Natalie Bowen

WHAT do you think of, when you think of Scarborough in North Yorkshire? Parsley, sage? Lairy hen and stag dos? Overcrowded amusement arcades? All outdated concepts now – yet perhaps unexpectedly, the pandemic may give such seaside towns a winter boost.

Traditionally, from October, British coastal resorts hunker down and wait for spring, when fair-weather crowds return to fill the beaches and B&Bs. England is in the coronavirus deep freeze at the moment, of course, but that won't last forever. And even after this wave of the virus lifts, perhaps in spring, many of us will be less keen to fly abroad and may be eager to explore closer to home across the border.

Who needs Spanish islands?

With this in mind, my household (me, husband, eight-month-old daughter) filled up our Mazda 2 and drove to Cayton Sands, just outside Scarborough. We'd booked a weekend in the Caravan and Motorhome Club site, but had embraced a modern trend and chosen a glamping pod with the affiliated company Experience Freedom.

We had waterproofs, solid shoes and a rain cover for the pram – yet on the first morning, the sun fought through the clouds to welcome us into Filey. This former fishing village, 10 minutes' drive south-east from Cayton, has transformed itself into perhaps the perfect day trip destination.

There are plenty of independent retailers, a healthy number of fish and chip shops, and an outrageously long stretch of golden sand, which gradually revealed itself as the tide drew out. This is protected by a high, narrow, rocky peninsula called Filey Brigg, which protrudes like a densely packed row of sandbags north of the bay. The resulting calm waters were particularly striking in contrast to the whitetips we could see crashing out to sea.

As the beach was still too wet to risk pushing our rather heavy pram, we strolled along the short promenade, sipping hot chocolates bought from visor-wearing kiosk owners on the Coble Landing. A coble, Google revealed, is a flat-bottomed, open fishing boat traditionally used in the area.

We passed a couple playing crazy golf, a row of colourful beach huts, and many, many people with dogs. It was so quaint that it almost veered into hipster. No bingo hall callers or tacky tat shops lowered the tone among the seafront artisan ice-cream sellers.

Taking the high ground

We headed inland, and uphill, to the Grade I-listed St Oswald's Church, which has stood on the site since the 1100s and is unusually large for the size of the town. It wasn't open, so after a quick scoot around the graveyard, we pressed on to Filey Country Park, which contains the Brigg. We gamely trundled the pram over grass towards the cliff edge path and attempted to walk to the peninsula until we hit a set of steep, narrow steps. It started drizzling again. Ambitions of spotting seals from the top of the Brigg were abandoned.

Back into town we went, stopping at Dicky Bee's chippy for the traditional seaside lunch. It was cash-only, but otherwise the social distancing measures were excellent: I ordered at a stable door and collected the wrapped goods from a hatch around the corner. We scarpered towards the sea to enjoy our meal on a bench in Northcliffe Gardens, but the rain, and the grumpy baby, meant the food was more scoffed than savoured.

Pod life

Forced to return to the pod early, we found it was like staying in an Ikea show-home: every nook and cranny had a nifty use, from the double bed that folded up into a wall, to the bunk-bed ladder stowed behind the bathroom door. The pod sleeps up to two adults and two children (there are also cabins, which sleep up to six, and accessible pods for guest with disabilities).

As it was only a step up from camping, there were limited cooking facilities but a hob, kettle and microwave were more than enough to whip up a simple dinner – and eating in front of a TV felt luxurious. Outside was a balcony area that would have been perfect for sitting out on, with sausages sizzling on the personal barbecue stations, had the rain let up. Our daughter had to content herself with crawling around the 'living room' before being banished to her travel cot, so we had room to pull down the bed.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

The next day was brighter, so we drove 10 minutes north-west, to Scarborough – and after Filey, the town seemed huge. Its late Georgian and Victorian architecture is beautifully maintained, particularly the skyline-dominating Spa Bridge and Grand Hotel, although this sits uneasily beside the brown hulk of the Olympia Leisure bowling alley overlooking the South Bay.

This main beach was another long swathe of sand that in summer would be filled with families with buckets and spades. In October, dogs are allowed to run free and almost everyone was in waterproof coats and wellies, with about 20 brave souls surfing in the North Sea.

Rather than starting with the beach, we explored the Rose Garden and Italian Gardens in the South Cliff area of town, in which our daughter was entranced by grey squirrels so unafraid they came almost close enough for her outstretched fingers to touch.

There was a panoramic spot that offered views of the sweep up to the impressive clifftop ruin of Scarborough Castle, which waits patiently to greet the tourists prepared to book tickets before hiking up. It is worth the climb to gaze over North and South Bay, and because the youngest Bronte sister, Anne, is buried nearby in St Mary's Churchyard.

Social, yet distant

Back at sea level, the amusement arcades were not packed with weary parents and hyperactive children; instead, entrances and exits were clearly marked and coin-pusher machines were largely unattended. Some bars and restaurants were better at observing the distancing rules, but all seemed busy.

After another round of fish and chips from Papas, we discovered the compacted South Bay sand would hold the pram's weight, so we pushed our daughter all the way along, enjoying her delighted laughter at seeing dozens of dogs splashing and seagulls flapping. Other families caught our gaze and smiled or waved. It wasn't the beach holiday in the Balearics we'd envisaged, but Yorkshire did just as well.

How to plan your trip

Experience Freedom (; 01342 777533) offers glamping pods and accessible pods from £59 per night; glamping cabins from £69 per night.