Saturday, July 16, 2005

Walk 117 -- Kilnsea to Withernsea

Ages: Colin was 63 years and 69 days. Rosemary was 60 years and 211 days. And it is our 39th wedding anniversary!
Weather: Hot and sunny. A pleasant breeze on the beach.
Location: Kilnsea to Withernsea.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 936 miles.
Terrain: Firmish sandy beach, just below high water level.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None, but only because we crawled under and squeezed by security fences where the beach was blocked by an oil pipeline!
How we got there and back: We were camping at Skipsea. With bikes on the back of the car, we drove to Hornsea and had to park on the other side of the Park because our usual car park was closed. We walked through to get to our favourite delicatessen to buy our lunch, and watched all the feverish activity of setting up stalls for a carnival later today. We drove on to Withernsea (which wasn’t having a carnival) where we parked for free on the seafront, but they were charging 15p to go to the loo! Then we cycled to Kilnsea where the loos are free.
At the end, we had our tea, and then drove back to Kilnsea where we picked up our bikes. It still seemed an awful long way back to Skipsea.

We have been married thirty-nine years! It doesn’t seem possible — where have all the years gone? Our four children are grown up and have long since fled the nest, and even our two grandchildren are teenagers. There’s nothing for it but to carry on walking round Britain! What else is there for two OAPs to do?

