As a child I was whisked every summer to Shanklin or, if Dad was feeling especially adventurous, Sandown, located side by side on the Isle of Wight. It felt like another world, of sand (I demanded to wear socks, stop the dreadful stuff infiltrating my toes), dinosaurs (Black Gang Chine’s theme-park monsters), a woman on a penny farthing who scared the hell out of me (life-size model at Godshill) and a knickerbocker glory so tall, I had to stand on my chair to eat it.
This is what childhoods are made of. Abroad is all very well, but Britain has so much to offer, having vastly bucked up its ideas since cheap flights opened up Europe as competition. So strap on your best “Kiss Me Quick” hat and join TMK as we tour ten of the best family-friendly seasides the nation has to offer.
(Incidentally, decades after those heady Isle of Wight holidays, I checked on Google Maps to see just how far we had traveled from home to hotel. Though it had felt like many hundreds of miles, the reality was nearer 22, as the crow flies. Clearly the crow had failed to become exhausted.)
Love it, hate it, you can’t ignore it. Last year topped it Which? magazine’s Top Ten UK Seaside Resorts survey. The Golden Mile, the Pleasure Beach, Sea Life Centre, Stanley Park, Model Village and Gardens, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, Sandcastle Waterpark and so much more.
And this place came second in the Which? survey. It’s a pebbly rather than sandy beach, which drops sharply beneath the waves, so not recommended for beginners or kiddies’ swimming. But there’s the famous Victorian pier with its fairground attractions, candyfloss and rollercoaster, plus the promenade, Sea Life Centre, crazy golf, restaurants, museums and shoppers’ paradise among the Laines.
While we’re on polls and surveys, guess which resort topped this year’s /lTripAdvisor/l Best UK Beach Resort poll, also making it into the European Top Ten? (There’s a clue above.) Boasting Britain’s mildest climate, St Ives offers surfing, sailing, fishing and diving, as well as kids’ theatre, coastal walks, eats and arts (Tate St Ives).
Just up the coast and just behind St Ives in the TripAdvisor poll. Best known for its surf dudes and dudettes, Newquay also offers stunning beaches and seas full of kids with wakeboards, wetsuits and grins. Plus there’s a steam railway, zoo, coasteering, aquarium and water park, something for all ages.
The Blackpool of the East. Fifteen miles of sandy beach, dunes, amusements, donkey rides, bouncy castles, three piers, the rides of the Pleasure Beach (see what they did there?), model village, reptilarium(!), wildlife gardens, petting zoo, and horse and greyhound tracks. My son and I played LaserQuest there once, when I became unattractively competitive.
Surf schools, riding school, Oceanarium, the Adventure Wonderland (Dorset’s number one family theme park), Liberty’s Owl, Raptor & Reptile Centre (very Alan Partridge), as well as miles of sandy, unspoiled beaches. You could rent a beach hut right on the sea for as little as £30 per week, off-season.
With its 17th century harbour and sandy bays set within the Jurassic coastline, Weymouth offers a traditional British beach holiday including Punch & Judy, museums, nature reserve, Roman temple and Nothe Fort, a Victorian fortress containing World War II memorabilia. I collected fossils from the cliffs there during my nerdy youth, and budding palaeontologists still walk the beaches seeking washed up ammonites (hacking from the cliffs being now forbidden).
The North Yorkshire coastal resort might not spring readily to mind as a holiday destination, yet it came third in that Which? survey, behind Blackpool and Brighton. Surfing, kitesurfing, boat charters, more fossil-hunting, horse-riding, rock-climbing and rock-pooling. Older teens with a penchant for overdoing the eyeliner might be swayed by the /lWhitby Goth Weekend/l at the Pavilion, 4-5 November, including, rather incongruously, a firework display.
A more tranquil, traditional destination for the list. Cromer in Norfolk was developed into a seaside resort by the late Victorians, and their pier still stands. Attractions include fairground rides, boat trips, fishing, sailing, a South American-themed zoo, free entry into the lifeboat station – those enthused can then visit the nearby RNLI Henry Blogg Lifeboat Museum – and hunting under the rocks of the tidal pools for the famous Cromer crabs.
The Isle of Thanet takes in Ramsgate, Broadstairs – both lovely – and the oft-maligned Margate. Seafood stalls, cream teas, the new Turner Contemporary gallery, coastal walks, Hornby Visitor Centre (archiving Scalextric, Airfix, Corgi and model railway toys – stop salivating, Dad) and Dreamland Heritage site, a renovated theme park (admittedly opening in 2013). Failing those, there’s always the Shell Grotto, a bizarre underground chamber, its walls covered in a mosaic of 4.6 million shells. What’s not to love?
The seaside resort in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, offers much for the visiting family. For the kids: dune-backed sandy beaches – my son has spent many a delighted (and cheap!) hour running up and down such natural wonders – Waterworld swimming complex, and the country’s largest amusement park, Barry’s Amusements. For the elders: the Royal Portrush golf course, Kelly’s nightclub – revered throughout the land – and the iconic White House department store.
Pembrokeshire boasts some of the cleanest and most unspoilt beaches in Britain, and the harbour town and resort of Tenby is among its highlights. Its three Blue Flag beaches offer shops, cafes, watersports and boat trips, while nearby are the Oakwood Theme Park, Manor House Wildlife Park, Folly Farm, Blue Lagoon Waterpark, coastal walks and cycle rides.