The British seaside has a history as long and winding as its coastal paths. Ever since the more landlocked among us first got a whiff of the sea breeze, there has been an inexorable summerly drift from inland out towards the seaside. The more seasoned coastal veterans will all have gazed at the white cliffs of Dover and shopped on Brighton Pier, but the British seaside has plenty more to offer. What follows is a list of lesser-known attractions for those on which crabbing, sand castles, amusement arcades and funhouses have worn thin.
Explore the Shell Grotto in Margate
Margate is the original British coastal resort, having attracted visitors for hundreds of years it is often revamped to preserve its original charm. Yet the most interesting site in Margate is timeless in a very different sense. Beneath the town a 104 foot long subterranean passageway of tunnels, all 190sq metres mosaicked with approximately 8.5 million shells. Discovered in 1835, The Shell Grotto is undateable (in the archaeological sense of the word), thanks to contamination from gas lighting used throughout the Victorian era. It remains unknown who made the temple, when and why - questions which remain as beguiling and mysterious today as they were in the 1800's.
If you suffer from claustrophobia, Margate’s coastal trail offers an outdoor alternative steeped in beautiful Kent countryside. It takes you through a nature reserve, past abbeys and right to the spot where the Vikings first landed on English shores.
Experience Dracula at the Dracula Experience, Whitby
With the arrival of railway in 1839 tourism began in Whitby and has yet to let up. It has much to offer - close proximity to the North York Moors National Park, its Heritage Coastline and best of all, its association with the horror novel Dracula. The Dracula experience may be like walking around the set of a low budget horror film, but it is worth it for the thrills and a cheap laugh. You may get more of a feel for true gothic by visiting the ruins of Whitby Abbey.
Bram Stoker describes the abbey as ‘a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits,’’ and it does not fail to live up to his hype. Beneath this atmospheric backdrop the town is also an interesting spectacle of cobbled streets with its famous swing bridge and the whalebone arch that sits at the top of the West Cliff.
Fossil hunting at Lyme Regis
Lyme Regis is famous for its geology, fossils and its fundamental role in the birth of the earth sciences. The local blue lias clay found to the east and west contains the remarkable fossilised remains of sea creatures from the Jurassic seas of 180 million years ago.
On these beaches at twelve years of age, Lyme's most famous citizen Mary Anning discovered the first complete ichthyosaur to be found on English soil (limestone, to be precise). Through her hard work and scientific approach to recording her discoveries, Mary established herself as a renowned palaeontologist. But she did not hog all the fossils by any means; wait for a cliff fall and you can fill your pockets with ammonites in one sweep of the beach below.
Fossils aside, the stunning Cobb (the town’s harbour wall) featured in Jane Austen's novel ‘Persuasion’ and in John Fowle’s ‘The French Lieutenant's Woman’.
Ride the tram up Llandudno’s Great Orme
As the Victorians flocked to this self-styled ‘queen of the Welsh’ resorts for a little sea bathing and promenading, the Great Orme Tramway was built to make the trip up the limestone headland both easy and fun. You are hauled up Llandudno’s steep streets in a San Francisco-style cable car onto the plateau where the views across the Conwy Estuary to Snowdonia are stunning.
A common theory derives Orme from the Old Norse word for sea serpent, likely named by the Viking raiders who first saw it from the sea.
See a show on Cromer Pier
Cromer is perhaps Norfolk's finest coastal retreat, its Blue Flag beach the main draw for people wanting a holiday that consists of swimming, surf lessons and days of tanning. Yet the town itself is also worth a trip - elegantly stylised by Victorian architecture that provides a dreamy, time-warped sentimentality.
Cromer is most famous for its pier, records of its existence dating back as far as 1391 though this was thought to be little more than a jetty. A letter signed by Queen Elizabeth I was discovered granting export rights to aid the maintenance and well-being of the pier and town of Cromer. The pier we know today was built in 1902 and the Pavilion Theatre, situated at the end of the structure has been a Cromer institution for more than 100 years, still putting on shows throughout the year.
For those less inclined to pantomime, the Parish Church lauds over town, dominating the skyline with a tower that extends 160 metres, and despite being 172 steps to the top it is well worth it for the view.
Have a drink in Balamory
Alright, so in real life they call it Tobermory, but for anyone who grew up in the 00’s or is related to a pre-schooler, you may know the Isle of Mull’s colourful main town by its fictional alter ego. (You may now sing the theme tune.) For grown-ups, Tobermory is a vibrant village, with a revamped pontoon and yachting community. Tobermory is also home to Mull's only single malt Scotch whisky distillery - after your tour do your part and support local business by selecting a bottle and drinking your fair share.
For the more adventurous, the isle of Mull offers plenty of other activities including boat trips to the spectacular Fingal’s Cave eagle watching and scuba diving to the plentiful shipwrecks in the relatively shallow shores.