I first heard the term ‘grockles’ from my Guernsey aunty. Visiting from land-locked Malvern, I did my very best to avoid being seen as one but of course, as anyone living in a seaside town will tell you,
If you’re not a local, you must be something else.
This year marks our silver anniversary of living at the seaside. In loving homage to my mother in law, we now refer to tourists as ‘the hordes’. She brought a family up in Bournemouth, later joining us in Torbay, and would start using it at the start of May each year.
‘The hordes are coming.’
‘The hordes will be there.’
‘Watch out for the hordes!’
Of course those ‘hordes’, however much we might moan about the traffic they bring with them, are the lifeblood of any seaside town. When they don’t arrive at the end of July we feel it. And not just in monetary terms. There is something about watching families enjoy themselves on the beach that’s enough to make even the most cumudgeonly of horde-avoid locals smile.
What is it like to live in a seaside town?
It might be time for me to define what I mean by ‘seaside town’. I live in Torbay, which is home to around 141,000 people. Like many other seaside locations, our population did grow more than usual in the year following the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, as we welcomed people from all over the UK and even beyond.
But we haven’t been taken over by second homes.
Whilst some of our nearby Devon villages have been reduced to just a handful of full-time occupied properties, the same isn’t true of Torbay (and I suspect other larger seaside towns). The three towns that make up Torbay, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, all continue to bustle in the winter. Albeit with fewer ice-creams, circuses and fairs.
So what are the advantages of living at the seaside?
- The sea is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer
- You can be ‘on holiday’ whenever you feel like it
- Local knowledge about locations and times can be really useful
- You get to enjoy fabulous family coast walks all year round
- Your teenagers will almost certainly find summer jobs
- Seaside towns often have good transport links
And the disadvantages of living at the seaside?
- Visitor traffic can make daily living more difficult
- Rental properties can be tricky to find
- A higher proportion of jobs will be seasonal
- Coastal towns are often areas of high deprivation
- Anti-social behaviour can increase during the tourist season
What is the best seaside town to move to in the UK?
If you’re looking for a seaside town that balances all of the above and still has affordable properties, I would say that Torquay, Paignton and Brixham are all good bets. Torbay isn’t perfect but in the Telegraph’s recent ranking of best and worst seaside towns we came somewhere in the middle, above Blackpool but below Worthing.
I haven’t visited all of the seaside towns on the Telegraph list but I’m not entirely sure their reporter had for any length of time either.
St Ives (list winner) is stunning but I wouldn’t move there because such a high number of properties are second homes (15% in 2022) and that doesn’t include holiday lets.
When to live by the seaside
Seaside towns do change. Both with the seasons and over time. If you’re thinking of moving to one, you definitely need to visit during more than one season.
Weston-super-Mare is a great example of this seasonal shift. Visit for the August bank holiday and you’ll find it crowded and slightly whiffy. Visit in spring or autumn, and you’ll enjoy amazing light, great photo opportunities and long walks on the England Coast Path. I visited by train and even found a fantastic art installation.
I love living in Torbay best on those unexpected spring days when the sun shines but only those of us who live here are there to see it. For me this welcome splash of rays usually comes during my early morning swims. When I first started sea swimming seven years ago, there was just a handful of us shivering by the railings each morning.
Now there are so many sea swimmers, we are quite the community.
So much so that the grockle tables have been turned. On Wednesday as I got out of the water I heard an echo of my mother in law’s much-copied phrase in a visitor’s comments.
‘There seem to be hordes of locals!’
Long may it last!