Latvia? No. Switzerland? No.

Scarborough? Yes!

Not Scarborough, Tobago, in the sunny Caribbean, oh no. Nothing that exotic.

I’m talking about Scarborough, North Yorkshire. 🙂 Not that there’s anything wrong with this quintessential English seaside town on the North Sea – it’s a very popular place in the summer months and we have visited often. But it’s not the first place you would choose to go for a December mini-break.

A couple of months ago, we decided that it seemed a long time since our cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette. We had just received a leaflet advertising 3- and 4-day mini-breaks for various picturesque European Christmas market destinations, so we decided to book to go to Riga, Latvia, a country we have not yet visited.

We duly booked up and paid our deposit, but a couple of weeks later the holiday company called us and said that, due to too few bookings for the date we chose, they were no longer going to run that tour. They offered us either a refund or the opportunity to book the same trip on an alternative date – we chose the latter.

However, a couple of weeks after that, the holiday company contacted us again and said the Latvia trip had been cancelled altogether; due to an increase in Covid-19 cases in the country they had gone into lockdown! Again, we were offered the choice of a refund or perhaps there was an alternative tour we wished to do? A quick look at the brochure told us there was an attractive-looking 3-day visit to Switzerland, flying into Geneva and staying in a charming valley location with an amazing vista of snow-capped mountains – it looked wonderful.

As we always do, we started the holiday countdown and when we were less than 10 days away we started to decide what we were going to pack. But then… 😦

Friday 26th November dawned and we got up and turned on the radio for the morning news. There was only one headline – a new variant of the dreadful Covid-19 virus had been discovered in South Africa; it was what they were calling a ‘variant of concern’. With some alarm, we listened as they said there might have to be a tightening of travel restrictions, and they’d already placed several southern African countries on the “red list”, which meant that no travel to or from those countries was allowed without strict quarantine rules. 😦

Just as we thought things were looking up and life was resuming some sense of normality, this goes and happens!!

With a sense of inevitabilty we waited for the call from the travel company to say our holiday had been cancelled, particularly as we’d heard that Switzerland was imposing a 10-day isolation period on any visitors from overseas. We got the call on Monday 29th November, a mere six days before we were due to fly out.

So here we were, with our time booked off work, and Cedric the cat booked into the cattery, and we had nowhere to go. We didn’t want to cancel our leave as we were ready for a break, so we sat and contemplated where to go. We also didn’t want to go too far in case even more travel restrictions were imposed (damn you, Covid-19!!) so we made our decision. We’d spend our 3-day break at a traditional B&B by the good old British seaside, in Scarborough, which is also visiting distance to the equally-charming seaside towns of Whitby and Bridlington, on the bracing North Sea coast.

And so, with a sense of unreality, we found ourselves on a cold and very rainy Sunday morning setting off for the 90-minute drive to Whitby, where we would spend the day before checking in at our B&B in Scarborough.

The temperature was a chilly 4°C and we had made sure we’d packed for the weather. Fleeces, lined shower-proof walking trousers, anoraks, hats, gloves and scarves filled our case, although we did pack a smart outfit in case we went to a posh restaurant or something.

As we made our way through Durham city centre in the light Sunday morning traffic, we watched the raindrops sliding down the windscreen, the tail-lights of the cars in front blurring them into red tears. We weren’t too disappointed or surprised, however; this is northern Britain in winter after all. And anything was better than sitting in the house alone, working from home. 🙂

Whitby is very handy for a day-trip from Durham and we have visited many times before, but always in the summer months, when the town throngs with tourists and sightseers, people in shorts and t-shirts and sandals and children with ice-creams and candy-floss. The pubs, pavement cafés and fish and chip shops do a roaring trade, and the air is filled with the bongs and chimes and raucous barrel-organ music of the amusement arcades. But today, as we pulled into a car park (“free until 1st March 2022” proclaimed the ticket machine) the place seemed strangely empty.

As we got out of the car the wind tugged at our clothing and hair as we looked across at a lively North Sea. Despite the weather the beach had quite a few dog-walkers and joggers, and people just taking in the bracing fresh air. The rain had let up by now and the backdrop of blue winter sky contrasted with the restless, windblown clouds.

Walking along, we enjoyed the open air and exercise and the roar of the surf. We came across the famous statue of Captain James Cooke who, although born in Great Ayton (near Middlesbrough), was apprenticed in a shipping firm in Whitby and lived in Grape Lane. The house where he used to live now serves as the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. He learned his craft in Whitby vessels trading to the Baltic and two of the vessels he used on his long and perilous voyages – Resolution and Endeavour were built in Whitby.

Statue of Captain James Cook in Whitby

Looking around us, we could see the famous Whitby Abbey, but I didn’t fancy walking up there in the wind. I did, however, get the opportunity to try out my new Samsung Galaxy S21 phone with its amazing 108 megapixel camera and x100 zoom.

