the Blue Flag beach and down to the throngs of bathers bellow.


4) Whitby, Yorkshire

At a glance, Whitby is your classic coastal resort, with its traditional donkey rides, dubious amusement arcades and ubiquitous fish ‘n’ chip shops. But beyond its twee aesthetic, lies a Gothic spirit thanks to Bram Stoker, who set his 19th-century novel, Dracula, here.

A century on the book still haunts Whitby’s medieval cobbled streets and eerie abbey ruins. It also provides inspiration for the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend (next event on 30 October), when the town’s Gothic inclinations are celebrated: think head-to-toe cadaverous costumes and a soundtrack to match.

Desert island

images-36Though somewhat inconvenient, becoming a castaway needn’t be a harrowing experience. Heed the lessons of Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who survived alone on an islet for over four years. Jack Palfrey retells his tale.

The roaring winds of the South Pacific buffer the bow of the Duke, a hardy British frigate, moored near the craggy island of Más a Tierra.

Aboard, the ship’s captain and experienced seahand, Woodes Rogers, awaits news from the small landing party that have gone ashore, investigating bright lights they believe to be French sailors stocking up on supplies.

Rogers whiles away the idle hours scribbling in his diary, a soiled manuscript that will go on to be published in England under the title: A Cruising Voyage Around the World.

“February 2, 1709: We are all convinc’d the light is on the shore, and design to make our ships ready to engage, believing them to be French ships at anchor,” he wrote.

As the sun bows to kiss the Pacific Ocean, Rogers becomes worried. Fearing his men have been captured, he commands a signal be raised for the crew to return. When he finally spies the returning boat, he is stunned by what he sees.

“Our Pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man cloth’d in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them,” he scribbled.

The wild man was Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been living alone on the small atoll for the last four years.

“At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use, that we could scarce understand him,” authored Rodgers. “We offered him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but Water since his being there.”

The feral Selkirk intrigued Rogers. He admired his physical prowess and was impressed by his resourcefulness, inviting him to be a mate aboard Duke.

As a dense darkness smothered the vessel, Rogers ushered Selkirk below deck, hoping to be regaled by the castaway’s tale under candlelight.

Selkirk was marooned on Más a Tierra after a disagreement with his then captain over the seaworthiness of his ship. Selkirk dramatically suggested he would rather stay on the island than sail on.

His captain, somewhat of a literalist, left Selkirk ashore with his bedding, clothes, firelock, gunpowder and bullets. He also had his tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a bible and his mathematical books.

Grappling with a strong sense of despair, Selkirk turned his attention to survival.

World of cheese rolling

With competitors set to chase a cheese down one of the steepest hills in Gloucestershire again, we send Daniel Fahey to Cooper’s Hill to find out more.

This is where the cheese stops rolling: a soulless coach house that serves Yorkshire puddings with its hot-plate breakfasts and as much pig as you can eat, for less than a couple of pints.

When I arrive, abandoned plates sit smeared in gravy, glowing beneath an arcade machine; crushed pink wafers cover part of the carpet.

The bar staff are dressed in all black, a company-wide effort to look professional, but that illusion expires when one thumbs coins into the gambler, hoping to pocket a post-shift premium.

Most customers are either chugging past Cheltenham on their way to Gloucester, or vice versa. It’s a pit stop for paint-slopped decorators squawking over a tools down tipple; a cheap chat-and-eat for young mothers and their gaggles.

But there’s so much urine showered around the toilet seat, you wouldn’t want to shit here, let alone settle down for lunch.

Yet every late May bank holiday it clutters with so many customers that the owners charge for car parking and – according to a barmaid at The Cheese Rollers down in nearby Shurdington – punters “drink the place dry”.

Location, it seems, is everything.

This is the nearest ‘boozer’ to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, the famed gradient where senseless locals hurl themselves deathwards after a rounded slab of double Gloucester every May bank holiday.

The chase has been taking place here since at least 1800, the cheese rolling maybe longer than 1,300 years.

Similar customs were once observed at England’s great hillside chalk carvings, Cerne Giant and the Uffington White Horse, where pagans launched circles of solidified sour cream downhill during midsummer gatherings.

Then the cheese would represent the sun or the circle of the seasons and the roll would have been part of a ceremony that included other harvest celebrations like the scattering of seeds.