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Favorite Places in England: Not Drowning in Scaroborough

When I lived in the UK when I was in my early 20’s post-college figuring-life-out phase (which I never really grew out of), I used to go to random tourist places based on British folk songs, or throwing darts at maps.  Or showing up at the train station and picking a place that sounded interesting.  I wound up in several different really random places like this.  For example, Leicester was a random-dart-on-the-map thing.  Durham was a show-up-at-the-station-and-pick-the-next-train-going-somewhere-interesting-sounding one.

ScarboroughBut the best were the folk-songs inspired trips.  Like “Over the Sea to Skye” (I really wanted Hannah’s middle name to be Skye, but that got nixed; random fact.  I also wanted Noel.  Also nixed.  How he agreed to Zen when Skye and Noel were deemed to be too weird is beyond me).

Scarborough was the best, though, and I wound up going back several times.  First, the trip from London takes some commitment.  A train to York, where you change (usually with a wait of half an hour to an hour) to go on a tiny 2-car train through Yorkshire over to the coast.  The whole thing takes about 4 hours from King’s Cross.

So then you get to Scarborough, and you see that it’s largely a sort of kitchy former resort kind of place that has an air of depression and economic slump about it.  It’s the largest holiday resort on the Yorkshire coast (and the oldest in England!) but there aren’t really a lot of holiday resorts on the Yorkshire coast, so it’s not really saying much.  There are lots of holiday types of amusements like arcades, chip shops, and boat ride places (we’ll get to that in a minute).  The whole town is built around this promontory that juts into the North Sea, and upon which there are the ruins of an 12th century castle.

Scarborough Castle - geograph.org.uk - 192389.jpg
Scarborough Castle – geograph.org.uk – 192389” by Scott Rimmer – From geograph.org.uk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The town was originally founded around 960 and called Skarðaborg by a Viking raider, though there was a Roman station on the promontory in the 4th century.  By the time of the Norman Invasion there wasn’t much left of it, and so the Domesday Book (about which I wrote about yesterday) lists very little in Scarborough.  Henry II built a castle there several generations later, and really built up the fortifications.  And starting in 1253 Henry III gave Scarborough a charter for their famous fair, which was a 45 day fair held every year starting on August 15.  People came from all over Europe – the Baltics, the Byzantine Empire, and lots of other places.  Later on, Edward II would give Scarborough Castle to his favorite, Piers Gaveston, who was finally captured in the castle.

Later on, in the 17th century, healing properties of the springs were discovered in the waters around Scarborough, and people with stomach problems came to be healed.  In 1845 a railway from York to Scarborough opened, which allowed many city-dwellers from York to easily get to the sea, and several years later, the Grand Hotel (at the time, the largest in Europe) opened.

me on boat in scarborough

me, age 23, taking my life into my hands getting on the scariest boat ride I’ve ever been on, into the North Sea.

You can wander around the castle while eating an ice cream cone, which makes for a lovely little trek, and I highly recommend it.  But even better, keep going out of the town and wander around the high cliffs above the seaside like I did.  One trip I took my violin, and stood on the cliff playing Scarborough Faire on my fiddle, which was incredibly cliche, but really fun.

But the best was, no doubt about it, the boat ride I took out into the bay.  It was filled with holiday-makers and families, a kind of scary rickety boat on a cloudy day that seemed a bit treacherous, and I was glad I’m a good swimmer.  Since I was alone, I started talking to people (I talk to anyone anywhere) and everyone was highly impressed when they heard that I’d come up from London.  Then I told them that actually I was from Los Angeles, and they were really impressed, telling me other holiday resorts I should visit if I was a fan of northern seaside resorts, such as Blackpool.  Then a DJ comes on the rickety boat, and starts singing techno versions of pop songs.  All well and good.  Maybe he’s practicing for Eurovision or something.  But then, we start chugging away into the North Sea, on a boat similar to what the Vikings would have had, only maybe not as sturdy, and he starts singing a techno version of the Titanic song. I nearly lost it.  The irony didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but I really wanted to demand that we go back immediately to solid ground.  The ride was uneventful though, and we made it back to dry land where I immediately ate a piece of greasy pizza from a shop on the beach, and sat on a bench staring out at the sea, thinking about the Viking raiders, and being very thankful that I hadn’t drowned.

If you want more information on Scarborough, which is a very lovely place as long as you avoid the rickety boat rides with ironic techno music blasting, you can follow @scarboroughuk, or go to http://www.visitscarborough.com/