Head to the coast

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
July 2012

With the cost of foreign holidays continuing to soar and the countdown to the London Olympics set to begin, more and more people are choosing to stay at home and enjoy what our resorts have to offer.
And that is good news for Lincolnshire’s holiday resorts like Skegness, Mablethorpe and Ingoldmells, which have all benefitted from major investment and improvement works this year.

From new recreational facilities and retail improvements to action-packed entertainment programmes, the East Coast has much to attract holidaymakers and day visitors alike.

Bookings at the county’s main holiday parks are on the increase and, despite the recent inclement weather, people have been flocking to the seaside towns to join in celebrations such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the

Olympic Torch Relay and East Lindsey District Council’s major annual arts and cultural event, the SO festival.

In addition, the East Coast’s main coastal towns – Skegness, Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea – can boast award-winning beaches, having all kept their Blue Flag and Quality Coast status.

And they have also secured ‘excellent’ ratings for their water quality, alongside neighbours Chapel St Leonards, Ingoldmells South and Anderby Creek, in a new survey of the UK’s coasts carried out by the Marine Conservation Society.

Skegness is the most well known of the Lincolnshire seaside resorts and it is also one of the better known in the United Kingdom because the country’s first Butlin’s holiday resort opened there in 1936.

Skegness Town Centre manager, Stefan Krause said Skegness is faring much better than other holiday resorts because it has extended its activities programme outside of the main season, to attract visitors all year round.

“We are really benefitting from the staycation trend and Skegness is becoming more popular as a holiday destination. It is becoming more of an all-year round resort because we are extending our season so we have events on before and after the main holiday times,” he said.

“There are a lot of holiday resorts but Skegness is set up for holidaymakers on low budgets. We are a very affordable resort and that is why we are doing so well.”

The town is continuing to make headlines, having just been voted the fourth most visited seaside resort in England by VisitEngland, following swiftly on the heels of London, Blackpool and Scarborough.

“It’s really good that Skegness has secured that position. We outranked places like York and the Isle of Wight,” said Mr Krause.

And it has also been ranked the fifth most popular travel destination in the world by the Holiday Letting Index, putting it ahead of such places as Alicante in Spain and Gran Canaria.

“We are over the moon. We have been awarded a Blue Flag again because Skegness has one of the most beautiful beaches and more and more of our beaches are being cleaned up.”

From a commercial point of view, Skegness has a low-level of empty shop units. Poundland has also just taken over Marks and Spencer’s former premises which closed a couple of years ago.

“Vacancy rates are at a low level and we can now offer investors an all-year-round customer base. And the feedback from our holiday parks is that the number of bookings is strong and they are optimistic for the season,” added Mr Krause.

Many of the holiday parks and attractions on the East Coast have been making big investments recently to boost their visitor numbers.

Skegness Water Leisure Park has just had a multi-million pound expansion plan approved by East Lindsey District Council, which will secure fifty-three jobs and create thirty more.

The £4m scheme includes an additional 189 static caravans, plus a gym, fishing lake, football pitch, tennis bubble and nature trail, on land off Walls Lane.

Just up the road at Ingoldmells, both Butlin’s holiday park and the highly- popular Fantasy Island theme park, are also poised to benefit from major investments.

Work is already underway at the Bourne Leisure owned Butlin’s site where a new £13m water park is to replace its current facility, The Splash.

There will be a new outside splash play area with fountains that will provide a water display, after dark. Inside there will be flumes, rapids and a lazy river ride that takes guests on an outdoor adventure. Holidaymakers can also look forward to a wave pool, a shallow area for tots and a central whirlpool and hot tub.

Resort director, Chris Baron said: “Splash Waterworld is extremely popular with our guests so it’s fantastic that we’re putting such a large investment into offering an even better experience for them.”

New at Fantasy Island for 2012 is a children’s soft play area with ball ponds, rope bridges and ladders, as well as a separate children’s party area and a family seating and dining area.

There are also plans to expand the famous Eastgate Market at the rear of the site with more stalls selling a diverse range of goods.

Fantasy Island’s Tom Scholefield said: “We have new market stalls, a vast range of great value food in our bars and we have carried on our drinks offers from last year.

