2021 Week 48: Britain’s First Seaside Resort

One day in the 1620s, on her legendary walk along the foot of Scarborough's South Cliff, Mrs. Thomasin Farrer noticed a stream of bubbling water running down the cliff and into the sea. She couldn't have known the impact of her discovery, however she was educated enough to sense the medical potential of the water that tasted acidic and stained the rock behind reddish-brown. Forty years later, her revelation was made public by a qualified physician in Dr Robert Wittie’s book, claiming that the Yorkshire waters were good for "Apoplexy, Epilepsie, Catalepsie, Vertigo, Hypochondriack Melancholy and Windiness". That was a huge catalyst for visitors to Scarborough and that's how the town became Britain's first seaside resort and spa.

For many, it is the epitome of the English coast, a postcard perfect place. Today it is said to be the third most visited place in the UK. It doesn't surprise me as it is located in a truly spectacular setting. The cliffs on one side, the vast sandy beach on the other. In winter the shores are battered by the wild North Sea, which is wonderfully exhilarating when you can watch it from the safe distance. As I did on the evening I arrived. The instance I had the first glimpse of the bay, I knew I had a lot to look forward to in the next few days.

Scarborough Nights

Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along, forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings to my feet, and could go at least forty miles without fatigue, and experiencing a sense of exhilaration to which I had been an entire stranger since the days of early youth.

From Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

In the mid nineteenth century Scarborough was a luxurious resort visited by the cream of Victorian society. It was particularly loved by Anne Brontë.

She visited the place regularly every year and it became for her what the moors were to her sister Emily. She loved to hear the sea crashing against the rocks and watch the gulls wheeling above it beneath a darkening sky. It was a place full of happy memories and days filled with the sights and sounds of nature that thrilled her so much. No wonder that she wanted to spend her final days there. She suffered from terminal tuberculosis and she knew that the healing waters will not cure her. But she hoped that she could gather enough strength to gain a little bit more time and enjoy the happy memories of the years gone by.

There was a feeling of freshness and vigour in the very streets; and when I got free of the town, when my foot was on the sands and my face towards the broad, bright bay, no language can describe the effect of the deep, clear azure of the sky and ocean, the bright morning sunshine on the semicircular barrier of craggy cliffs surmounted by green swelling hills, and on the smooth, wide sands, and the low rocks out at sea - looking, with their clothing of weeds and moss, like little grass–grown islands - and above all, on the brilliant, sparkling waves. And then, the unspeakable purity - and freshness of the air! There was just enough heat to enhance the value of the breeze, and just enough wind to keep the whole sea in motion, to make the waves come bounding to the shore, foaming and sparkling, as if wild with glee. Nothing else was stirring - no living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; - nothing before had trampled them since last night’s flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday, and left them fair and even, except where the subsiding water had left behind it the traces of dimpled pools and little running streams.

From Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

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