Andrew Vine: Seaside’s colourful characters in black

A sea fret envelops Scarborough.
A sea fret envelops Scarborough.
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WE made for an unusual group. Him with his top hat, black ankle-length coat, cane crowned with a silver skull and his partner with a rivulet of fake blood trickling from her eye.

I was rather less flamboyantly dressed, a flat cap being more suitable headgear for a breezy day in Whitby in my view, but over a cup of tea at the foot of the West Cliff we summed up the uniquely colourful nature of the Yorkshire coast 
in autumn.

There is a kaleidoscopic quality to our seaside resorts at this time of year. It isn’t just the breathtaking colours of the forest lining the road from Scarborough to Whitby, but the blend of people.

It’s when the mainstream meets the enthusiasts, and the two mingle in a way that just wouldn’t happen in a city, where they mostly run on different tracks.

But by the sea, people start to chat. And in doing so, it isn’t so much that barriers break down, but the realisation dawns that none exist.

There really isn’t another mix like it anywhere in the country out of season, when the crowds have thinned and the beaches at low tide belong to the dog walkers and hand-in-hand strolling couples instead of excited children with buckets and spades.

It couldn’t happen in the same way in Blackpool or Morecambe. There is a hardness of face to those resorts that isn’t conducive to welcoming those who look different or want to celebrate their individuality. But it happens on the Yorkshire coast, and it’s an attitude that we should cherish because it’s as invigorating as it is unforced.

The weekend was when Goths made their annual pilgrimage to Whitby in time for Halloween, adding a bracing splash of highly personal style to the ancient streets.

It was the same at the bed-and-breakfast in Scarborough which was home for a couple of nights, the usual breakfast room clatter of the full English being polished off enlivened by the polite “good mornings” of Goths making a spectacular entrance.

My companions in Whitby were new to the town, and their delight in it was wonderful to see. They were captivated by its atmosphere. Naturally, it was the Dracula trail they were following, and we fell into conversation as they tried to pin down some of the landmarks.

The 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church and the Abbey were obvious, but Tate Hill Sands, where Dracula’s ship beached in a storm, and the former public library where Bram Stoker discovered the book which set him on the trail to writing his story were proving a bit more difficult.

They planned to go down to the water’s edge and read aloud the passage about the Demeter being blown into the harbour with her dead captain lashed to the wheel, and a large black dog leaping off and disappearing up the steps.

Spooky stuff still, which took me back to my first reading of Dracula 40 years ago, but the best thing about their plan for the afternoon is that they already knew nobody would bat an eyelid at them reading to each other on the beach.

Looking different can be difficult. It sometimes attracts abuse, derision or worse, but not here. Here, it’s live and let live, and hooray for that. The Goths are simply a part of the street scene.

They get called “love” in the shops and guest houses just like everybody else, whether or not they have fake blood trickling down their face, or, like another of our little group, striking three-inch-long eyelashes. They had been made welcome, and that’s another quality that distinguishes our resorts from others.

That’s why they will be back again next year, the 120th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.

It isn’t just the Goths who feel comfortable on our coast in autumn. It’s a magnet for other enthusiasts, like the runners staying over to compete in Sunday’s 10K race in Scarborough.

Or the rail buffs animatedly discussing the technical ins and outs of the steam locomotive that had hauled their North Yorkshire Moors Railway train.

So too the driver who was relishing leading a convoy of vintage Minis north along the coast road from Bridlington.

This is an organic sort of tourism that has less to do with marketing than the instincts of the specialist groups of visitors who come that our coastline has a particular sort of friendliness.

It can’t be manufactured or faked. It’s just the way the Yorkshire seaside is, and whether in Goth garb or a flat cap, experiencing it leaves a glow as warm as the autumn colours.