Hotels forced to close, empty car parks, and deserted beaches – locals in holiday hotspots have described how their bustling tourist destinations turn into ghost towns in the winter.
In January in the Victorian resort of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, to quote former Smiths frontman Morrissey, every day is like Sunday.
Shops and cafes which in the height of summer are rammed, are now closed. And the colourful huts offering mackerel fishing trips are boarded up.
In Wells-next-the-Sea, around 35 per cent of properties are second homes or holiday lets and at this time of the year the upmarket Norfolk town is eerily quiet.
The winding cobbled streets of St Ives, Cornwall, are also mostly empty.
The Welsh seaside town of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, which has a high percentage of second and holiday homes
Deserted car parks near the seaside in Tenby – which is flooded with people during the summer
Wells-next-the-Sea where 35 per cent of housing is not primary residence
Jimmy Clements, of the More Beach Cafe in St Ives, Cornwall, said: ‘It’s a feeling of relief and being able to catch your breath when all the tourists are away.’
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The imposing clifftop hotels have shut, the car parks are empty and, but for a few dog walkers braving the icy sea breeze, the beaches are deserted.
This is January in the Victorian resort of Tenby where at this time of year, to quote Morrissey, every day is like Sunday.
Just three vehicles are parked in the town’s Five Arches Car Park which has space for 100. Shops and cafes are closed, the colourful huts offering mackerel fishing trips boarded up.
In the height of summer Tenby is rammed. You can’t get a room, caravans and campsites are packed and families queue up every morning for the nearby adventure park and zoo.
One in every four properties in the town centre are holiday homes – locals say you can identify them at this time of year because they are in darkness at night.
An empty beach in Tenby – the Welsh seaside front is packed during the summer months
One in every four properties in the town centre are holiday homes
Denis Powling, pictured with his wife Ellen, said it’s a struggle for young people to get a house in Tenby
Gardener and local artist Simon Rowlands, said: ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I think it’s always been that way.
‘The town is buzzing in the summer and it was busy over Christmas and New Year.
‘But now the children have gone back to school, the town is dead. It doesn’t bother me, I like it all year round.’
Simon, 69, is the gardener at the Giltar, Atlantic and Clarence Hotels on the town’s Esplanade which has views over to Caldey Island, home to a small brotherhood of Benedictine monks.
All three hotels are closed for January, giving the owners and staff a break and allowing handymen and decorators in for annual maintenance.
Simon, a regular winner of the annual Wales in Bloom competition, said: ‘Tenby has done quite well to market itself for short breaks out of season so you can have a three-night weekend stay or four nights in midweek.
‘And the town gets busy on Six Nations rugby weekends when Welsh fans from the valleys come here to watch the games on TV in the pubs and hotels.’
Rachel Price, 52, receptionist at the Giltar, said: ‘I’ve been quite busy taking bookings and answering inquiries. We are opening again at the end of the month but it won’t really start to get busy until May.’
Simon, 69, is the gardener at the Giltar, Atlantic and Clarence Hotels on the town’s Esplanade
Rachel Price, 52, receptionist at the Giltar, said it won’t get busy until May
This is January in the Victorian resort of Tenby where at this time of year, to quote Morrissey, every day is like Sunday
The town’s 5,000 residents have learned to live with the annual influx of more than two million visitors – but it is quiet in the winter
The Belgrave Hotel further along the Esplanade was still open but just six of its 45 rooms were occupied this week.
Owner and manager Max Thomas, 47, said: ‘We have full occupancy throughout the summer months, all the hotels here do.
‘Our guests tend to come from the M4 corridor, they love the scenery.
‘In winter it’s like being on a ship, the hotel faces the sea and we get the brunt of the weather coming in off the Atlantic. When we have 60mph winds you know all about it.’
Max said the seaside town is coming under pressure from national chains – the local baker closed down not long after the first Greggs arrived.
