Why Scarborough is the place to be this summer

Scarborough's heyday has passed – but there's still reason to go - SSPL/NRM/Pictorial Collection
Scarborough's heyday has passed – but there's still reason to go - SSPL/NRM/Pictorial Collection

Britney Spears is coming to Scarborough, the resort town once known as “The Queen of the Yorkshire Coast”. And what merriment her forthcoming concert has caused. Newspaper headlines ranging from “By ’eck!” to “By gum!” greeted the announcement of her Aug 17 gig at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre. 

But it’s not as bizarre as it might sound. The 6,500-capacity theatre has hosted Elton John, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick, not to mention Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

The Queen of the Yorkshire Coast - Credit: istock
The Queen of the Yorkshire Coast Credit: istock

I can’t say I’m a fan of hers

Never fear. There’s still plenty to enjoy. Most mornings and many evenings over the summer season, the Scarborough Spa Orchestra is on stage at – logically enough – The Spa (scarboroughspa.co.uk; tickets £7 mornings, £13 evenings; season ends Sept 13).

It’s Britain’s last surviving professional seaside orchestra, playing light classics, songs from the shows and – over 130 concerts this year – a good smattering of music that hardly anyone else plays any more (when did you last hear Bells Across the Meadows?). 

Last season’s total attendance was more than 15,000. In the smart Grand Hall or the deckchair-bedecked Suncourt, the 10-strong band play, with great dash and enthusiasm, what one regular calls “happy music”. The audience, a sea fret of silver hair for the most part, responds with tapping feet and nodding heads. It’s a living piece of musical history. The Spa is found on the South Bay, at the “posh end” of Scarborough. 

17 photographs that prove Yorkshire is England's greatest county
17 photographs that prove Yorkshire is England's greatest county

Scarborough has a posh end?

Parts of the town have seen better days, but the South Bay has elegant crescents, gracious terraces and immaculate gardens. From the Spa, you can stroll around a short cultural triangle featuring the glorious pre-Raphaelite interior of St Martin-on-the-Hill (friendsofstmartins.co.uk) with its windows by Burne-Jones, Rossetti and William Morris. 

Down the road, the Rotunda museum (scarboroughmuseumstrust.com; £3 joint ticket with the Art Gallery; under-18s free) is a Georgian gem, displaying the skeleton of an early Bronze Age man. The light-filled Art Gallery includes a painting of the Spa and its orchestra in 1922, when men carried canes at the seaside and women carried parasols. 

Scarborough South Bay - Credit: istock
Scarborough's South Bay is known as the 'posh end' Credit: istock

Give me a quick overview

The best view of Scarborough is from the castle (english-heritage.org.uk; £6.50 adults, £3.90 children), whose 12th-century keep towers above the headland separating the North and South Bays. It houses the remains of a Roman signal station and was settled by Vikings and shelled by German battleships during the First World War. 

From the high viewing platform, the whole town spreads out before you. The harbour bobs with fishing boats and, in the Old Town, one-time fishermen’s cottages with red pantiled roofs are jumbled along steep cobbled streets. 

Scarborough castle - Credit: istock
Climb up to the castle for the best views Credit: istock

Foreshore Road offers bracing brashness. Need a plate of bacon and eggs recreated in seaside rock? A pink cowgirl hat? An afternoon in an amusement arcade? Look no further. The Harbour Bar (theharbourbar.co.uk) is a Fifties-style ice-cream parlour, a rhapsody in cherry red and custard yellow, and helps make a trip to Scarborough a sort of nostalgic “heritage holiday”.

Dominating the view is St Mary’s Church, whose graveyard houses the wind-weathered gravestone of Anne Bronte. The church, incidentally, serves excellent teas and coffees (and toasted teacakes) through the summer. To the right, North Bay sweeps round to Peasholm Park. It was designed – and why not? – to echo willow-patterned plates, its oriental theme running to pagodas and dragon-inspired pedalos on the lake. 

There’s probably no better way to spend the evening than at the Stephen Joseph Theatre (sjt.uk.com), famed for its association with Sir Alan Ayckbourn. Just Between Ourselves.

Beautiful British places you never thought to visit
Beautiful British places you never thought to visit

It’s not all fish and chips is it?

Not at all. Lanterna (lanterna-ristorante.co.uk; mains from £15) is a Scarborough legend. Ignore the unprepossessing backstreet location and the plain Eighties-ish décor – the food is fresh and cooked to perfection by chef-patron Giorgio Alessio, who puts on a flamboyant floor show when whipping up zabaglione, while a wall of celebrity endorsements exudes pleasure.  

But, yes, fish and chips are essential at the seaside. So try the award-winning Golden Grid (goldengrid.co.uk) which offers top-flight fish-chips-peas-and-tea for £11.50, with options including “whopper” cod or haddock – a good foot of fish. 

Scarborough | Know before you go
Scarborough | Know before you go

So Britney’s not a tall story?

No, but Tall Storeys is a fine seven-bedroom guesthouse in the Old Town. (telegraph.co.uk/tt-tall-storeys; B&B doubles from £80). It lives up to its name, with five floors and a fair few stairs. A Regency townhouse, it’s endearingly comfortable and decorated in traditional style (floral prints, wall plates). Plus it’s on a quiet street near the harbour (stunning views from some rooms), with the resort’s main shopping area a 10-minute walk away. Owners Ian and Morna Garner are welcoming, and the breakfasts are superb.

Next door, the Lighthouse Holiday Cottage sleeps six and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two sitting rooms, a dining room and a well-equipped kitchen (lighthousescarborough.co.uk; from £90 per night, minimum three-night stay). They are spread over four floors linked by spiral staircases.