5 English seaside towns worth visiting even in winter
Come rain, shine or a flock of seagulls frantically pecking at your bag of chips, the English seafront has its core fans throughout the year -- and winter is no exception.
Here are five of the most invigorating seaside breezes on offer this season.
Brighton and Hove: Eclectic wanderings
The dual name reflects a bizarre chapter in the tale of two Sussex towns thrust together under 1990s local government legislation to become the oddest of metropolitan couples.
The former simmers with youthful radicalism and is Britain’s unofficial LGBT capital. The other is quiet, green and so conservative as to have Brunswick Estate’s image conserved by an Act of Parliament.
One of the few traits they share (apart from the UK's first Green Party local government) is a vast expanse of pebbled seafront, along which visitors can walk unimpeded from the millionaire yachts of Brighton Marina to the more modest sailing activities of Hove Lagoon and beyond.
A key “adventure” point is Brighton Pier, described with typical local flamboyance as “1,772 feet of fun,” a place where many particpants on a Brighton “dirty weekend” once headed before slipping away into a nearby hotel.
The pier itself has been around since 1823; the lights that have come to define it since 1899. Only Brighton Rock, immortalized in the eponymous novel by Graham Greene, can stake a similar claim to national fame.
The pier complex includes the Palm Court Restaurant, described by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal as the “spiritual home of fish and chips.”
A series of thrill rides awaits nearby, the most chilling of which is The Booster, which flips riders 10 meters in the air and suspends them over the sea.
Less adventurous souls can tap away at arcade games, ride the Ferris wheel or head to Hove.
Pier opening times: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (depending on attractions; closed Christmas Day)
Bournemouth: Golden sands
Long seeking to match Brighton and Hove in terms of footballing achievement (a failure) and seafront beauty (a success), Bournemouth prides itself on the splendor of its beaches.
This comes via the wonders of imported sand from the Isle of Wight.
This charming southern town has taken on a vastly more appealing appearance in recent decades, now confidently proclaiming itself as the clubbing capital of the region -- even frequented by a bullish Prince William during his army training days.
The thrill factor was supposed to have come from the construction of the first artificial surfer’s reef in the northern hemisphere, near Boscombe Pier.
Alas, the reef failed to produce the quality of waves desired and is currently under extensive repair work. The area remains popular for body-boarding and wakesurfing.
Boscombe Pier remains a refreshingly quiet place to take in the English Channel and accompanying “seven miles of golden sand."
Further up the beach is the more active Bournemouth Pier, famed for hosting plays and tribute bands in its over-water theater. The pier now hosts a modern and stylish Key West restaurant with 300-degree ocean views.
The snail-paced “Noddy” train provides an amusing means to travel between the two piers, with extended routes introduced in April 2012.
Pier opening times: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (closed Christmas Day)
Lyme Regis: Rocks and fossils
This sedate town of ammonite-shaped lampposts has built up a fine reputation among fossil collectors.
Ammonites are frequently found amid the rock pools and shingle of the beaches, occasionally alongside much larger specimens of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.
The unofficial code of conduct states that fossil hunters refrain from trying unduly hard to hammer in situ fossils out of cliffs.
Would-be collectors are advised to keep away from cliff edges and confine their activities to areas of the beach where mud and soft clay have been washed away by the sea.
Local experts Paddy Howe and Chris Andrews offer fossil tours on a regular basis and can be contacted at the Lyme Regis Museum.
Southend: Rhubarb and custard ice cream
There’s fun to be had in this Essex town, especially upon the thrill-ride-laden Pleasure Pier, at two kilometers the longest of its kind in the world.
For the bravest of element bravers, Southend offers the frozen delight of nationally famous artisanal ice cream, Rossi.
Founded by two Italian brothers, Pietro and Luigi, Rossi is marking its 80th birthday in 2013 with an unmistakably British rhubarb and custard flavor.
Having your palate chilled by that concoction as the wind and rain lash your freezing face is about as British a seaside experience as any.
Nearby, the majestic Kursaal, formerly one of Britain’s first amusement parks, is now a multi-million-dollar-refitted bowling alley.
Pleasure Pier opening times: 9:15 a.m.-5 p.m.; www.visitsouthend.co.uk
Whitley Bay: Tides and history
One of the most popular holiday resorts in Victorian times, Whitley Bay -- deep in North East England -- dates to at least the 12th century.
Two landmarks stand out.
Now 112 years old, Spanish City was a hugely popular amusement park and entertainment complex until the 1980s.
Once revered for its large dome and Renaissance-style frontage, it's currently undergoing its own renaissance project, scheduled for completion in 2014.
The other highlight is St. Mary’s lighthouse, which overlooks the bay and is accessible by foot when tides ebb.
The lighthouse and keepers’ cottages now comprise a visitors’ center, from which stunning views of Whitley Bay’s gold beaches can be seen.
Although British news stories have focused on boarded up hotels and a flagging economy dominated by old ladies’ tea shops, Whitley Bay is currently undergoing a regeneration that has delivered a new skate park, refurbished swimming pool and renovated theater.
Tide times for access to St. Mary’s lighthouse.