Scarborough's Grand Hotel may have seen better days, but the Yorkshire Coast does offer some great accommodation with a difference

The nocturnal landscape in John Atkinson Grimshaw’s 19th century painting Scarborough Lights evokes just the sort of mystery and glamour on the Yorkshire Coast for which nostalgists long.

Leeds-born Grimshaw’s piece is hung in the town’s art gallery, one of five of his works restored and on display until October 2023.

Some also long for one of the painting’s chief subjects, the Scarborough Grand Hotel – which leads the eye to the work’s background and teases viewers to move in for a glimpse of the few windows that reveal a warm, orange glow – to get the restoration treatment itself.

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Designed by celebrated architect Cuthbert Brodrick, it dominates the promenade with a promise of bygone seaside prestige, but recently has been criticised for a drop in standards, with many lamenting the apparent decline of an important regional landmark.

Zoe Cottier at her ‘remote hotel’ the Jet Black Jewel in Whitby. (Gary Longbottom).

While Scarborough Council has requested a meeting with owners Britannia Hotels, tourism entrepreneurs around the coast and wider Yorkshire, however, are forging a new path to suit modern visitors.

In addition to the legions of Airbnbs that have cropped up over recent years – the company’s own pre-pandemic figures from 2018 show there were 7,200 hosts in Yorkshire and the Humber with 318,000 guests in the year leading up to its report – a number of independent, boutique overnight options have also set up recently to complement the region’s many bed-and-breakfasts.

This is because demographic of its visitors is widening, says Andrew Clay, chief executive officer of the Scarborough Museums Trust (which runs the gallery where Grimshaw’s works are hung).

“The positive thing about the Grand is it’s an iconic piece of architecture. Numerous artists have painted it over the years, it’s very impressive. When people think of Scarborough, they think often of that monumental building that towers above South Cliff.

Andrew Clay, Chief Executive of Scarborough Museums Trust . (Photo credit: Tony Bartholomew).

“From the outside it looks in really good condition, it’s got beautiful, elaborately carved stonework columns. So I think it does evoke that glamour of the golden age of travel – so that’s going in its favour, really.

“As a format it belongs to a bit of a former era, these sort of huge coastal hotels with hundreds of bedrooms. It must be a nightmare to maintain up to a certain standard.”

In addition to the town’s two new Premier Inn hotels, says Andrew, there is a wave of new, much smaller independent hotels.

“We’ve got a new hotel called the Bike and Boot and that is geared towards a new generation of hotel customers who are coming for a very outdoorsy.

The Grand Hotel is a landmark building in Scarborough. (Richard Ponter).

“The glorious Yorkshire Coast has always been popular for people coming to cycle and do country walks in the Cleveland Way, or bring their dogs and walk on the beaches, and so on. And the Bike and Boot caters specifically for those people – it’s very high quality, very niche.”

Tourism is still the area’s principal economic driver“but it’s evolving as it has done ever since tourism started here at the end of the 17th century,” he adds, with “a new type of visitor who want that outdoor experience”.

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“We’ve still got some of the old traditional offer – the Grand Hotel and the Royal – but we’ve got this new generation coming in as well, which is quite exciting really.”

The Bike and Boot is the brainchild of Simon Kershaw and Simon Rhatigan, entrepreneurs with an impressive track record in the catering and hospitality industry. Rhatigan previously turned the Feversham Arms, in Helmsley, from a pub to an award-winning hotel, restaurant and spa before selling his interest in it.

It has a host of facilities for walkers, cyclists, dog owners and surfers. There is a “Wadobi” area with lockers, toilets, washing areas, showers and secure cycle and surfboard storage.

For walkers at the Cliff Bridge Terrace facility, there is a boot washing station and drying areas and for wet and muddy dogs, as well as a bath and grooming table for pooches, who are also given their own beds in the bedrooms. There is also a bar, restaurant and a free cinema room showing films three times a day, while interiors are punchy and exciting with references to Scarborough’s heritage as Britain’s first seaside resort.

Over in Whitby, a similar developments in offering new types of accommodation is happening.

Zoe Cottier and her husband had careers in branding and IT respectively when they decided to put an offer in for the council-owned premises on Skinner Street in 2019 with no real idea of what they would do if it was accepted.

Two years on it is the Jet Black Jewel, a forward-thinking hybrid of a traditional hotel and an Airbnb with a cafe-bar attached.

The accommodation is themed around Whitby’s famous folklore, has themed rooms and even hires a local ghost walker to drop into the cafe unannounced and regale customers with chilling tales. It does not have a traditional reception desk, room service or lifts. Breakfast and the public face of the business are both centred on the cafe, and guests are given an Airbnb-style code to enable them to check in and out themselves.

After opening in July 2020, Jet Black Jewel was inundated with bookings. But Zoe, from Leeds, says that tourism’s connected industries haven’t caught up with the times.

“We’re called a remote hotel. There’s no categorisation for us at the moment. That’s one thing I have found, hospitality is moving on and it’s moving forward and it’s developing like most industries do and I think the Covid epidemic has maybe pushed that forward a little bit more than the industry was expecting.

“But other industries haven’t caught up. So for example, it has been quite hard for us to find insurance because they want to categorise you. You’re either a hotel or a guest house or a B&B, and we’re none of those things.”

The customer gets it, though, she says. Zoe is also a brand strategist and helps businesses to find “a point of difference”.

“The way that I work in my other role, it’s not about adhering to rules for the sake of rules. It’s about a common sense approach so, actually, just because the rest of the industry does that, does that mean that you have to?

“You do things because it actually makes sense and it’s what the customer wants.”

Knowing “weird and wonderful” Whitby as she does, she believes that “people are quite open-minded and they are open to new experiences.

“As long as you offer it in a way that feels comfortable and reassuring in the fact that guests are going to get what they want and what they’ve paid for, having that point of difference and doing something that is slightly out of the ordinary – as long as it makes total sense – works.”

Hotel’s reviews were suspended

TripAdvisor last month suspended reviews for The Grand Hotel Scarborough following an “influx” of submissions from people who have not stayed at the hotel.

It had been heavily criticised in recent months by guests who have complained about the poor condition of the building and dirty rooms.

After the suspension was lifted later in October, though, a number of guests left glowing reviews.

Scarborough Borough Council previously said it had written to the owners to request a meeting.

Built in 1863, the Grand Hotel takes pride of place overlooking the town’s harbour and South Bay.

Britannia Hotels, which runs the Scarborough Grand Hotel, was approached for comment but did not respond prior to publication.