We’d reveille the teenagers, pack the swimming kits, cagoules and jumpers and set off to the Yorkshire seaside for the day.
Such a simple pleasure. Now, like so many things in this challenging new world, a day trip to the seaside is loaded with guilt and moral dilemma.
Technically, since Boris Johnson announced on May 13 that the nation was free to drive where it pleased, it is not illegal for anyone, living in England at least, to set off to the coast. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still under stricter controls, at the behest of their devolved governments.
To do so, however, risks approbation. Last week, when temperatures hit 70 degrees-plus, we gasped at photographs of people packed together on beaches like so many sardines. ‘Covidiots’ screamed the tabloid headlines. Where was the adherence to social distancing?
Actually, where were the toilets? Since the end of March, our seaside towns have effectively closed down, public lavatories included. Last week my Yorkshire Post colleague, GP Taylor, shared his trenchant views on second-home owners descending on Whitby. Whether you agree or not with their presence, at least they have access to their own facilities.
I digress. There are serious points to be made, and not just about how tourists may risk spreading the virus in communities with downgraded NHS medical facilities – very pertinent in both Whitby and Scarborough – but also about the economic future of coastal communities.
In Yorkshire, a we have a lot to lose. According to Visit Britain, seven million domestic and overseas visitors flock to our coastline every year, spending tens of millions. You can see why. No other region has such diversity; from birdwatching at Bempton cliffs to ancient history at Whitby, with funfairs, surfing, walking, shopping, theatres and more along the way. It’s incomparable in the UK.
Yet, beyond the seafront, there is significant social deprivation. The mean salary in Scarborough in 2016 was £19,925, the lowest in Britain, and £8,517 below the national average, a report from the Social Market Foundation found.
Scott Corfe, the author of the report, says poor infrastructure contributes to the growing disparity between seaside towns and inland areas. “Not only do they lack local job opportunities, but travelling elsewhere for work is also relatively difficult,” he concludes.
Without tourism then, what future for these towns and communities? Can we allow them to ossify whilst we wait for a cure to Covid-19 to be found?
Last year one of my friends realised a long-held dream. She sold everything in Barnsley to buy a guest-house in Scarborough’s North Bay. If her Facebook page is anything to go by – crisp white bedlinen, sumptuous cooked breakfasts and home-made cakes – it looks like she’s running a superlative modern establishment. Just the sort of thing our seaside towns need.
I’d love to go and see for myself, but of course, I can’t. And neither can anyone else, and for who knows how much longer? My friend is just one of hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods are being ruined.
Government support for small businesses only goes so far and offers no promise of a sustainable future. These people are the backbone, the taxpayers, their enterprises the magnet for visitors. They can’t be kept on ice forever.
As lockdown has been lifted to the extent that we are now free to travel, and revisions considered to strict ‘two metre’ social distancing rules, the argument against visiting the coast begins to crumble.
There are caveats to this of course. For instance, it would be unwise to consider venturing to the coast by public transport right now.
And selfish not to ensure your car is road-worthy before you set off.
However, presuming that the vast majority of people would be driving, in their own family group, alone or with a partner, they would not be mingling purposefully with others.
We’ve gasped at the bikini-clad hordes touching toes on Brighton beach, but let’s face it, it’s unlikely that Filey Brigg is suddenly going to turn into Fuengirola.
My guess is that most people will be doing exactly what they do at home. Walking briskly along, keeping themselves to themselves, and possibly sitting down from time to time to sip from a flask and enjoy the view.
No cafes. No ice creams. No donkey rides or boat trips. A responsible coronavirus-era trip to the seaside hardly represents Shangri-La.
Showing that we care about our coast, and can treat its communities with respect, might just send a message to the Government that our resorts really do matter too.
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