I THOUGHT I knew Scarborough – that endearingly odd seaside town which tumbles into the North Sea in a landslide of red roofs, sandy chips, neon and raucous seagulls.

A native Yorkshireman, I loved day trips to the place which seemed made for kids, with its castle, amusement arcades, toy and rock shops and huge sandy beaches - two of them. Where else could you make yourself sick on huge rock humbugs, spend hours recycling coins on the penny falls in an amusement arcade, then spend your pocket money on a crab line and pot of bait for a guaranteed catch or two?

But the past is another country, isn’t it, and I hadn’t stepped foot in the place since the age of 12. It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to... it’s more that I didn’t want to spoil those fun-drenched memories. After all, everywhere changes - and, a handful of hip hangouts excepted, the Great British seaside resort has not fared well in recent decades.

So it was with a mixture of childlike excitement, guilty nostalgia and a ‘what the hell are you doing?’ expectation of regret, that I booked an old-fashioned summer holiday in the place. After all, only a mug would go abroad at the moment... the Covid hassle surely outweighing the guaranteed sun, great food and wine and generally chic lifestyle of the Med?

Oxford Mail: Scarborough, By Tim Hughes

Well, yes. If you choose right, it is. Look, it’s not St Tropez or Amalfi, but standing on the terrace of Scarborough’s Esplanade Hotel as the sun went down, the sky above the castle turning salmon pink and the lights dappling the darkening North Sea as fishing boats set sale from the harbour, it didn’t look far off.

The beauty was a genuine surprise. Sure, it could do with a lick of paint in places, but it is has been blessed with the most amazing topography. Draped along sweeping bays either side of the impossibly picturesque fortress-topped headland, a maze of fisherman’s cottages giving way to the brash, purveyors of sugar, deep fried goods and small change amusement, at the base of cliffs topped with gardens and ludicrously oversized whitewashed hotels.

It is a vertiginous place, a fun trot down the bank to the beach but the walk back up is a lung-buster, which must surely burn up a good number of the calories provided by those pubs, ice cream shops and chippies (the best in the country - a bold claim, but I stand by it).

We were staying with Daish’s Holidays, whose great selling point is the inclusive coach travel to resorts as far away as Newquay, Torquay and Llandudno.

Oxford Mail: Scarborough, By Tim Hughes

The Esplanade Hotel

A family-owned business with 10 hotels, it also has its own fleet of 25 luxury coaches to transport guests in comfort from pick up points across the UK, including Oxford.

Planning to hit the moors for some serious walking, and hoping to visit family up the coast where public transport doesn’t reach, we needed the car. But 50 miles into a sweaty, fractious, and un-scenic drive, that bus seemed tempting indeed. It’s worth considering.

The Esplanade Hotel, like Scarborough itself, is a grandiose place built for a different age. This is the antithesis of the boutique hotel. Rather than a bearded and artfully tattooed hipster, it is more of a refined dowager duchess - her outfit slightly tired but recognisably elegant, flashes of her glamorous youth shining through.

Oxford Mail: Scarborough, By Tim Hughes

It’s also great value. I mean, really cheap - and if you chose to dine in, you will not only be treated to honest, unfussy but well-cooked food - from an almost too-big-too-eat full English breakfast to roast chicken or scampi and chips in the evening - but you’ll be saving a small fortune. And self-catering can go and hang itself when there’s perpetually cheerful Yorkshire lads and lasses serving up square meals.

The food may be homely, but the scenery is out of this world. The Cleveland Way long distance path runs past the hotel, carrying hikers along the towering cliffs - north to rugged Ravenscar and the pretty, but never twee, fishing villages of Robin Hood’s Bay, Runswick Bay and Staithes, and south past teaming seabird colonies to Filey Brig and the gentler, unthreatening hills of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Inland the North York Moors National Park stretches to the horizon - vast expanses of purple heather cut by lush dales and falling (quite literally, with the crumbling shale cliffs) into the sea.

Oxford Mail: Robin Hoods Bay. Picture by Tim Hughes

This is Britain’s forgotten national park. You can walk for hours without seeing a soul. My hike along a section of another long distance trail - the 40-odd mile Lyke Wake Walk - was entirely, deliciously, devoid of human company, or indeed any sign of human existence at all, except the occasional road crossing, isolated pub and the surreal giant pyramid of RAF Flyingdales ballistic missile early warning station. Amazingly this part of the world was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, iron ore from the hills fuelling the furnaces of Teesside down the other side of the moors beyond the dragons back profile of the Cleveland Hills.

Oxford Mail: Scarborough, By Tim Hughes

The geology also gives this part of the world two almost unmatched activities - hunting for fossils and jet.

They call the coast north of Scarborough the Dinosaur Coast - and for good reason. The tidal rock shelves beyond the beaches are studded with dino footprints, along with fabulous swirling ammonites and needle-like belemnites. Imagine Dorset’s Jurassic Coast but without the tourists.

Jet is more illusive. The fossilised remains of monkey puzzle trees is cut and polished to a luxurious black shine by jewellers in Whitby and fashioned into exquisite earrings, brooches and pendants.

It was made popular by Queen Victoria in her mourning years and is now favoured by those new fans of all things black - goths, who have made Whitby their pilgrimage place. It’s understandable when you remember that this, of course, is where Count Dracula first arrived on British soil - in the guise of a dog leaping from a wrecked ship from the Balkans.

Bram Stoker’s tale is fiction of course, but there is something irresistibly moody about Whitby, dominated by its ruined abbey and storm-battered church and graveyard, from which 199 steps lead to an avalanche of cottages - or, the other way, the cliff-top path to Scarborough.

The Count never made it that far, but had he given it a shot , I’m sure he’d have given up the neck-biting and lived out the rest of his days tucking into battered cod and Italian ice cream and sipping Yorkshire ale on the terrace at The Esplanade Hotel. Perfect!

Oxford Mail: Scarborough, By Tim Hughes

* Prices start at £269 per adult for a 4 night, half board break in August. Children under 5 are free. If the children are aged 6-12 then the first child is free and the second is half price.

Holidays can be booked at daishs.com or by calling the reservation team on 01202 078652.