A FEW days ago, I stood on the cliffs above Selwicks Bay, at Flamborough Head, and watched enchanted as seals swam and bobbed their heads out of the crystal clear azure sea at high tide.
There were families lined up along the clifftop, all of them delighted by the spectacle. The father of two small boys caught my eye, smiled, and said: “Better than abroad, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. It turned out that this was the first time he had brought his family to stay on the Yorkshire coast, instead of making day trips, and they were loving it. Only a couple of hours from home in the car, this was a family on a voyage of discovery.
A caravan near Filey had cost them a fraction of their usual foreign holiday, and the children were having the time of their lives.
He’s not the only parent I’ve met with a similar tale to tell, who swapped the hassle of airport security checks, delayed flights and tedious coach transfers to hotels or apartments for an old-fashioned week on the coast to start the summer school holidays.
A mother of three girls had worked out that a week of self-catering near Bridlington for all of them was cheaper than the flights to get only two of the four to the most inexpensive resort on offer in Spain.
It’s a no-brainer. The children wanted fun in the sun, she wanted to put her feet up with a book on the beach, and they all found what they were after on Bridlington’s South Sands.
And being faddy eaters, their mum was freed from the usual headache of trying to find something they’d like on a Spanish menu, instead cooking them what they would normally have at home.
This scorching summer has been a boon to the coast. Work has taken me up and down it these past few weeks, and everywhere has been much busier than usual – not just the usual visitor magnets like Scarborough and Whitby.
The crowds have been flocking to the spots that are generally a little quieter, at Cayton Bay and Reighton Gap, from Runswick Bay in the north to Withernsea in the south, all of them full of families.
When Welcome to Yorkshire tots up this summer’s visitor numbers, my hunch is that it is going to prove a boom year, maybe even the best since the heatwave of 1976, when Yorkshire’s seaside tourism was not yet fully under the onslaught of competition from cheap package holidays.
That’s wonderful news for the coastal economy which, beneath the fun-filled façade the tourists see, has some serious problems such as deprivation and a lack of opportunities.
An exceptional summer won’t solve them on its own, even if the “no vacancies” signs have been up wherever I’ve been, and greater prominence should be given in the One Yorkshire devolution plans to the needs of the coast, which requires long-term strategic assistance.
But some of that long-term help is going to come from a new wave of visitors, who have seen the coast with fresh eyes, like the family at Flamborough.
They, and the mum and her daughters on the beach at Bridlington, have become converts to the traditional seaside holiday, for so long in decline but now surely experiencing a renaissance.
The timeless appeal of staying at the seaside is as powerful as ever. The children enjoying themselves all along the coast are discovering with delight that a day on the sands with bucket and spade is as much fun as it was for the long-gone Victorian families who flocked to the coast when the railways first made mass tourism possible.
The families staying for the first time will be coming back, and not just because the soaring cost of holidays in the Mediterranean has served to underline how affordable the coast is by comparison.
It’s also about the special magic that Yorkshire’s coast works on its visitors. Those who stay, instead of flitting there and back within a day, get out and explore, discovering places that they hadn’t known about and seeing things that they hadn’t expected, like seals swimming at the foot of towering chalk cliffs.
The sheer variety of the coastline puts the bog-standard offer of Mediterranean resorts to shame. What’s going to engage and delight a family with young children more, a featureless strip of sand in Spain backed by row after row of soulless high-rise hotels, or a cove where they can explore caves and rock pools with a shrimping net in between splashing in the sea?
There’s no comparison. This summer has done the coast a huge favour, drawing families who have rediscovered the simple, old-fashioned fun of the seaside that crosses generations, sparking memories in parents and grandparents of doing exactly what the children are delighting in now.
Better than abroad? You bet it is.