Simon Calder: Glee in Cleggy as Skeggy slides
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Thursday 17 April 2014
"Cleethorpes has been hailed as the best of British." So began a story in the
Grimsby Telegraph last Tuesday. The Lincolnshire seaside resort is notable for
straddling the Greenwich Meridian, the views it offers of merchant shipping in
the Humber Estuary and its awareness of its place in the world order with
signposts on the line of zero longitude pointing to New York, Moscow and both
poles. So what superlative has "Cleggy" (the local parlance for Cleethorpes, not
a reference to the Deputy Prime Minister) achieved? Top marks from the Marine
Conservation Society in the Good Beach Guide 2014.
That very title may convey the impression that the languid waters of the Humber Estuary caress Cleethorpes prom in the manner of the Med lapping at the Côte d'Azur. Closer inspection reveals, however, that the Good Beach Guide is based not on gut instincts about a resort's aesthetics but on the possible effects of the sea water on your gut. No sample of water tested at Cleethorpes contained more than "2,000 E.coli per 100ml". The resort's "sewage discharges are appropriately treated to remove the majority of bacteria and viruses" – and are no doubt passed by the management.
However unappetising that microbiological cocktail might look to you, the compilers rate it as "excellent water quality". The samples in question were taken last summer: A better title might be the "Not-too-grubby Beach Guide 2013".
As a star performer, Cleethorpes is a member of a sizeable constellation. It shares the top grade with the vast majority of British resorts, including all other Lincolnshire beaches – except the most celebrated. If you do like to be beside the seaside this long weekend, be warned that Skegness has slid from "recommended" status to merely a "mandatory" grade. It still meets minimum EU standards, but one in 20 of those samples may exceed that E.coli limit. With the quality of its water downgraded, Skegness is bracing itself for the sight of Easter visitors legging it along the coast from Skeggy to Cleggy.
Tummy trouble has spread to Cuba, according to a claim this week. The gastric ghastliness is centred on Playa Pesquero – an all-inclusive resort at the eastern end of the island. It was built in 2003 as part of Fidel Castro's plan to revive the Cuban economy by extracting pounds, euros and Canadian dollars from foreign tourists. Thomas Cook sends UK holidaymakers to the hotel.
To me, the term "all-inclusive resort in Cuba" sounds more a threat than a promise – not because it implies sun, sea and sickness, but because such properties cut the traveller off from the real glories of the Caribbean's largest island. Plenty of people have been tempted, though, by Thomas Cook's package prices of around £800 for a fortnight from Gatwick or Manchester.
The report of the outbreak came from a not entirely disinterested party: Your Holiday Claims, a no-win, no-fee law firm. It boasts that it has successfully obtained compensation for individuals and groups suffering from a gazetteer of germs, including "salmonella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium, shigella, E.coli [and] gastroenteritis" – or Castroenteritis, as the infection should be known locally.
The lawyers claim that last year "many guests at the hotel had fallen ill suffering from salmonella food poisoning. The latest outbreak is also thought to be linked to food poisoning." They cite a comment on TripAdvisor: "There is a sickness bug going around which has wiped out approximately 80 per cent of the hotel."
Thomas Cook describes the food-poisoning claims as "deeply irresponsible" and says only 1.5 per cent of guests at the Playa Pesquero were affected by sickness in the first two weeks of this month, including 11 of its customers. A spokesman for the holiday company told me: "We are confident that those customers due to travel to the resort in the future will experience the excellent levels of quality and standards they would expect from a Thomas Cook property. Accordingly, normal booking conditions apply."
In other words, anyone booked to go to the resort cannot switch or cancel without penalty.
Jours sans frontières
Back in Britain, the Easter weekend will doubtless bring gridlock on the roads to and from key resorts. Take the train to dodge the delays – particularly if you start your journey in London, from which all the beaches in Essex, Kent and Sussex are frustratingly difficult to reach by car.
In advance of the bank holiday, I researched the seaside resorts that are under an hour by train from termini in the capital. It turns out you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Brighton is the closest, at 52 minutes from Victoria; Southend is next, just 53 minutes from Fenchurch Street. The remaining two are both 55 minutes from St Pancras, thanks to High Speed 1. One, which you might expect, is Folkestone; the other, which you might not, is Calais.
If splashing out on a foreign beach for the day appeals, from next weekend you could instead fly. British Airways' Saturday and Sunday day trips to European cities have proved so successful that many more destinations are joining the list –including some with easily accessible seasides. Lisbon is £79 return, with direct buses from the airport to the resorts of Estoril and Cascais. For £89, you could fly to Newcastle for easy access by metro to Whitley Bay – though the same price applies to Barcelona and Nice.
British Airways has ignored my suggestion to name the quick trips "BAwaydays". If Air France responds to BA's move with its own day excursions, I offer the airline "jours sans frontières".
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