Roger Ratcliffe isn’t
gullible enough to
scavenge for chips in Whitby 

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It’s no good going abroad for a holiday. If your destination isn’t red-listed while you’re heading to the airport there’ll be nightmare queues at passport control. Better staycation and pray for sun.

That seems to be this summer’s popular wisdom, and it’s what most of us wound up doing. My August break was spent on the Costa Yorkshire after a stroke of luck finding a vacancy in a tucked-away hotel which, unlike some, hadn’t inflated its prices.

When the weather’s fine I think it’s hard to beat the British seaside, or at least those bays, beaches and coves that are not rammed. I’m thinking of peaceful havens to the north of Scarborough like Hayburn Wyke and the bottom end of Robin Hood’s Bay, and also Runswick Bay above Whitby. Tranquil though these spots are, I had to visit Whitby for something to eat and that’s where the idyll ended. People may fanfare forecasts that staycations will mean the rebirth of the Great British Seaside but my experience tells me it’s going to be a lot different. Those halcyon days depicted in the old Francis Frith sepia photographs may have shown beaches with people sardined as far as the eye can see, but the vast majority of them arrived by train.

Much water has passed under Whitby harbour bridge since cheap flights to the Costas largely ended the tradition of a fortnight at a seaside B&B. The economies of resorts now rely on day trippers, and most of them come not by rail but road. If millions decide to staycation and drive to the coast you don’t need to work for AA Roadwatch to know that the most popular spots are going to be chaotic.

That was my experience in Whitby even before the Bank Holiday hordes had set off. Look, hands up, I admit to being part of the problem. But roads and parking facilities in and around resorts like Whitby belong to the pre-Covid era. If you believe, like me, that we are still a long way from reviving the tradition of safe holidays abroad then traffic congestion at such tourist honeypots is likely to become the norm.

Those airport queues put me off travelling abroad, but there was still no escape from queuing to get into cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops here. The queue, I think, has become a feature of post-lockdown Britain. We are starting to behave a bit like the queuing peoples of the old Soviet Union and East Germany, who famously saw a queue and joined it without knowing what they were queuing for.

One legendary queue in Whitby had disappeared, however. The wait for a table at the Magpie, a fish and chip restaurant, could sometimes take over an hour. This year they have abolished the queue, probably because the resort was so heaving it would have extended the entire length of the River Esk. Instead, they introduced a “virtual queue” where you popped in to leave a phone number and they ring you when a table’s free. Unfortunately, that involved a three hour wait.

Instead, I opted for another restaurant, Trenchers, where the wait was 20 minutes for the haddock and chips. I have to say, were better than my last visit
to the Magpie. It was nice to end my staycation on a positive note.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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