Author Madeleine Bunting tasked herself with visiting a staggering 40 English seaside resorts
The average Briton might visit a handful of seaside resorts over two years – but one travel writer tasked herself with exploring a staggering 40 coastal towns in that space of time.
Revealing everything she discovered along the way, Madeleine Bunting documented her travels – which took place from 2020 to 2022 – in new book The Seaside: England’s Love Affair.
Speaking to MailOnline Travel, the author reflects on the experience, shedding light on the town that surprised her the most, the resort she found to be ‘stunning’ – and the town that left her feeling ‘bewildered’…
What inspired you to do this project?
Madeleine has fond memories of the ‘glorious’ visits she made to Scarborough, above, on school trips in the late sixties
Madeleine says: ‘I always love the seaside and when my sister told me that Scarborough had fallen on hard times, I remembered the glorious visits I made there on school trips in the late sixties. We all know seaside resorts have high levels of deprivation but I became curious…’
The author said she started to wonder about ‘how poor’ certain seaside towns had become and why they’d faced ‘such a long steady decline’. She also wanted to find out, she reveals, ‘which towns have managed to turn [their fortunes] around’.
How did you choose which towns to visit?
‘Skegness was where my husband had his early childhood holidays,’ says Madeleine. She captured the above photograph during her visit to the Lincolnshire resort
‘Born in North Yorkshire, my childhood holidays were on that coast, so I had to start there,’ Madeleine reveals.
She continues: ‘Skegness was where my husband had his early childhood holidays and after that, I kept going round the coast anti-clockwise. Sadly, I couldn’t get everywhere and there are lots of towns I would have loved to have added in – Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft for example.’
Summing up her thoughts on the counties she toured, Madeleine says: ‘Essex was full of surprises, Kent was fascinating and I’ve always loved the Sussex coast. Because my focus was the big resorts, I didn’t cover Cornwall in-depth.’ She adds that ‘Blackpool and Morecambe made a very satisfying finale’ to her travels.
In each town, where did you stay and what did you do?
Madeleine says: ‘My aim was to sample every kind of accommodation so I stayed in hotels, holiday camps, hotels and Airbnbs.’
She continues: ‘In every resort, I swam and ate fish and chips, walked the promenade and talked to anyone who would talk to me. I had wonderful conversations with strangers who sometimes ended up telling me their life stories.’
How have seaside towns changed over the past century?
Madeleine notes that 13million people visit Blackpool (pictured above) annually
‘That’s a huge question – and the whole book is about that process of change,’ Madeleine says.
She reveals: ‘The odd thing is that [English resorts] probably have as many visitors as they did at their peak in the 1950s – 13million visit Blackpool annually – but they don’t stay for that traditional two-week holiday, which was the mainstay of the towns’ income.’
Have towns changed for the worse in any way?
Madeleine says that in some places, there are ‘pockets of deep deprivation with issues around substance abuse’ and ‘low life chances for those born in the town’ – both of which are ‘painful results of economic decline’.
Which is England’s best seaside town?
A photograph captured by Madeleine on her visit to ‘stunning’ Scarborough
Madeleine reveals: ‘[This is] such a tough question because I enjoyed so many of them but I think Scarborough is stunning and full of intriguing reminders of its glamorous past.’
And the worst?
Madeleine says she can’t single out one seaside resort as the worst, but she admits that visiting Padstow in Cornwall ‘was a bewildering experience’.
While there, she saw ‘a few streets packed with people who couldn’t get into the expensive restaurants, which are booked up in advance’. She also found that Padstow’s ‘crazy house prices’ mean that ‘locals no longer live in the town’.
The author says that visiting Padstow in Cornwall (above) ‘was a bewildering experience’
What’s so special about England’s relationship with seaside resorts?
‘We’re island people, nowhere is far from the sea,’ says Madeleine.
She continues: ‘All of us have a special relationship with our many coastlines. Readers are now writing to me with their own biographies of where they went when… my aim was to prompt that, so I am delighted.’
Elaborating on this ‘special relationship’, the author notes that ‘we visit the coast at key moments – to scatter ashes, to get engaged, that type of thing’.
Which town surprised you the most?
Madeleine says that she found ‘surprises everywhere’ on her tour, including Southend’s ‘crystal clear water’ and the ‘charm’ of Margate (above)
Research for the trip was carried out from 2020 to 2022. Along the way, Madeleine was taken by Folkestone (above) and its ‘stunning’ gardens
Madeleine says: ‘There were surprises everywhere: the Lincolnshire beaches are vast; Southend had crystal clear water; Margate’s charm; Folkestone’s stunning gardens; Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet; Morecambe’s Midland Hotel.
‘The list just goes on and on; our coastline is hugely varied in its geology, architecture and history.’
Are there any resorts you predict will get a new lease of life in the future?
Madeleine captured this shot in Clacton-on-Sea, a seaside town in Essex
‘There is huge potential in many coastal towns with the right infrastructure of good public transport [and] digital links,’ says Madeleine.
She continues: ‘Many of them have charming period housing which is relatively cheap; for families, they could offer a wonderful quality of life. Hybrid working can open up new possibilities.’
The author recalls: ‘I met a young Indian couple working in Scarborough; he was an engineer and she was a landscape architect. Professional, highly educated and loving North Yorkshire’s coast. They filled me with hope of a new dynamic future for these beautiful towns on our coastal edge.’
Are there any you predict will be lost to time?
The author says that there is ‘very little left of’ New Brighton in Merseyside ‘except a tea shop with lots of framed photos on the wall of its incredible history when ferries loaded with visitors crossed the Mersey for day trips’.