Ask someone in the East Riding to name their favourite local beach and I’m pretty certain they wouldn’t pick Withernsea.

Bridlington? Definitely up there. Hornsea? Very probably on the list. I think they would be more likely to plump for Scarborough or Filey or maybe even Mappleton, where there’s more than a slim chance of stumbling upon some unexploded ordnance, before they’d choose “With” (or “Wiv”, short for “Wiverensea” if you’re from Hull).

I have to admit it is many a long year since I dipped my toes in the shallows there, or played in the sand with my then young stepchildren on a day out.

Read more: The untouched East Yorkshire beach hidden in plain sight

So with the mercury hovering around the mid-20s and armed with some Factor 30, I set out for Withernsea to discover what its beach and promenade are like today.

The first thing that struck me was how easy it was to park, for free, right at the roadside on the seafront. Okay, it was a Wednesday morning in term-time, but there was no shortage of spaces for visiting vehicles.

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Mick and Brenda Hyde enjoy making sandcastles with grandchildren Katie and Charlie
Mick and Brenda Hyde enjoy making sandcastles with grandchildren Katie and Charlie

Next stop was the public loos on the Central Promenade – free of charge, spotless and with an attendant – before strolling over to the iconic Pier Towers to begin my assessment proper of the beachscape.

The restored twin castellated turrets once formed the gateway to an impressive but short-lived 1,200ft pier. Completed in 1878, it was struck by a number of vessels and then gradually demolished, span by span, until the last remaining section of the once grand structure was removed altogether during the building of the town's seawall and promenade, between 1903 and 1909.

Withernsea Pier and Promenade Association is working towards the rebuilding of a pier, complete with a renewable energy centre at its end – you can find out more in the Coastal Change Observatory/souvenir shop/information point that has opened inside one of the towers (more on that later).

Descending the steps to the beach, I met Ursula Zbucka, who lives in Hull and works in Withernsea, sitting on one of the bottom treads taking a breather.

“I often come down here, it’s a beautiful walk along the beach when the tide is out,” she said. “You can keep going for miles – on one of my days off, I found I’d been walking for two hours without stopping. It’s so beautiful, I love the sea.”

Further along the sand, recently washed by the tide, I spoke to couple Colin Dudill and Julie Parker, who had just enjoyed a swim in the sea and were drying off on some of the huge boulders that make up the sea defences.

I thought the rock armour looked a bit “industrial” as the backdrop to a public beach but they are serving a purpose and no one seemed to be bothered by them.

Paul Ashworth selling souvenirs and providing information at the Pier Towers shop
Paul Ashworth selling souvenirs and providing information at the Pier Towers shop

“It’s our third year coming to Withernsea, we’re at a caravan park and it’s really nice to spend a week here,” said Colin, who lives in Rotherham. “It’s a nice walk down from our site to the beach.

“The sea’s a bit chilly today when you first get in, but after that it’s fine.

“We like to use the leisure centre in the town when it’s open; Withernsea is also easy for nipping to Hornsea and we are planning to go to Spurn tomorrow.”

Julie said: “I think the beach is great, it’s a bit pebbly but it’s clean and there’s no rubbish or dog poo.

“We seem to see the same people down here each day. We like it here, it’s nice if you want some quiet time as it’s more isolated than Scarborough or Filey.”

A little nearer the water, a fine sandcastle was taking shape, courtesy of Mick and Brenda Hyde and their two grandchildren, Katie, four, and Charlie, three.

“It’s our first time here and the second day we’ve been down the beach,” said Brenda, of Nottingham.

Ursula Zbucka likes to take a breather by the beach when she is on a break from work
Ursula Zbucka likes to take a breather by the beach when she is on a break from work

“We should have been in Greece in June. We’ve got three days with the grandchildren then we’re dropping them off and spending the rest of the week here by ourselves.

“We’re having such a lovely time and the weather helps, I think the children love digging, making sandcastles and jumping over the waves the best.

“We’re staying at Withernsea Sands Holiday Park – there are a lot of steps down to the beach at that end so we’ve come further along to get on, to make it easier for the children.”

Drying off after a swim, Colin Dudill and Julie Parker
Drying off after a swim, Colin Dudill and Julie Parker

Strolling back along the promenade, noting the cheerful and sturdy bright blue benches and plenty of (emptied) rubbish bins, I met Mike Collier checking out which portion of the beach was okay to exercise his dog, Lola (like other East Riding beaches, Withernsea has a dog exclusion zone from May until September).

“I’m here for a week with my wife, Kelly, my daughter and grand-daughter – and the dog, she loves the sea,” said Mike, visiting from Mansfield.

“I think it’s absolutely lovely. We’ve been down here a couple of times with the bikes, there are some nice bike rides all over here.”

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The glowing testimonies for the sun-drenched Withernsea continued with Paul Ashworth, who was minding the Pier Towers Coastal Change Observatory (its role is to observe and record the comprehensive transformations that have occurred along the Holderness Coast and within the Humber Estuary throughout history) and souvenir shop for his cousin Andrew Ashworth, who is the manager.

Originally from Bradford, he fell in love with the place when he visited with family 18 years ago.

“My sister had a caravan here and I didn’t want to go home,” he said. “We put our names down for a house in the November and by the February we were living here. We wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Withernsea has a new Seaside Award
Withernsea has a new Seaside Award

Paul said all the visitors who popped in for postcards or information about the town’s fish or fossil trails, for example, were friendly and curious.

“They want to know a bit about the place,” he said, “and especially about the new pier that’s coming on.”

At the long-established Castle Café, opposite the Pier Towers, owner of three years Andi Whitehead said: “Everyone has got your back here. You walk down the road and everyone says good morning – I’m from London and if you did that there, people would look at you like you were crazy.”

Mike Collier holidaying with his dog Lola
Mike Collier holidaying with his dog Lola

Andi and her husband, Paul, have been struggling like many others in the hospitality trade because of Covid-19.

“When we could first open, we wondered why we were bothering sometimes, but it’s better now. We’ve installed some ‘sheds’ in our garden area so that people can social-distance and we’ve put in pots of flowers.

“People seem to like it, some have been quite nervous about mixing so this has really helped.”

Andi thinks the combination of “really, really great staff”, quality food and “proper” coffee is what Castle Café customers welcome.

From left, owner Andi Whitehead, with staff members John Bates and Rachael Bates at Withernsea's Castle Cafe
From left, owner Andi Whitehead, with staff members John Bates and Rachael Bates at Withernsea's Castle Cafe

“We do a bike night every Thursday and we get around 500 bikers from Leeds, Lincoln, York, all over and they are all socially distanced along the road.”

A flag flying on Withernsea’s prom proudly declares it a Seaside Award 2021 winner – the awards are presented by Keep Britain Tidy to the best beaches in England and celebrate the quality and diversity of the coastline.

Which sums it up for Withernsea really. I saw happy and relaxed faces all around, loads of space for families to social distance and a clean and well-kept, attractive seafront. I didn’t speak to anyone who had a bad word for With, so I think this Cinderella of the east coast really should have her invite to the (beach) ball.