We continued on our way, looking in the shop windows which were glowing with Christmas lights and decorations, as well as the other seasidey things famously associated with Whitby, such as the Dracula Experience and the Magpie Café, well-known for its fish and chips. Today was the first time we’d seen it closed, without a long queue outside it.

We decided we’d go to the replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour for our Sunday lunch, where we’d been last year and really enjoyed it. However, when we got there, a sign posted outside said the ship was closed to visitors due to “unforeseen circumstances”. We therefore took a look around for somewhere else to eat (there are plenty of places!), finally settling on the George Hotel which advertised a carvery.

In we went, and found we were the only customers. We each ordered a drink and made our way downstairs to the carvery, where Formica-topped tables and plastic chairs were set out in a fashion of a staff canteen; the food, however, was delicious and plentiful and we really enjoyed our dinners.

After our dinner we pottered around a bit, walking through the streets and looking around, enjoying the evocative scents of sea and fish and the hint of warm toffee apple and seaside rock that emanated from the doorways of the local sweet shops. We came across another pub, called the Board Inn, which had a sign outside offering mulled wine and mince pies. 🙂

Never being one to resist a mulled wine, especially as a respite from the freezing December air, we went inside where the place was packed with customers enjoying Sunday lunch. We had a fantastic view of the sea and piers which, viewed through a window containing Christmas decals, made a very attractive scene.

Less attractive, however, was the table which hadn’t been wiped down and still contained traces of the previous occupants’ lunch, as well as the lukewarm mulled wine that quickly turned cold, and the mince pie that came out of a Co-op box of six. The cost of £4.50 each was well overpriced. What a let-down! 😦

Around 3.30pm we decided to return to the car and make our way into Scarborough, which is only about 20 miles away. We were booked into The Mariners’ House, a bed and breakfast hotel and we’d given our check-in time as 5.00pm, so it would give us a chance to find somewhere to park and to have a look around.

It was dark when we arrived in Scarborough and we had no trouble finding somewhere to park, very close to the hotel. It was conveniently situated just across the road from the Golden Last pub, a very lively establishment we’d previously visited, so it was ideal for us to pop in there and have a drink or two before checking in. A karaoke was in progress in one room and the bar next door was full of locals who clearly all knew each other as the air was thick with banter, swearing and lots of drunken witticisms. 🙂

Just before five, we went across the road and checked into the hotel. The building is an old 4-storey town house dating from the 17th century. We were allocated Room 2 on the second floor, a small double room with a separate WC and washbasin, and a shower cubicle built directly inside the room, not the bathroom. We were on the corner which meant we had windows on two sides of the room, tall sash windows that let in draughts of freezing sea air, against which the dull heat emanating from the radiator did nothing to alleviate. One of the windows did, however, given us a fantastic view of the seaside and the imposing Victorian building of the Grand Hotel, all lit up.

We spent some time emptying our suitcase and placing it on top of the old-fashioned oak wardrobe, before deciding to settle down to a power nap. We may not have been in a fabulous balcony cabin on a glamorous cruise ship, but at least we could see and hear the sea and the cries of the gulls. Any port in a storm, as it were. 🙂

Around 6.30pm we pottered around for a bit and watched some TV before deciding to venture out and explore our immediate area. We weren’t very hungry after our large lunch and the mince pie, but thought a bag of crisps and a drink wouldn’t go amiss, so we looked on Google maps to see what was nearby. We seemed to recall when we’d stayed in Scarborough in 2008 that there was a railway workers’ club nearby, and indeed Google confirmed that there was, but when we did the half-mile walk to the railway station and found the club, it was closed. We then went into the nearby workingmen’s club (I am amazed that there are still WMCs in this day and age, or social clubs as they are known in these PC days) where the only customers was a group of old blokes watching the snooker. Still, it was warm and the drinks were cheap, so we enjoyed our bag of crisps as well as a drink before deciding to find somwhere more lively, as we’d spotted several pubs near our hotel.

Another quick look at Google told us there was a JD Wetherspoon’s nearby, a pub called the Lord Rosebery. In we went, found a table, and looked at their extensive drinks menu. They had a special offer on (valid until 28th February 2022!) where a pint of Ruddles beer is only 99p, or a Bell’s whisky for 99p, including the mixer! Prosecco, which is usually £4.05 for a 200ml bottle, was only £2.99. Wow. 🙂

It was pleasant in the pub and we took part in that most interesting of pastimes – people watching. There was a group of lasses all dressed up to the nines in one corner; another corner held a group of lads all loudly enjoying a drink. Here and there other tables contained couples like Trevor and me.

As the pub was nowhere near crowded, ordering on the Wetherspoon’s app was a doddle, and service came within two minutes. We expected the pub to call time at 10.30pm since it was a Sunday, but the bell didn’t ring at 10.30, or 11.00 and indeed people were still coming in at 11.30pm and being served.

At this point however, we decided to call it a night and we took the 20 minute walk back to the Mariners’ House, through the empty streets. Despite the draughty room we slept very well.

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