“This year hasn’t had the greatest start due to the weather, but apart from that it is going to be a great year for Fantasy Island.”

Further up the coast, at Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea – which are renowned for their beach huts – the improvements continue.

East Lindsey District Council has invested £90,000 in a refurbishment programme aimed at ensuring the traditional beach hut remains an important part of the seaside experience for years to come. There is even the opportunity for people to buy their own beach hut.

One of Mablethorpe’s biggest holiday parks, Haven’s Golden Sands site, in Quebec Road, has also been making improvements over the past few seasons to attract more visitors – and it seems to have paid off.

Haven Press Office spokeswoman, Naomi Woodstock said: “There’s been a total investment of around £3.7 million over the past five years. Some of the key developments include a new live lounge family entertainment venue and a new restaurant built this year, which has a seaside themed design in keeping with its location.”

The improvements, together with major spending at Haven’s Thorpe Park site at Cleethorpes during the same season, has meant an upturn in bookings at both sites.

“Overall in Lincolnshire we are up six per cent, but in the school summer holidays we are up twenty per cent. We have also seen a forty-eight per cent increase in the number of new customers purchasing holiday homes.”

Mablethorpe has also undergone changes in its retail sector, with its weekly market moving location and day, new businesses moving into town and plans in the pipeline for a Tesco supermarket to be built.

A new-look town website has also just been launched, under an agreement between the Mablethorpe Area Partnership and the Bowhunter Websites firm.

Town manager, Karen Froggatt said: “It will provide lots of useful information for locals and visitors to the area, helping to raise awareness of what we have on offer and increase visitor numbers.”

Both Skegness and Mablethorpe have action-packed programmes of entertainment right through to the end of the season and beyond.

Among the highlights for visitors to Skegness will be the traditional illuminations switch-on taking place on 4th August; Skegness Carnival from 12th – 17th August and stock car racing at Skegness Stadium from 21st – 23rd August.

For the first time ever, Skegness is to mark Lincolnshire Day which falls on 1st October and commemorates the anniversary of the Lincolnshire Rising, a revolt by Catholics against the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII in 1536.

Skegness Town Centre Manager, Stefan Krause added: “We have the busiest events year we have ever had. It is important to make sure that Skegness attracts more and more holidaymakers outside of the main season.”

Mablethorpe too has lots to offer in the way of entertainment with the Mablethorpe and District Show in the grounds of Tennyson High School on 15th July; the illuminations switch-on event with craft market, street theatre, live music and the internationally acclaimed Flame Oz show and firework spectacular on 28th July, followed the day after by the Sutton-on-Sea and Trusthorpe Carnival – providing a fun afternoon with floats, bands and vintage cars.

Jesse Handsley
Billy Butlin, Sir John Franklin and Captain John Smith are often muted as Skegness’ famous sons.

But there is one other, who is lesser known, but who perhaps has more claim to the title than any of the others.

Jesse Handsley, who was born in Skegness in 1876, was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s team on his first voyage to the Antarctic, on board the SS Discovery.

His name has been discovered scratched in the wooden panelling inside Scott’s Discovery Hut, which is within walking distance of the Antarctica base.

It was found by an engineer based at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica (US base) called Matthew Nelson who researched the origins of the name and discovered Handsley’s Skegness roots. He is even mentioned in Scott’s book, The ‘Voyage of the Discovery.’

Now Jill Caine of Heritage Skegness is running a project aimed at getting Jesse Handsley the recognition he deserves.

Jill staged a small exhibition about Handsley in her local church, St Matthew’s Church in Skegness during the town’s Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Handsley worked in a bakery in Lumley Road, Skegness in 1891, but the sea was calling him and he joined the Royal Navy in 1893 at the age of fifteen.

He was stationed in New Zealand when Scott sailed in on the Discovery and needed to replace some crew members. Handsley was ‘seconded’ from HMS Ringarooma and accompanied Scott and six others on the exploratory expedition.

As a result of his courage on the expedition, the New Zealand Antarctic Place Name Committee named a small peak in Victoria Land ‘Mount Handsley’ after Jesse in 1969. In 1993, the New Zealand Geographical Board named a small valley in the same range of mountains ‘Handsley Valley’.

