Scarborough’s road and rail links risk putting tourists off – Jayne Dowle

IF you’re at the seaside today, I hope the sun is shining and you’re not stuck in traffic or waiting for a train.

Visitors to Scarborough in August 2020. Picture: James Hardisty.
Visitors to Scarborough in August 2020. Picture: James Hardisty.

And you can find something decent to eat without queuing for hours, juggling a glitch-ridden online booking system or driving inland for 10 miles.

Travelling and eating are two of my favourite pastimes. If I can combine the two, so much the better. I’ve written before about the frustrations of spending a few days in one of our glorious Yorkshire seaside destinations and finding everywhere either booked solid or shuttered after 7pm. The last time we went to our favourite spot, Thornwick Bay - ssh, don’t tell everyone, it’s still pretty undiscovered - we ended up driving around nearby Bridlington for an hour trying to find a take-out that wouldn’t give us indigestion, or worse.

Scarborough Railway Station. Picture: Richard Ponter

At home, we cook from scratch most days. Rightly so, my husband has finally persuaded me that when we go away for a few days we should treat ourselves and let someone else do it for us. Obviously, with restrictions still upon the UK, this has been a challenge. We stayed at Thornwick Bay in April, when restaurants and pubs still weren’t open for serving food indoors. Because of this, we expected a good number to be offering take-out.

We were wrong. We rang or messaged at least half a dozen, and did drive-bys on a couple more, only to be told ‘no take-outs’ or that the establishment was closed to get ready for the grand re-opening in May, when restrictions would be lifted.

A month to get ready? What were these café owners and restauranteurs doing? I know about Covid precautions, but I’ve worked in hospitality. Believe me, there are only so many times you can mop the floor and polish the glassware. Now, I have every sympathy for businesses during this tough time. However, if our two local pubs in Barnsley can do take-out every night of the week and offer Sunday lunches to boot, the least you might expect is a similar can-do attitude at the coast. Our 90 miles of cliffs, beaches, fishing villages and family resorts give Yorkshire so much to boast about. However, unless you are prepared to pay top dollar for a fancy meal - or even designer fish and chips – too often, you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated.

There has never been a better time to promote the Yorkshire coast as a UK destination. It would be a shame if visitors, especially those from outside the region, went away hungry and/or thirsty.

Not when Yorkshire has some of the finest producers in the country. There are many exceptions of course; every seaside place boasts establishments which stand head and shoulders above the rest, and it would be unfair to single out individual ones for praise. However, rather than being the exception, they should be the rule others aspire to. One issue however, requires serious intervention. My son, who hasn’t learned to drive yet, was thinking about taking his girlfriend to the seaside for the day this week.

We looked up the train journey from Barnsley to Scarborough and it’s at least three hours. They could get to London quicker. I cannot imagine for a moment that the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has even thought about this, but what a transformative stroke it would be to improve rail links between the urban North and the coast. Direct trains during the summer from towns as well as cities such as Leeds would spearhead a revolution in visitor numbers, helping to bring in younger people too. It would also be good for the environment and contribute towards a sustainable travel plan for Yorkshire.

Discover Yorkshire Coast, the tourism body for Scarborough Borough Council, is promoting its ‘The Place Full of Surprises’ campaign, aimed at encouraging a younger demographic of visitors to see our seaside as offering more than donkey rides and candy floss.

It’s a positive initiative, but surely would have more impact if visitors could get there more easily. Every time I go to Whitby, for instance, I wonder why it seems to have been left behind on the rail network? Surely this buzzing and Insta-friendly harbour town should have better connections to major cities and towns?

And, of course, improved public transport would reduce pressure on the road network. Anyone who has ever driven to and from the Yorkshire coast on a sunny Bank Holiday will know exactly what I’m talking about. I hope you’re not reading this stuck bumper to bumper right now at the notorious Hopgrove bottleneck. The long-promised dual-carriageway improvements to the A64, the main road past York towards Scarborough, Filey and Whitby, won’t start until 2022. What a master-stroke it would be to have a public transport alternative plan already in place.

When ministers speak warmly of coastal regeneration, offering millions of pounds in regeneration funding to boost local economies, they clearly do so from the comfort of Westminster. A day trip to Brid could be just what they need, but they might like to bring sandwiches and a flask.

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