The hotelier said: ‘We are trying to keep Wetherspoons out – if they open up it would hurt all the pubs in the town. You can’t compete with that sort of thing.’
The town’s 5,000 residents have learned to live with the annual influx of more than two million visitors – tourism contributes £600m annually to the entire county of Pembrokeshire.
Hotelier Max Thomas said they have full occupancy throughout the summer months
The Welsh seaside town of Tenby in Pembrokeshire which has a high percentage of second and holiday homes is deserted in the winter
Abandoned streets which in the summer are busy
Locals said the seaside town is coming under pressure from national chains
It will bring in even more when the council starts charging second home owners a 300 per cent premium on their council tax.
Retired printer Denis Powling, 70, who has lived in the West Wales resort all his life, said: ‘It’s the young people I feel sorry for, unless they’ve got parents with money it’s a struggle for them to get a deposit on a house in Tenby.
‘No affordable housing is being built, a two bedroomed cottage went on the market a few weeks ago for £350,000. Ordinary working people can’t afford that.’
His wife Ellen, 70, the retired leader of the Mother’s Union at the town’s St Mary’s Church said: ‘It brought it home during lockdown when we went into the street to clap the NHS. There was no one clapping in all the houses opposite because they’re all holiday homes.
‘You can tell them at night because they’ve got no lights on.’
First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has a holiday home a few miles outside Tenby in the village of Llanteg. He will avoid paying the controversial triple council tax because he can’t access the chalet all year round – the site it’s on closes between January and April.
An unhappy second home owner from Buckinghamshire told Mail Online he will soon be paying £6,000 a year on his three-bedroomed property overlooking Tenby’s picture-postcard harbour.
The retired engineer, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘Charging three times the standard rate is the council’s way of making up the deficit in their budget.
The imposing clifftop hotels have shut, the car parks are empty and, but for a few dog walkers braving the icy sea breeze, the beaches are deserted
Tourism contributes £600m annually to the entire county of Pembrokeshire
‘It would be appropriate if they spent the extra money on what they perceive is a social housing problem.
‘Unaffordable housing is not just peculiar to coastal towns – kids can’t afford to buy property in towns across the rest of the country.
‘Don’t forget a large proportion of the holiday home owners in Tenby are local people who make money from letting them out.’
While the council tax argument rages on, some just go to Tenby for the simple pleasure of strolling along the town’s four stunning beaches at low tide.
Pembrokeshire-raised Aled Thomas, 31, head of new business with Pepsi in London, was walking his dog in the January sunshine.
He said: ‘It’s nice to come to Tenby at this time of year when there’s no one around and you can find somewhere to park.
‘We’re going to have a brisk walk on the beach then go for a nice coffee. If we can find somewhere that’s open.’
Pembrokeshire-raised Aled Thomas, 31, enjoys Tenby at this time of year when ‘there’s no one around’
Around 35 per cent of properties in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk are second homes or holiday lets, official figures have revealed.
The town council’s Local Plan, which contains measures to curb second home owners such as ring-fencing newbuilds for permanent occupants, is due to go to a referendum in the summer.
The upmarket town, which is filled with independent stores, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants, was quiet on Thursday.
Many premises hadn’t opened or were quiet inside and the beach was deserted.
Just over 2,000 people live locally.
Wells-next-the-Sea is deserted outside the holiday months
Around 35 per cent of properties in Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk are second homes or holiday lets, official figures have revealed.
The upmarket town, which is filled with independent stores, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants, was quiet on Thursday
Ricky Jordan, 40, a maintenance worker, said: ‘It’s a ghost town now’
A coffee shop owner, who didn’t want to be named, said: ‘It’s pretty dead up here at this time of year. In the height of the summer people are queuing out of the door throughout the day really. Now you’re lucky to have 20 customers in a day.
‘We make a loss pretty much all winter. You have to make what you can during the summer.
‘We need them [second home owners] to sustain yourself through the year but if you didn’t have them and there were more locals you wouldn’t have to make your money during the summer.’
