Unseen Britain - Scarborough from Smugglers Apprentice to North Sands and back
By Alan Russell
Scarborough has two beaches which are ‘spread out along either side of its headland, which is thrust out like a clenched hand into the sea with its castle uplifted on the top’(John Leyland, 1892).
From the Smugglers Apprentice I took the steep concrete steps down to Foreshore Road past sites where houses had once stood that were now waste ground and open litter bins surrounded by chain link fencing. At their base I turned left on to Foreshore Road that became Sandside, Scarborough’s equivalent of The Strip in Las Vegas.
Five minutes more walking and I left behind me the brash and gaudy commercialism of the shops and kiosks along Sandside that jostle one another for visitors’ pounds to be spent on special souvenirs from China to remind them of their stay in Scarborough. Or, to remind their friends and family back home of where they are with postcards if they don’t send selfies. In between the shops and kiosks are amusement arcades blasting out fairground music and adorned with neon lights offering punters a £500 jackpot on the slot machines. Once past the funfair at Luna Park all was peace and unexploited quiet. Well, almost quiet.
There was the lapping of the ocean at the base of the wall on my right holding up Marine Drive. And then every time a car or a bus went by I began to think that every vehicle in Scarborough had a flat tire until I realised that parts of the road surface are cobbled. Further on around the cliffs the cobbles ran out and none of the cars or buses had anymore flat tires.
On my left was Castle Hill whose ‘lofty escarpments of rock rear their seamed and weather beaten faces against a blue and bracing sea’ (John Leyland, 1892). The rock faces that are exposed are various shades of dark yellow and brown melded together in the same way pastel colours can be smudged into blends with a finger. Except in a few places, there was no smudging of colours but instead there were clear straight lines marking out great slabs of rock almost like nature and its huge tectonic forces had taken the time and trouble to do some macro bricklaying but without any mortar.
For the geologists amongst you the castle is perched on a section of ‘middle oolitic rocks’.
Marine Drive skirts around the base of Castle Hill like a delicate ribbon tracing the hemline of a Victorian lady’s skirt. Before it was completed pedestrians that wanted to walk along the shoreline were strongly advised to travel in twos. This was just in case one of the intrepid explorers slipped on the slimy rocks and was injured so badly that they could not move. The uninjured walker would then have to help. If that was not possible then they had to call for help. And if that didn’t work they had to abandon their companion to go and find help.
The town council decided that a road should be built for the safety of the townspeople and to improve the attractiveness of Scarborough to tourists to bring money into the town. Unfortunately, the Council did not have enough money to pay for the new road. Funding from central government did not cover the shortfall but despite this the council was determined to see the project through. So, what they did was to organise a series of fares and entertainment to raise funds for their project.
I think there is a lesson here for today’s society where if a community want something done to improve their lives and livelihoods then it should take some responsibility for its affairs and raise money in its own way. To pay for a specific project such as building a new bridge across a river or paying towards flood defences rather than relying on big government to sort everything out.
Onwards around the base of the headland and soon stretched out in front of me was the sandy crescent of North Sands pushed into a bow shape by the waters of North Bay. Across the water marking the northern most point of North Bay is the headland of Scalby Ness. To my right clinging to the horizon, just in case there was a sheer drop off of the edge of the world, was an oil tanker tracking north. We travelled in unison until I stopped for a coffee break at a small café where Marine Drive becomes Royal Albert Drive.
A car pulled up in a parking bay near to the café. The passenger, a man, forced his corpulent heaving straining mass out of the passenger’s door barely fitting through the door frame. Out of the driver’s door a lady, presumably his wife, just as corpulent heaved herself out rocking the car as she grabbed the door frame for leverage. He shuffled off to a table and flumped down on a seat. His wife went to the serving hatch out of my view to order. Barely had the man recovered his breath when his wife shouted from the front of the café.
‘Fred! Do you want a portion of chips?’
‘Yes please luv’ he wheezed.
A couple of minutes later his wife appeared from near the serving hatch carrying two open rectangular polystyrene boxes. Each of them were overflowing with a huge hamburger and chips and then balanced between them was another box of extra chips. They were still working through their boxes when I left about ten minutes later.
