‘I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside’ is a popular British music hall song. It was written in 1907 by John Glover-Kind at a time when annual visits to the seaside by the British working class was booming. The song describes the English nation’s love of the seaside.
During the summer months, British families flock to the seaside with their deckchairs, buckets and spades to soak up the sun. Due to its island nature, Britain is surrounded by miles of long coastline and the beaches are accessible to everyone. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be sunny for British people to enjoy a trip to the seaside. Bank holidays throughout the year, especially Easter and Christmas, are also popular times to go for a windswept walk along the beach to blow the cobwebs away.
The British seaside is a national institution and here are the top highlights to whet your appetite.
1. Fish and Chips
The British have an insatiable appetite for this popular seaside staple and we have been munching on this salty, vinegar-coated duo for hundreds of years. However, it is a little known fact that fish and chips didn't actually originate at the seaside. It is believed that this iconic British culinary delicacy was first brought to England by Spanish and Portuguese refugees in the 16th century. At the time, Jews were facing religious persecution in their homelands and many resettled in the UK. The dish of white fish, typically fried in a thin coat of flour, was called ‘pescado frito’, a traditional Jewish dish prepared on Fridays for the Sabbath. It was soon paired with another popular British staple, the humble potato. Even today, the most popular day of the week to eat fish and chips is on a Friday when you can spot queues outside fish and chip shops all over the country.
The UK’s first fish and chip shop is believed to have opened around 1860 by Joseph Malin, an Ashkenazi Jew, who fled to London’s East End from Eastern Europe, and the dish grew in popularity to become Britain’s most loved street food.
2. Sticks of Rock, Donkey Rides and a 99 Flake
These could easily be construed as a random collection of words, however, each one of these is a much loved British seaside staple enjoyed by children and adults alike for many generations.
A rock, known by its place of origin (for instance, Blackpool rock, Scarborough rock, Brighton rock) is a hard, stick-shaped boiled sugar candy traditionally flavoured with peppermint. They still remain a popular seaside treat and they are often purchased as souvenirs.
Although donkeys are slowly disappearing from English beaches, they are still thought of as a traditional feature of a typical British seaside resort. Made popular in Victorian times, children were allowed to ride donkeys on a sandy beach for a fee in summer months while on holiday, normally led in groups at walking pace. There are still some beaches in England that operate donkey rides during the spring and summer, such as Scarborough, Blackpool and Hunstanton.
A 99 flake is a popular ice cream cone made with soft vanilla ice cream into which a Cadbury’s chocolate Flake bar is inserted. At one point, this seaside favourite would have cost 99 pence, however, due to inflation, it costs much more today but the name still remains.
3. Blue flag beaches
Although Britain might not be the most obvious choice for sweltering tropical holidays due to its temperamental weather, it is fair to say that this country boasts some of the most spectacular beaches in Europe. From long, sweeping white sandy beaches to sparkling turquoise waters, the British coastline is a beach lovers paradise. Especially during the summer, Cornwall, Devon, Pembrokeshire and some of the Scottish Isles in particular could be mistaken for the tropics.
Many British beaches proudly fly the Blue Flag award for their pristine clean waters, which indicate that they are suitable for bathing. Some beaches in Cornwall, such as Fistral Beach in Newquay, have even become world-renowned surfing hubs hosting the largest surf competition in Europe, the BUCS Surf Champs.
4. Boxing Day Swim
Festive wild water swims have grown in popularity across Britain in recent years, and many seaside towns experience an influx of hardy swimmers often clad in fancy dress who brave the winter weather to take a refreshing dip in the sea over Christmas and New Year. Apart from providing some festive thrills, these winter swims also raise thousands of pounds for charities and they attract big crowds who view this amusing spectacle each year. Among many, one such popular winter swim is the Tenby Boxing Day Swim in Wales, which has taken place on 26th December every year since 1970.
5. Colourful Beach Huts
Brightly coloured beach huts are an essential part of the British seaside. They go together with ice creams, sandcastles and the famously unreliable weather. What started out as an inexpensive and practical solution for changing rooms following the First World War, when changing in public at the seaside was frowned upon, it has been swept up in the spirit of nostalgia, and today they can sell for as much as a family home. Considering that they are only equipped with basic utilities, and overnight stays are not permitted, it is really saying something about their immense popularity.
6. The English Riviera
The South and South West of England enjoys balmier weather throughout the year, and while the North of the country is often gripped in ice and snow during the winter months, the temperatures in Devon and Cornwall remain consistently mild all year round, perfectly lending itself to growing palm trees and tropical plants. The Victorians named the 22-mile stunning South Devon coastline, the English Riviera, for it reminded them of the warm climate found on the French Riviera. Improvements to Britain’s railways from the 1840’s contributed significantly to the growth of the British seaside holiday culture where small fishing villages were often transformed into popular seaside resorts.
7. Seaside Piers
By the end of the 19th century, there were over 100 popular seaside resorts in England and Wales, from Llandudno in North Wales, to Blackpool in the North West, to Scarborough in the North East, to Brighton and Torbay on the South Coast, and St. Ives in Cornwall. As the popularity of these British seaside resorts grew, new platforms were developed to make them into more complex entertainment venues, which gave way to the construction of piers.
These wooden structures originally started out as landing platforms for boat trips but they soon received a major makeover to become a well-loved seaside landmark. Providing a walkway out to sea, these piers often included a variety of amusements, theatres and eateries. The longest pier still open today is in Southend, and it reaches out 1.34 miles over the Thames estuary. Some piers are still an integral part of seaside communities and they are regularly used as arts venues, such as the famous Folk on the Pier, an annual folk festival held on Cromer Pier in Norfolk.
Life-Enriching Summer Programme
At St. Mary’s School we are proud to be offering our much sought-after Illuminate Cambridge summer programme for international students this summer. As part of our two-week programme, which is aimed at girls aged 13-17, we are going to explore a series of lively academic themes devised by our experienced Oxbridge-educated course leaders. Beyond the classroom, a variety of educational and cultural trips will bring learning to life to enrich our students’ knowledge and broaden their horizon by being immersed in a new culture.
Our esteemed summer programme is all about creating magical moments that spark intellectual curiosity, provide unforgettable memories, and forge lasting friendships. Our students will be spoiled for choice with a wide variety of exciting, inspiring and fun trips, one of which will introduce them to the great British seaside experience loved by many.
To secure your place on our life enriching summer programme this summer, please apply here.