Bridlington is emerging as one of the UK's popular holiday destinations
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 August 2017
Credit: John Morrison / Alamy Stock Photo
This is a seaside town that's changing its look and its fortunes and shouting about itself a bit more, says Tony Greenway.
If I told you that, in May, a Yorkshire seaside town was named as the fifth most popular UK emerging destination for holidaymakers by a global hotel search website, you probably wouldn’t be that surprised. But you might also think I meant Scarborough or Whitby. But no. The town I’m talking about — as is everybody else, it seems — is Bridlington. (Apart from anything else, Scarborough and Whitby would argue that they have already ‘emerged’, thank you). The vote might surprise you, if you haven’t been to Brid for a while, that is.
Councillor Richard Burton from East Riding of Yorkshire Council, was shy, retiring and didn’t want to talk about Bridlington’s placement on the list. I’m only joking. Of course he isn’t. He is yelling it from the rooftops. ‘Bridlington has a really unique tourism offer, from traditional beach breaks to busy weekends of art and culture,’ he says. ‘There really is something for all the family to enjoy, including the magnificent seabird colonies of RSPB Bempton, the incredible leisure facilities offered by the new £25million East Riding Leisure Bridlington, the comprehensive entertainment programme at Bridlington Spa and the historic hall and gardens at Sewerby.’
Yes, OK. So far, so press releasey. But, actually, this isn’t just PR puff. Bridlington really is dusting itself down, sprucing itself up and showing a new welcoming face to visitors, without losing its seaside appeal.
Liz Philpot is renaissance programme manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which supports the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership that gives local people the opportunity to be involved in the future development of the town. She points out that while Brid is the biggest town in the East Riding its community is pleasingly tight-knit. And Liz should know: she lives there. ‘There have been some major visual improvements to Bridlington,’ she says, pointing out that regeneration of the town has been going on for 12-plus years. ‘The most recent — the East Riding Leisure centre, which opened a year ago — has lifted the town. The aim of the centre is to improve the health and wellbeing for residents as much as being an attraction for visitors. It’s been phenomenally busy with locals and visitors alike. These things bring a town together.’
So does the big festival held in the picturesque Old Town in June which now has a 1940s theme to echo the recent Dad’s Army film that used Bridlington as a location. ‘And in June our Secret Gardens were open on the Georgian High Street,’ says Liz, ‘while Tidal Waves was a two-day music festival, linked to the Hull City of Culture programme on South Cliff beach.’ It also didn’t hurt that Stage One of the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire started in Bridlington and earlier this year the second Bridlington Kite Festival was held at Sewerby Fields. Plus, in September expect a festival of motoring. As well as the physical improvements, there’s a year-round programme of events here.
Another (possible) surprise for outsiders is that Bridlington doesn’t have just any old sailing club. Instead it is home to the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club, whose patronage began with Queen Victoria. ‘I think it’s known that there’s a sailing club here,’ says Charlotte Hornby-Stephenson, club secretary. ‘We’re a traditional maritime port, after all. But outside the sailing fraternity I don’t think people realise that it’s a Royal Club with the kind of the status that has, or that we’ve been established since 1847.’
Every August, the sailing club organises an annual regatta — and this month is no exception. So does this tend to bring in lots of tourists to Brid? ‘Well, “lots” is over-stretching it,’ says Charlotte. ‘We’re a members’ club, so the events throughout regatta week aren’t open to the general public, per se – they’re just open to members. So we’re not attracting visitors in that sense. But, on the harbour side, when all the boats are out, it’s definitely something that people enjoy watching. It’s a week-long regatta, too, which is quite uncommon nowadays. Most sailing clubs simply have a long weekend.’
Bridlington’s harbour is another best-kept secret success, says Liz Philpot, because it’s the largest shellfish landing port in Europe. ‘When whitefish quotas came in, the fishing community went into shellfishing, diversifying very successfully. It’s a harbour that is also increasing investment in its fleet.’
What’s more, the long-talked about harbour improvements and marina facilities for Bridlington are tantalisingly close to fruition, with East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Bridlington Harbour Commissioners appointing professional services firm Arup to undertake project design and pre-construction work for the Yorkshire Harbour and Marina Project. ‘It’s looking really positive,’ says Liz. ‘Put it this way: if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now because I don’t think there’s ever been a time — that I’m aware of — when things have been so aligned and the circumstances have been so favourable.’
If you want to see actual building work in progress right now, though, head to the Hilderthorpe Road area, where the council has been carrying out demolition work to clear the site for new mixed use developments while construction has started on the new Premier Inn on the site of the old Beaconsfield car park. Of course, some quaint towns can redevelop the heart out of themselves and lose bucket-loads of charm in the process. Bridlington is aware of this and has money from the Heritage Lottery Fund that’s helping to conserve and enhance part of the Bridlington Quay Conservation Area.
If you’re a property-watcher, Brid is an interesting prospect, too. The market seems buoyant here, particularly at the lower end where prices remain reasonably affordable. ‘I hear from local agents that people who want to move to the coast start off looking at Bridlington and then investigate other resorts where prices are higher,’ says Liz. ‘A few weeks later, those same people return to Bridlington because it really does offer value. And it’s a good place to bring up your children.’ At one time, house-buyers here would have been retirees but — with more people working from home or working flexibly — that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
So should it be a shock that Bridlington is currently sitting pretty at number five on an emerging holiday destination? All things considered, no. Not really. ‘What we needed was to have more things to shout about,’ says Liz. ‘Now we’re starting to get them we can shout more often — and louder. Because it’s not just people coming here from further afield. We’re also getting visitors within day-trip distance. It’s about giving them a reason to come here so that, when they leave, they say: “Do you know what? We’ll come again”.’