The oil tanker I had paced myself against disappeared behind Scalby Ness. I wondered where it was going to. Grangemouth near Edinburgh? Newcastle just a bit further north? Or around the north of Scotland and out to cross the open Atlantic. Wherever it was going it was out of sight and on its way oblivious of the temporary bond I had with it.
Down on the beach are some outcrops of low rocks puddled with tidal pools. Mums and their children were having great fun exploring these shallow pools looking for crabs or any other creatures cowering under the rocks waiting for the next incoming tide to protect them from all of these budding marine biologists.
Open top tour buses went back and forth along Albert Drive. I had been walking for nearly two hours and was toying with the idea of catching a bus back to the main part of Scarborough rather than walking that distance again.
Further on I reached a modern complex of shops and apartments called ‘The Sands’. All the usual beach paraphernalia was for sale. Beach balls, buckets, sun lotions, hats, sticks of rock and windbreaks.
The shops front directly on to the beach. The densest crowds on the beach clung to the sands nearest the shops and amenities. Each family had claimed a territory and marked it out with a windbreak on the south side of their golden patch. Each family group had spaced their multi coloured windbreaks at regimented distances from the next wind break. In an effort to almost say that I want my own space here but I just can’t stand being too far from people. Deckchairs, towels, beach equipment and the all-important picnic baskets were placed neatly within each individual territory. All that was missing were a few net curtains and a landscape of the English countryside hanging on the wind break and the place would have been a complete home from home.
One family looked like they had travelled through time from the 1950’s or early 1960’s. All the males were wearing dark trousers and white shirts. Their only concession to the heat and the era was that they had not worn ties.
As I walked in the direction of Scalby Ness the urban beach population thinned out until about half a mile away where the sands were almost devoid of people. Out on the horizon another oil tanker tracked north and I asked myself the same questions as I had thought of when the first tanker slipped out of view.
A little further on was a huge disused horizontal winch wheel. I sat on its base and looked back towards Scarborough Castle. Looking inland I could see stanchions that had supported cables that gondolas hung from as they carried people to and from the beach. When I was in the library later that day I looked and looked for any reference to this transport system but could not find any history on it. The barman at the Travelodge could vaguely remember having a ride on it when he was a child but that was about all I could find out between writing up notes and taking pictures of the sleeping researcher.
The rusting winch wheel was a good place to turn for home from.
Back past multi coloured beach huts, increasingly crowded sands, beach consumerism sprawling out on to the walkway and the smells of fast food. I still toyed with the idea of catching a bus back to my starting point and that is all I did.
Directly opposite The Sands complex is the northern end of Royal Albert Park. I followed a footpath that took me up a gentle incline. Within minutes I was on Queen’s Drive looking down into Royal Albert Park, on to the North Sands and out to sea. To my right I could see the gnarled remains of the central keep of the castle. Continuing this way was actually going to be a short walk back to my starting point rather than going back along Royal Albert Drive and Marine Drive. Down in the rock pools children were still exploring under rocks and in the shallow pools of water. Occasionally one, usually a boy, would find something which he would hold in his outstretched hand traumatising not only the creature but nearby girls.
On the bench to my right a man sat by himself looking out to sea. Was he local? Was he a visitor? Was he by himself or had he come to the bench away from people to enjoy his own company and the surroundings. Further up there was a couple sitting at another bench facing on to a lawn. Their dachshund was having a lovely time chasing a small ball they threw for it across the grass. Beyond this lawn a group of Asian women in the delicate saris alight with rich and vibrant colours gathered before getting into a minibus to rush off somewhere else. They were all ages, chatting excitedly to one another with smiles. I couldn’t understand their language but I could see that they were having a good time by the sea. Were they heading home wherever that was or going on somewhere else to enjoy their trip to the seaside. I could see the café where I had stopped earlier for coffee but from this distance I couldn’t see if the husband and wife were still working their way through their burgers and extra chips.
Lunch break over and onwards and upwards along Queen’s Parade past hotels and guest houses. Most of them looked a bit tired from the outside. Queen’s Parade heads inland while Blenheim Terrace looks over the cliffs. I walked past New Queen Street, then Marlborough Street then into Tollergate Street and it seemed only minutes before I was back at my starting point just above Foreshore Road on South Sands looking at the crowded benches around the Smugglers Apprentice statue. My full circuit had finished.