Caught by the River

East End meets East Coast: Scarborough, twinned with Hackney

2nd August 2012

Seeing as we’ve got a bit of a loose Olympics theme going this week, we thought it would be a good time to run a travel guide to host borough Hackney’s official twin – Scarborough – in case you fancied getting away from it all by the seaside. Travis Elborough has toured the town to find the eleven best things to take your mind off the weather and the fact that you couldn’t get tickets for the Beach Volleyball.

The North Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough is officially twinned with the London Borough of Hackney for the duration of the 2012 Olympics. Scarborough can rightfully claim to be Britain’s first seaside resort. It was only after a local quack doctor, Dr Wittie, began to tout the town’s spa and sea water as a cure for gout in the late 17th century that the affluent unwell started to wash up on our coasts. And for any urbanites tiring of London 2012 itself, Scarborough still has plenty to offer the jaded metropolitan visitor.

1. Alonzi’s Harbour Bar, Sandside

On the South Sands, Alonzi’s Harbour Bar is a post-war temple to ice cream sundaes and frothy coffee in chrome and formica that glows like the dial on an old radio set and whose walls still carry adverts for Farm Egg Milkshakes and Hot Chocolate Flavoured Horlicks.

2. The Golden Grid
4 Sandside, YO11 1PE 01723 360 922

The Golden Grid in South Bay is one of those increasing rare seafront fish restaurants where virtually no inch of extensively wood panelled wall is not covered with something nautical. Barometers, spools of ropes, nets and ships wheels, all jostle for attention alongside an array of positively lysergic, amateur paintings of local beach scenes. Your haddock may well arrive looking like a battered coelacanth but it will be delicious.

3. The Cliff Lifts

Scarborough was home to the first funicular railway in the country. Two of the original cliff lifts, initially powered by sea-water when they opened in 1875, are still in operation today and provide the most stately means to reach the beach.

4. Donkeys

When the resort was in its infancy Scarborough’s firm, golden sands were especially prized by the gentry who liked to gallop along the beach on their horses. Younger visitors can relive those days (at a rather more sedate pace) by taking a ride on a donkey on the South Sands.

5. Peasholm Park

If the hustle and bustle of the sea front gets too much, then repair to Peasholm Park – a tranquil Japanese garden in the North Bay whose boating lake pagoda has been restored to its Edwardian glory in recent years. Less calming but equally delightful are the pitched sea battles miniature war ships reenact on the lake during the summer months.

6. The North Bay Miniature Railway

Fearing that it would bring less affluent visitors and so lower the
tone of the resort, the burghers of Scarborough held out against the
railways until 1845. Since 1931, however, one of best ways to
experience the rolling North Bay is a journey on the miniature railway
that runs along it from Peasholm Park to Scalby Mills.

7. The Stephen Joseph Theatre
Hanover Road, Westborough
YO11 1JW

Formerly an Odeon cinema and housed inside a sleek, listed ’30s modernist building, The Stephen Joseph Theatre has been home to its former director Alan Ackbourn’s output for over forty years.

8. The Lanterna Ristorante
33 Queen Street, Y011 1HQ

If The Lanterna Ristorante’s interior seems to hark back to an era when no pizzeria table was without its candle in a raffia-coated chianti bottle, then be reassured; it’s a sign of longevity in this instance. Quite simply, this is one of the finest and best-loved Italian restaurants in Britain. Run by Giorgio and Rachel Alessio, it’s an award-winning family concern that with the aid of the local seafood dishes up the authentic taste of the Piedmont region on the North Yorkshire coast.

9. The Rotunda – The William Smith Museum of Geology

Dating back to 1829, and one of the oldest purpose-built museums still in use in Britain, The Rotunda was designed by the pioneering geologist William Smith. Extensively renovated with cash from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, it contains a fantastic collection of some of the earliest fossils and rock samples ever studied. These are displayed in a unique set of glass cabinets that Smith commissioned in 1830.

10. The Spa Complex, Sun Court Cafe

The mineral water spa that first attracted health-seekers to Scarborough was finally covered over in the 1960s but it’s name lives on in the Complex that from Victorian times grew up around it. Today it comprises a theatre cum conference centre, a cinema, walkways, amusement arcades and shops. It’s jewel, though, is the Sun Court Cafe. Canopied by a neo-classical dome and boasting a wonderful semicircular, checkered courtyard that is shielded from the ocean by a glass sunscreen, on less clement days it is the perfect place to sip a coffee and watch the waves.

11. The Grand Hotel

Once the largest hotel in Europe and built in the 1860s on the site of a guest house where Anne Bronte expired (her grave can be found in St Mary’s churchyard), The Grand dominates the South Bay skyline. Fashioned in yellow brick, this crenelated building with four domed towers looks not unlike a majestic sandcastle. It is a true architectural landmark of Scarborough, one neatly complemented by the ruins of an ancient castle on the peak of the South Bay opposite it.

Travis Elborough is the author of The Bus We Loved (London’s Affair with the Routemaster) and Wish You Were Here: England on Sea.