IF I ruled the world, I would make it mandatory for every British family to take at least one annual day trip to the seaside. It wouldn’t matter which destination they headed for, as long as they saw the sea. We’re citizens of an island nation. It’s important that we understand the boundaries which define us.
And it’s important that our children understand that Skegness is not actually a place in the Scottish Highlands. A recent poll for Travelodge suggests that a worrying number of youngsters assume that the Lincolnshire resort has somehow relocated itself several hundred miles to the north. Oh, how we smile. Yet underneath this silliness – and promotion for the hotel chain – is a serious underlying message. The tide appears to be turning on our connection to the coast.
Another recent poll, this time conducted by the National Trust, found that visitor numbers to the seaside have dropped by 20 per cent over the last 10 years. The Coastal Connections online survey says that just 42 per cent of British people visited the coast for a day in the past year, compared with 62 per cent in 2005. The biggest barrier cited is lack of time – a reason given by almost a third of respondents. Other issues included the weather, no access to transport, the cost and a general preference for going abroad.
Well, there is nothing we can do about the weather. I’ve just come back from a week in Devon during which it rained four days out of seven. However, as my two children will attest, we are nothing if not stoic in the face of inclement conditions. If it rains, we stay in and watch films. How often, during a normal working week, can we switch on the TV in the afternoon and just laze around watching American goofball comedies?
I know this might sound sad, but that’s a holiday for me. And frankly sunshine can be seriously over-rated. If you need it on tap, day after day, in order to enjoy yourself, perhaps you need to look at your priorities. I’ve had endless conversations with friends who seem to hold the weather personally accountable for their holiday happiness. To turn your back on Great Britain just because the sun goes behind a cloud seems a bit drastic.
Are we becoming so spoilt and cossetted that we can only choose a destination if warm weather is guaranteed? It’s not just the weather, though. Behind the National Trust’s findings there is a growing trend, especially amongst young people, of no sense of adventure. We holidayed with three other families, numbering countless teenagers, and none of the youngsters really wanted to venture far off the campsite.
It makes me wonder if that “lack of time” excuse is actually another way of saying “can’t be bothered”. We’re lucky in Yorkshire that even those of us who live in the shadow of the Pennines are never more than a couple of hours away from the sea. Yet those who would think nothing of driving 40 miles or so to a major shopping mall would baulk at the prospect of driving another 20 or so to feel the sea breeze in their hair. To this though, I would add that roads to the coast can be very frustrating, as anyone who has ever attempted the “two lanes into one” on the A64 near York on a busy summer weekend will attest. More investment in transport infrastructure would help. As would publicising alternative routes to going by car. How many people in South Yorkshire, for instance, know that there is a direct train from several towns and cities to Cleethorpes?
There is a bigger question though. Day trips are one thing, seaside holidays for a few days or more quite another. Why does the British seaside seem determined to part us from our cash at every turn? To rent even a modest holiday apartment in North Devon for a family of four in August next year would cost us almost £2,000 for a week. I looked at one hotel, on a bed and breakfast basis, and they were asking £550 a night.
How many ordinary families can justify spending that kind of money on a British holiday, when they can jump on a plane to Spain and have a week’s all-inclusive in a four or five star hotel for less? Even the so-called “budget” chains charge in the region of £100 a night in the summer months.
It is not justifiable. Businesses need to realise that this is why our great British seaside is in danger of turning into a playground for the privileged few who can afford it. It’s becoming out of reach, and in more ways than one. How many children will never actually see the sea? How ironic is that local councils are cottoning onto this and turning their town and city centres into “urban beaches” to bring the seaside to us? Meanwhile, what happens to all those hundreds of miles of British coastline, from working harbours and bracing seafronts to wild and rocky outcrops populated only by birds?
I suggest it’s time some of us made the effort and found out.