Ricky Jordan, 40, a maintenance worker, said: ‘It’s a ghost town now. If you get a gimmicky weekend like Christmas Tide it’s mental but at this time of year there’s probably only two people on the street. Businesses struggle to maintain things during the winter.
‘We really need houses built to sustain a community here because it feels like the community is dying.’
Former police sergeant Terry Whiddett and his wife Maureen, a retired headteacher, both 80, began visiting Wells in the 1980s and bought a holiday home in 1985 before moving in permanently in 1998.
Terry Whiddett and his wife Maureen began visiting Wells in the 1980s and bought a holiday home in 1985 before moving in permanently in 1998
Mr Whiddett said: ‘I’ve got mixed feelings because I understand it’s difficult for young people and people on low incomes to get accommodation.
‘But if you see all the white vans in this part of Norfolk they’re all making their money from tiling and plumbing and so on [at second homes].’
Jesikae Sweeney, 23, works at a fish and chip shop that is currently only open from Friday to Monday.
She said: ‘It’s ridiculous. I live with my mum as I can’t afford to move out because all these second home owners are buying houses and putting prices up.
‘I want to stay in Wells because it’s my home. I’ve been here since I was six.
‘All the people who live here are in their 40s or over. There aren’t many young people around because it’s expensive.’
Describing the town in the off-season, she added: ‘It’s dead. There’s no one here.’
A shop assistant who asked not to be named said: ‘It’s dead in the winter and manic in the summer. A lot of businesses close down during the winter.
‘We might get 20 customers a day at the moment. In the summer there’ll be more than 20 in here at the same time.’
Locals said the town in the off season is ‘dead’ – adding ‘there’s no one here’
A quiet street in Wells-next-the-Sea, with nobody walking around
Kevin Sisman, a partner at Belton Duffey estate agents, said the rush for holiday homes in the UK during and immediately after the pandemic had subsided and there was now a ‘healthy rebalancing of the market’.
He warned many smaller homes wouldn’t sell to locals and were only of use to people using them on a temporary basis as holiday homes and lets.
But he added: ‘My business thrives if the town thrives and the town can’t thrive if there’s not a local population here.’
Many young people left the area to work elsewhere and returned in their 40s when they had saved enough to buy in Wells, he added.
Wells Town Council clerk Greg Hewitt said the consultation into the Local Plan suggested residents would vote in favour of the clampdown on second homes and investment properties.
A near-unbroken stretch of seaside towns covering around 30 miles of the north Norfolk coast have already held similar referendums, with up to 90 per cent of locals backing reforms on housing.
‘There’s a dire shortage [of homes] for locals who man the life boats and work in the shops and pubs and restaurants. We need to maintain the community,’ said Mr Hewitt, 65.
‘It’s impossible when the average house is around £400,000. The wages people earn in this community are too little to be able to afford housing.’
The condition under the Local Plan for newbuild properties to be sold only to permanent occupants would be in perpetuity, he added, meaning an investor wouldn’t be able to buy a house or flat and then sell it on to an occasional visitor.
Kevin Sisman, a partner at Belton Duffey estate agents, said the rush for holiday homes in the UK during and immediately after the pandemic had subsided and there was now a ‘healthy rebalancing of the market’
Jesikae Sweeney, 23, works at a fish and chip shop that is currently only open from Friday to Monday
ST IVES, CORNWALL
Locals living in one of Britain’s top summer holiday hotspots have lifted the lid on what they love about their town when the tourists go home.
The idyllic seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall was once a quaint fishing port but the summer tourist boom every year sees its 11,500 permanent residence swelled with 540,000 day trippers and 220,000 people staying.
But in mid-January the winding cobbled streets were nearly deserted while the whitewashed stone cottages – almost universally bearing key safes or plaques mostly stand quiet and empty apart from a few hardy visitors.
