Dominated by its castle, set high on limestone cliffs above the sea, Scarborough with its two bays, has been a major tourist centre since the C17th, when the discovery of a mineral stream led to a spa being established here.
Scarborough Spa became Britain’s first sea side resort and a popular destination for the wealthy. Visitor numbers increased rapidly in the C19th when the railway arrived, bringing thousands of workers from industrial Yorkshire and the Bass Excursions from Burton upon Trent.
Splendid hotels were built to accommodate the influx of tourists. When the Grand Hotel on South Bay opened in 1867, it was one of the first giant purpose-built hotels in Europe. 150 years late, it still towers above its surroundings.
The town has a long history. There was an Iron Age settlement on the headland and the Romans built a Signal Station here. Its foundations can still been seen in the outer bailey of the castle.
There may have been a small settlement at the base of the cliff but anything was destroyed by a Viking raid in the C10th. Henry II built a royal castle on top of the headland in the C12th. He granted town charters allowing a market to be held here.
A harbour was built below the castle and the town rapidly became a major trading centre with a six week Scarborough Fair, attended by merchants from across Europe until the late C18th.
The oldest part of the town is clustered around the harbour on South Bay. Protected by its three piers and lighthouse, this is popular with pleasure boats and yachts, although there is still a small fishing fleet working out of the harbour. The lifeboat station is here.
This is still very much the tourist end of the town with its wide expanse of sand, promenade with amusements, entertainments, sea food stalls, ice cream parlours and cafes. The commercial centre with the main shopping area and nightlife, grew on the cliff above. A cliff railway, the “Central Tramway”:http://www.centraltramway.co.uk/ Central Tramway, carries visitors from South Bay to the town one hundred feet on the cliff above. This is the only one of Scarborough’s five cliff railways still working.
At the far end of the bay is the Spa Complex. You can no longer take the waters here, but it is still an important “entertainment venue”:https://www.scarboroughspa.co.uk/Online/default.asp with conference halls, theatre and orchestra. Nothing is left of the sea water bathing pool once found near here.
The North Bay is quieter and less commercialised with buildings set back from the bay. This is a Blue Flag beach with a collection of brightly coloured beach huts. It is more exposed and is popular with surfers.
Immediately behind North Bay is the lovely “Peasholme Park”:https://peasholmpark.com/ , set in a natural ravine developed as an oriental themed park with pagoda, waterfalls, mini bridges and gardens. There is a tree trail around the park. Attractions include a boating lake with mock naval battles. There is a putting green and bandstand with concerts during the summer months.
The “North Bay Railway”:http://nbr.org.uk/ is a miniature steam railway running between Peasholme Park and Scalby Mills to the north. For those wanting more of a high adrenaline experience, there is the Skytrail Adventure, a rope bridge and beam course. Next to the railway is Scarborough Open Air Theatre.
Near Scalby Mills is “Sands Sea Life Centre”:https://www.visitsealife.com/scarborough/ (book on line to save 50%)
The two bays are connected by the Marine Drive which runs round the headland below the castle. There is a regular “open top bus”:https://www.yorkshire.com/view/attractions/scarborough/scarborough-open-top-buses-2040185 service during the summer months.
Scarborough Castle and St Mary with the Holy Apostles Church are reached by a steep climb from the harbour. This is an area of narrow streets lined with tall houses.
Usually shortened to “St Mary’s”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/north_yorkshire/north_yorkshire_two/scarborough/index.html , the church is set high above the town, below the walls of the castle. It is surrounded by a large graveyard, which is a place of pilgrimage for Bronte fans as Anne Bronte is buried here. A copy of her birth certificate is displayed in the church.
Dating from the C12th this, along with the castle, is one of the oldest buildings in Scarborough and was the garrison church for the castle. Scarborough was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and a huge cannon was installed in the church which fired through the east window and inflicted great damage to the castle keep. Unfortunately the church suffered similar damage to the east end and north transept, which were never repaired. Two columns of stone by the road mark the extent of the pre Civil War chancel. This gives the church a truncated appearance as what was originally the central tower is now the east end, with the chancel beneath it.
It is impressive inside and some of the Norman pillars survive in the north arcade.
The brightly coloured stained glass east window dates from 1956, after the Victorian one was badly damaged by a German mine in World War Two. Look closely at the bottom for the depiction of all God’s living creatures, including a woman with her cat and a bespectacled man with his dog.
“Scarborough Castle”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/england/yorkshire/scarborough/index.html standing 300’ above the sea is surrounded by a massive curtain wall and occupies all of the headland. Entry is through an impressive gatehouse and barbican and leads to the remains of the C12th keep. The curtain wall was built in the C13th, and more comfortable domestic buildings were built in the outer bailey. It was one of the most formidable fortresses in England.
After the Civil War, the castle was left in a ruined state and little work was done until the threat of a Jacobite Rebellion in the C18th. The castle was refortified with gun batteries above the barbican and a Master Gunner’s house was built. This is now the tea room and has a small exhibition
Apart from the remains of the keep, curtain wall and Master Gunner’s house, there is little left of the rest of the castle apart from a few walls, foundations and ditches. It does have good views of Scarborough, the harbour and the two bays.
North Yorkshire has a series of popular holiday resorts along the coast from Redcar to Bridlington, all with glorious sandy beaches. Scarborough is still, justifiably, the most popular with its wide range of attractions to cater for all visitors.