We started today’s Walk at Kilnsea, where there seemed to be a lot of old buildings falling off the cliff into the sea. We sat on one of them to eat our pasties, because once again it was lunchtime before we had set up this Walk. The buildings are of military origin, mostly from the First World War when there was a barrack block on this site. Spurn Head was of great strategic importance during both World Wars because of its position at the mouth of the Humber, and this is where the soldiers actually lived. Not much of it left now, not even of the Second World War ‘pill-boxes’ which lie ruined in the sea. The cliffs in this area are very very soft.
We watched the activity on the beach — children playing and people fishing. We were right next to the caravan site where I had intended pitching our tent until I found out that very few sites do tents these days. The location would have been much more convenient for the walking we are doing this week, but we were both rather glad that we hadn’t been able to pitch there. The site was very crowded — hardly any space between caravans — and there was absolutely no shade. Perhaps we are better off where we are, even though it is a long journey back at the end of the day.
We carried on along the clifftop, which pretty soon turned into sand dunes. That proved to be too soft, making it very hard on the old leg muscles. So we migrated to the beach where we found the sand just below high tide level was much more firm. There was a large pool up on the dunes to our left, and we recognised terns flying overhead. We went a little way up the slope, and saw there was a fence with notices saying, “PROTECTED BIRDS BREEDING. PLEASE KEEP AWAY.” So we didn’t go any further, just stood there looking at the birds through Colin’s binoculars. They were flying all over our heads anyway, and we weren’t anywhere near the fence. Suddenly we realised we were being shouted at! A man walking along the beach towards us was yelling at us to come away! He was most rude about it, saying it was one of the few breeding sites of the rare little tern and more or less suggesting that if they had a poor breeding season this year it would be our fault for daring to take a few steps up the slope towards the fence. What nonsense — talk about over-reacting! That sort of behaviour doesn’t make people respect wildlife, which we were doing anyway, it just puts people’s backs up. We walked away from him in the end, he was so ill-mannered.It was very pleasant walking along the sand by the rolling surf on a warm sunny day — made us feel good to be alive! The cliffs to our left were very soft indeed and much eroded. We saw modern windmills up on top, a micro-light aircraft flying along, caravans very near the edge (how long before they fall off?) and even a rusty tractor buried in the sand!
Ahead of us it looked as if there was a barrier across the beach. By now we were completely on our own, and we couldn’t really believe that part of the beach would be cordoned off — but it was. On the map it was marked as “Natural Gas Terminal”, and I later found out that this is where the pipeline from the North Sea gas fields comes in to land. As we approached we found, to our consternation, that the beach was blocked by two parallel security fences coming down from a gap in the cliff to the water and on into it. The fences were less than twenty yards apart. There was no way we could get through — or was there? Because of the unevenness of the beach, there was a hole under one part of the fence on our side — and two sections of the fence on the other side had angled apart leaving ample room to squeeze between them. Trouble was, there was a chap in a hard hat in the middle of it all sort of supervising what was going on, whatever that was.
So we called him over and the conversation went something like this:
“We’re walking from Kilnsea to Withernsea, and we would like to get through!”
“Well, you can’t!”
“Why not? This is a public beach!”
“We’re testing a pipe!”
“When will we be able to get through?”
“When we’re finished!”
“When will that be?”
“I’m not prepared to say! Could be today, could be tomorrow!”
“We can’t wait that long, our car is parked in Withernsea and we’ve got to get there!”
“You will have to wait until low tide and nip round the end!”
“But that’s hours away and it’ll be dark by then!”
“I can’t help that!”
“How about you looking the other way for about two minutes while we crawl under this fence here, nip across and squeeze through that gap in the fence over there. Then we’ll be happily on our way with no harm done and you could pretend you hadn’t seen us!”
As I was making this last suggestion, I had already taken off my rucksack and was on my hands and knees crawling through the gap. There was no way I was going back to Kilnsea! I think Mr Hardhat realised, at this point, that he had lost the argument because he didn’t try to stop me and he even helped Colin with his rucksack as he crawled through. We thanked him profusely for his ‘understanding’ and exited through the other fence as quickly as we could!
After that little bit of excitement, absolutely nothing else happened on the Walk. We trekked along miles and miles of beach next to miles and miles of soft cliff. Sometimes the cliff was eroded in weird shapes, like pinnacles which reminded us of the canyons in the American Rockies only on a smaller scale. Occasionally we came across a bit of building littering the beach where it had landed after falling off the cliff. We met one lone fisherman in all that way. We sat on a ‘Norwegian Fish’ box to eat our chocolate — it made a convenient seat!
On we went, passing yet another caravan site perched on top of the soft cliff where ‘permanent’ buildings were cracked and the corners fallen out. I wouldn’t buy a house within five miles of a cliff as soft as that!There were also some more modern windmills back a bit from the cliff edge, but the fact that they were there told us that this is a very windy place — probably quite bleak in the Winter.
Not my idea of an attractive place to live, but we came across some accommodation constructed by creatures who must have thought it was ideal — sand martins. The last bit of the cliff before Withernsea was full of holes made by these delightful little birds. At least they felt it was a permanent home, but then they are very small and don’t weigh much.We climbed some steps on to a brand new esplanade, so new that the surrounding gardens had not yet been planted. But that didn’t alter the fact that one of the lamp-posts had already been vandalised! We walked along into Withernsea. Colin used the redundant toilets (he climbed over the vandalised barrier to do so) because the new modern toilet block was attended and cost 15p for adults and 5p for children!! (Fortunately I didn’t need to go.)
We came to a fancy castellated pier entrance, but there was no pier. Apparently it was knocked down by successive ships which got out of control during storms, and there are no plans to restore it. So the grand entrance now leads to...........steps down to the beach!
A plaque in the sea wall told us about a 13th century church that was originally built at a point which is now one mile out to sea. It only lasted two hundred years before it was lost to erosion.
The toilets in Withernsea may be expensive, but we were able to park on a seafront road just past the non-pier all day in July for free. That was a bonus!

That ended Walk no.117, we shall pick up Walk no.118 next time in Withernsea just north of the castellated non-pier entrance. We had a quick cup of tea, then drove to Tesco where we bought some essential supplies and some fresh cream scones. These we scoffed with a second cup of tea when we reached Kilnsea (with the free toilets) where we had gone to pick up our bikes. That was our 39th wedding anniversary celebration — we were too tired for anything else! It seemed an awful long way back to our campsite — I kept nodding off and I’m always afraid Colin will too, but fortunately he managed to stay awake.

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