“Jesse Handsley has become a project almost driving itself. I am now looking for descendants. I know he died in Gibraltar on 3rd June 1916 of a gastric ulcer and he was awarded a medal for the Antarctic expedition. Sadly his medals were sold in 2008,” said Jill.

“We are researching Jesse’s involvement with Scott because Jesse Handsley of Skegness was with Scott of the Antarctic, and has a peak and a valley named after him, but no-one in Skegness knows anything about him. I feel that he should be known.”

Bathing Beauties
The coastal resorts of Mablethorpe and its close neighbour Sutton-on-Sea have long been renowned for their beach huts, to the point where there is even a special annual festival celebrating their existence.

No wonder then that moves have been made to protect the iconic landmarks for generations to come.

As part of a £90,000 improvement programme by East Lindsey District Council, brand new beach huts, with disabled access, have just been opened in Mablethorpe and twenty-six others have been refurbished inside and out.

There is also an opportunity for people to own their own beach hut. As part of the project, the council has made sites available where a leasehold can be bought for around £12,000.

These will be the same as the new huts and will be built as sales are completed. The first one is due to be installed shortly. The huts have running water, electricity and can be used all-year-round.

Mablethorpe Town Manager, Karen Froggatt said: “Both Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea are renowned for their beach huts, which have been an important attraction for visitors since the 1960s.The beach hut will remain an important part of the visitor experience on the coast for many years to come.”

Sutton-on-Sea and neighbouring Sandilands are built around the beach hut holiday.

Sutton-on-Sea Beach Hut Watch Group member, Jane North said: “Beach huts have increased in value a lot in the last few years and are becoming far more popular. Families can have them for generations and they can fetch quite a lot of money nowadays.”

A beach hut festival, called the Bathing Beauties Festival, takes place in September.

The coastal landscape, the beach, the foreshore and the promenade will come alive with music, street performers, dance and drama over the two-day festival which takes place 15th – 16th September.

The beach huts will be transformed into mini art and craft galleries, theatre spaces, puppet workshops and photographic exhibition spaces, while the beach is also home to contemporary works of art and cultural activities.

Now in its sixth year, the Bathing Beauties Festival is the biggest event in the area.

Famous retail names
Sutton-on-Sea isn’t just a place to enjoy the sea, sand and fresh air: it also has some great niche traders.

Take Bennetts Butchers in High Street, which was established in 1959 and is one of the town’s longest-established businesses.

This high class family butcher sells locally-produced fresh meats, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry and even game when it is in season.

One of its specialities is the Lincolnshire Sausage, which is the subject of a national campaign at the moment after Defra rejected a bid by The Lincolnshire Sausage Association to get Protected Geographical Indication for it.

Run by Jane North and her husband Bunt, the business is very much behind the appeal campaign.

“We were one of the original butchers which started the campaign,” said Mrs North, who has lived in Sutton-on-Sea for thirty-five years. “The Lincolnshire Sausage should stay in Lincolnshire. We hear of the Melton Mowbray pork pie and the Cornish Pasty, so the Lincolnshire Sausage should be treated the same.”

Mrs North is the daughter of the shop’s founder, Dick Bennett, who was a wholesale butcher and farmer and who established the Sutton-on-Sea shop to further his business. In fact the trade runs in the family as both of her grandfathers were butchers too.

Another name to look out for in the town is Squire Furnishings. This family business has been trading on the Lincolnshire coast for three generations and has a background in the caravan, as well as carpets and furnishing, trade.

1981 saw the foundation of the current business, when George and Holly Squires launched Rainbow Carpets in Skegness, later moving it to Hogsthorpe, where it trades as Rainbow Carpets and Beds.

But it was in 1994, that it made a superb expansion move, after snapping up premises in Sutton-on-Sea’s High Street, from where it supplies carpets, beds and furnishings for everyone from private buyers to the caravan industry, hotels and nursing homes.

Of course, no visit to the seaside would be complete without a plateful of its most famous dish. And one of the most popular places to find it is at Waldo’s Fish Restaurant in Sutton’s High Street. Of course, it’s not just Waldo’s prominent position which gets it noticed. Whether you want to eat in or fancy a delicious takeaway, just follow your nose and look for the queue!

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