We don’t want to freeze beside the seaside

Having to walk back to your hotel through snow is not what you usually expect during a spring break on the south coast. Charlie Cooper visits Eastbourne to find out how it’s coping with the cold

It’s the Thursday after Easter weekend and British Summer Time has begun – but gazing down the promenade at Eastbourne, you really wouldn’t think it.

A bitter wind buffets the white and yellow stucco fronts of the Victorian hotels, and the handsome pier is near-deserted, surrounded by an iron-grey sea. The tourism office here says Eastbourne is the sunniest place in the UK. Not today.

Last spring, a mini heat wave sent grateful citizens flocking to England’s traditional seaside resorts – of which Eastbourne is one of the finest. Five lean years since the economic downturn have hurt nearly every aspect of British life, but the seaside towns have proved surprisingly resilient. Some, like Eastbourne, have even benefited – after decades of decline – from the rise of the “staycation”, as those who could once afford a holiday abroad have increasingly sought their annual dose of sunshine closer to home.

But then came the weather. Two washout summers have been followed by one of the coldest Easter weekends in living memory. With the British weather becoming ever more unpredictable, the fear is that far fewer people will bother booking for this summer.

“When you have a bad summer, like in 2012, the real effect is often felt the next year,” said Annie Wills, Eastbourne Borough Council’s tourism development manager. “So far accommodation bookings are on a par with last year, but it will be interesting to see if we are still in that position come August.”

This year’s freezing spring certainly won’t have helped. Ironically, hotel bookings for the Easter weekend were actually up in Eastbourne by 26 per cent – with many people betting on another spring heat wave. In the event, holidaymakers who booked their accommodation months ago have been left struggling through blizzards to reach their seaside hotels.

“We haven’t bought any sunscreen or straw hats yet, but we have invested in woolly hats and gloves,” said holidaymaker Eleanor Smith, 54, whom The Independent encountered braving the wind on the Eastbourne promenade on Thursday. She and her husband, John, 58, from South Wales, booked their stay on the south coast before Christmas, in the depths of winter, but the weather has hardly improved since. “We spent three days in Seaford just down the coast,” she said. “We had to walk back to the hotel through snow the other night.”

Anything that spooks holidaymakers is seriously bad news for the “seaside economy”. Tourism brought in £346m to local businesses in Eastbourne in 2010, according to Tourism South East. It is the crucial thing that keeps the communities in such places working. For the shopkeeper and café owner, fewer visitors means fewer people hitting the streets, fewer ice creams, fewer sticks of rock – and less money in the till. With so many people employed in the sector, that soon has a knock-on effect which can lead to widespread decline in the local economy.

“We are down 45 per cent on last year for the Easter weekend,” said Jimmy Keeley, who runs Bobster’s gift shop, on Terminus Road, which at the moment acts as a bracingly effective wind tunnel for chilling blasts from the nearby seafront. His shop is decked out with all the staples of the traditional British seaside holiday: buckets, spades, windmills and a handsome array of dubious postcards. 

Working with his nephew Michael, he opened little more than a year ago and has seen things get progressively worse since. His chief nemesis has been the weather, but the Olympics didn’t help either. Fears of overcrowding meant that tourist numbers were down 5 per cent last summer, and of those who did come to the UK, few diverted from their Olympic itinerary to visit humbler destinations such as Eastbourne. The Keeleys and their supplier, Ricky Webster, who often pops in for a chat, are also slightly sceptical about reports of the rise of the staycation.

“When the economy slowed down, people just downgraded where they were going. Those who used to go to America go to Europe, those who went to Europe go to a seaside town, and those that went to seaside towns don’t take holidays,” theorises the elder Keeley. “So overall it’s been the same.”

But this year has been a shocker. Mr Webster, who supplies more than 250 gift shops like Bobster’s all along the south coast and has been in the business for years, said he has never seen an Easter weekend so bad. He is down 80 per cent on last year, because the shops he supplies just aren’t selling their wares fast enough.

“There was a time when we wouldn’t worry about a bad spring,” he said. “You could always rely on the summer. With the past two summers we’re not too sure. But my old boss used to say: ‘The bucket-and-spade business is recession-proof – all it takes is  for the sun to come out and you’re selling again.’ ”

Which more or less sums up the hopes of every seaside town everywhere. “In the UK we’re used to bad weather, of course,” said Tabitha Aldrich-Smith, of the British Hospitality Association. “It has been tougher for seaside towns the last couple of years because the weather has seemed to be worse. We were hopeful before Easter that people would brave it, and many have, but we’re hearing that bookings have been down.”

One place where things are stable is the Mansion Hotel on Eastbourne’s promenade, owned by Sheikh Abid Gulzar – a man who wears his wealth on his sleeve with three golden rings and a gold-trimmed black Land Rover, but has a passion for the simple joys of a British seaside holiday. His customers – mostly elderly people and coach parties – appear not to be so worried about the weather. “Our visitors love a good breakfast, a warm room, a good English dinner and a 1960s sing-song in the evening. I love it too,” he says. “We will not be praying to God for better weather. We’ll just do our job, and He’ll do his. I said to some English visitors recently – don’t knock the English weather, it’s the only country in the world to have green grass all year.”

Now all hopes rest on the coming summer, but many remain doggedly optimistic. Eastbourne is not a town low on confidence. Next year it is set to begin work on a £70m redevelopment of the town centre and a £40m investment in its conference facilities – another string in a seaside town’s bow. The town also boasts an international tennis tournament – the Wimbledon warm-up Aegon competition – and a popular new art gallery, the Towner, which has been pulling in refugees from the windswept promenade since Easter weekend.

But for the traders and, most importantly, the punters, there’s really only one thing that can pierce the gloom down by the sea: sunshine.

Cold coast: Around the country

Great Yarmouth

Today’s low: 5C

Snow flurries in East Anglia have halved tourist numbers, according to the manager of the Hadleigh Gables Hotel, Paul Rodrigues.

“Guests aren’t coming and there have been cancellations because of the weather,” he said. “They’re finding it harder to travel, and what are they going to do here in this weather? This time last year we had 100 people in the house, this year 50 at the most.”


Today’s low: 4C

Colin Stonehouse, the owner of The Station Inn pub, said: “The weather was bad during the early Easter weekend – so even though it’s brightened a little now it’s too late, and people can’t be bothered to come.”


Today’s low: 4C

The Lancashire resort has been “much quieter than normal”, according to the manager of the Westleigh Hotel. “On the third week of March last year we had 50 rooms booked – this year just 27. No one wants to come while the weather’s so bad.”


Today’s low: 3C

Richard Wolfe at the Warwick Guesthouse said: “People have delayed coming down for a week because of the weather. So in terms of hotel bookings our bank holiday isn’t as full as it would normally be.”

The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition