By British Billy, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 02, 2011
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- In case anyone failed to notice, August was a bit of an anticlimax, weather-wise. Even those of us who have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to the British weather felt a bit short-changed as we emerged from the coldest summer since 1993, according to British Met Office figures. Poor Scotland had more than its fair share of heavy rain too.
Nevertheless, we Brits are a hardy bunch and head off to the seaside whatever Mother Nature may decide to send our way. In the words of Shakespeare's King Lear, as he faced the elements:
"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples..."
I just know if there had been a bucket and spade handy, he would have happily headed off to the nearest beach.
It was the aristocracy and gentry during the mid-18th century who first started to make the seaside popular. They were trendsetters, much like me. At that time, it was a common belief that sea water, like the spa waters of Bath and Buxton, had medicinal properties and could benefit those of a delicate constitution. Great Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast, attracted visitors for this reason, and the Bath House was opened in 1759 where guests could partake of seawater baths or take tea amongst fine company in the assembly room. Those brave enough would take a dip in the bracing North Sea. King George III set an example followed by many upper-class Britons when, in 1789, he went skinny-dipping at Weymouth on the south coast. That was probably a little warmer than the North Sea, but not much.
The spread of the railways, particularly in the 1840s, led to coastal resorts becoming open to all, not just the elite of society. Train travel was an efficient and affordable way to travel both for day trips and holidays. Previously, journeys would have been made by boat or horse-drawn carriage, both of which were expensive and time-consuming. Seaside towns flourished with the increased number of visitors, many staying in guest houses.
However, not all were pleased with the new influx of visitors and, as a result, many of the upper classes decided to take their custom to new places. They had no wish to mingle with labourers and clerks. Some resorts began to become more fashionable and expensive than others and catered accordingly.
The creation of bank holidays in 1871 led to even more trips, and Blackpool, on the north-west coast of England, was among the resorts to benefit from workers' enthusiasm for the sea. To this day, Blackpool is renowned for the Blackpool Tower, opened in 1894 and inspired by the Eifel Tower in Paris, and its annual illuminations. Blackpool Illuminations is a magnificent display of lights which began in 1879. It is held each autumn from late August to late November, running for 66 days. Some have called it the greatest free light show on earth, as it stretches for six miles and uses over a million light bulbs. Of course, in these days of energy efficiency, I am assured that the styles and technology of the illuminations are constantly adapting, so that my carbon paw print will not be compromised.
Holiday camps started to develop as the 20th century progressed. Initially they were very basic by today's standards with holidaymakers staying in tents and assisting with camp chores. Gradually this evolved into camps which boasted facilities such as brick chalets, running water and electric lights. However, World War II brought about dramatic changes with many of the holiday camps being used as bases by the military.
It was after the end of World War II, during the 1950s and 60s, that holiday camps really had their golden era . People hadn't been on holiday for many years and some children had never seen the sea. Life had been incredibly hard and the public were in need of fun and entertainment. The holiday camp could provide all this and more. With swimming pools on site, entertainment in the evenings, competitions including 'Glamorous Granny' and 'Knobbly Knees' plus plentiful food, the camps offered all the right ingredients for an excellent and affordable family holiday.
Of course, you never know what the weather is going to throw at you here in the U.K. and so it was inevitable that cheaper travel would lure holiday makers to sunnier European climes. Only the intrepid remained. The seaside holiday boom began to slow down and fell out of fashion.
However, as they say, it's an ill wind that blows no good, and the current financial climate has meant that more people are prepared to stay at home and enjoy the delights of sea, sand and sometimes even sun, right here in our beloved Britain. There has been a gradual reawakening, with many regenerative projects rekindling our affection for our coastal towns and landscapes. With a little research, you can find whatever you are looking for: boutique hotels, fine dining and breath-taking scenery or fun-filled attractions, fish-and-chip suppers and kiss-me-quick hats.
Take my advice - head for the seaside, roll up your trouser legs and go for a paddle.