Many of the most touristy shops have closed for the winter but there remains a vibrant community spirit – albeit a much smaller community than during the warmer months.
Locals living in one of Britain’s top summer holiday hotspots have lifted the lid on what they love about their town when the tourists go home
St Ives in Cornwall is a very different place during the winter from the summer
Local resident Trish Christophers, 75, said winter in St Ives is ‘bliss’ adding: ‘We don’t have cars knocking us over every time we walk down the street.
‘This time of year it’s mainly people who want to be here, not people who want to find fault and complain.
‘I enjoy it all year round but it’s lovely to feel like it’s ours again. There is more community spirit in winter and it’s more relaxed but financially it’s harder.’
Ross Duncan, 33, who has lived in St Ives most of his life and manages the Cornish Bakehouse, revealed the stark financial contrast for businesses and workers during the winter.
He said: ‘In the summer we will sell 1,000 pasties every day, today we’ve sold about 30.
‘A lot of places shut down completely for January and February. We stay open but instead of eight staff it’s two. It does mean we can talk to regulars a bit more than the summer when it’s non stop.
‘The worst thing about this time is trying to be fair to the staff who have worked so hard for us throughout the summer but we can’t keep people on full-time.
‘I don’t blame second home owners, for every second home there is a Cornish family who have sold it for a huge profit – nobody forced them to.
‘But you can’t deny it’s having an effect, particularly on the younger generation who can’t afford somewhere to live in town. Of our 12 staff only five live here.
‘It’s been this way for so long it’s just about manageable for people.’
Heidi Sims who manages homeware shop Cream Cornwall said: ‘It’s a lot quieter this time of year and you manage to catch up on jobs and you get to talk to regular customers a bit more’
Cafe worker Jimmy Clements said: ‘It’s a feeling of relief and being able to catch your breath when all the tourists are away.
‘It is beautiful in all weathers but this time of year we have the place to ourselves which is nice.
‘It’s about balance though, tourists are incredibly important to the local economy and without that income this town would be in trouble.
‘There is an issue with second homes but it’s that there’s not enough homes. We can find money to fund wars all around the world but we can’t afford houses for people.’
The town is consistently voted among the happiest places to live in the UK – it topped the list in 2022 but dropped to ninth last year.
And while tourism remains by far the town’s biggest industry, some locals revealed their frustration at the amount of second homes and the impact they have on the town.
Ross Duncan, 33, who has lived in St Ives most of his life and manages the Cornish Bakehouse, revealed the stark financial contrast for businesses and workers during the winter
Ann Porter, a local who has lived in St Ives since 1962
Ann Porter, 75, who has lived in the town since 1962, said: ‘I love everything about it here and I never want to go anywhere else.
‘But this week I’ve had to complain to the council about the amount of visitors dumping rubbish after staying down for Christmas and New Year.
‘People buy a house and let it out and an agency is supposed to arrange private rubbish collection but instead they dump bin bags next to litter bins and expect the council to take them away.
‘Yesterday, I was out there twice to clear up this heap including dirty nappies and female hygiene products.
‘It’s such a shame in a beautiful place like this but everybody around here knows if you leave a bin bag out the gulls will rip it apart then the wind will blow the contents everywhere.’
The idyllic seaside town of St Ives in Cornwall was once a quaint fishing port but the summer tourist boom every year sees its 11,500 permanent residence swelled with 540,000 day trippers and 220,000 people staying
St Ives has taken steps to differentiate locals and tourists including a charge for visitors to use public toilets which cost the town £135,000 ayear while mayor Johnnie Wells announced the town was considering a tourist tax.
Heidi Sims who manages homeware shop Cream Cornwall said: ‘It’s a lot quieter this time of year and you manage to catch up on jobs and you get to talk to regular customers a bit more.
‘Second home owners are very good for our business in particular, we get a lot of repeat business from them.
‘It’s an absolutely stunning place – it’s just very different this time of year.’