ONE of the few benefits of the coronavirus pandemic is a renewed national love affair with the British seaside holiday.

Only the foolhardy will risk going abroad at the moment, because of the necessity of sharing a metal tube 37,000 feet above the ground with several hundred coughers and wheezers, and then finding you have to sleep on the beach because your hotel is still closed.

Then there’s the possibility dear old Boris won’t let you back in without staying off work an extra fortnight, which probably won’t go down too well with the boss. So staycations have become the holidays of 2020, although booking a week away in this country is not as easy as it sounds.

For a start, there are not as many hotels as there used to be, with the collapse of both Shearings and National Holidays coach companies.

The names have been bought by other companies, but not the cheap and cheerful hotels they used to use, which are now standing forlornly empty, shorn of the nodding grey heads playing endless games of bingo and dancing the hokey cokey.

We have stayed in several of these hotels as self-drive customers over the years, and always had a wonderful time, despite their faded elegance and the unpleasant odours imparted by many generations of bibulous coach parties.

Blackpool remains my favourite resort, but Mrs Hextol hates it. I grew up on day trips to the floozy of the Fylde coast, with its garish Golden Mile, sad eyed donkeys and the legendary “Jugs of Tea for the Sands” banner on a prominent cafe. It was always a contest to see who could spot Blackpool Tower from several miles away through the coach window, and if you got up early enough you could see the elephants from the Blackpool Tower Circus being exercised on the sands.

Exotically coiffed fortune tellers, clattering trams, sticks of rock and hats adorned with realistic looking dog muck were all part of the tawdry charm of the place, not the mention the best steak and kidney pudding and chips on the planet.

British seaside holidays tended to fall by the wayside when it became almost as cheap to go abroad for guaranteed sunshine and cheap booze than to get your name down for the knobbly knees contest at the end of the pier. Recent visits to former family favourites like Morecambe, Torquay and Southport have found them depressingly decayed, but this may yet be the year of the big turn round, when the British seaside bounces back.

We in Northumberland have escaped the worst excesses of the “beer and a barney” louts who have tarnished many resorts across the country, and I have seldom enjoyed myself more than during the few days we had with our niece and her two little girls at a holiday let in Beadnell a couple of weeks ago.

To start with, the weather was its usual foul self, on the North Northumberland coast, but that did not stop the girls – aged three and 20 months – enjoying being buried in the sand with their coats on!

After that though, the weather was excellent and the girls soon started finding shells on the sand. Emma found a limpet shell, and announced “That is a snail, but it’s not at home at the moment. Maybe it’s gone shopping.”

Ice creams and crisps were consumed in abundance, each garnished with more sand than monkey’s blood, but neither girl seemed to suffer any ill effects.

One of the most interesting aspects of the break was the number of dogs on the beach, from giant Irish wolfhounds to diminutive chihuahuas, but their owners all had one thing in common – without exception, they fastidiously picked up after their pets.

Unfortunately the dogs were not always as well behaved as their owners. One abiding memory is the spaniel that came sniffing around our little encampment, before being summarily shooed away.

Undeterred, it moved further down the beach and came across a windbreak, the tenants of which had gone for a stroll. Before anyone could stop it, it had rooted in several bags, and wolfed down vast quantities of sandwiches, boiled eggs, crisps and cake.I thought it was a stray, but then a young matron appeared with an extending lead, and took the greedy thief away, oblivious to the yards of cling film and tinfoil wrapping blowing about in the breeze.