Monday, July 18, 2005

Walk 118 -- Withernsea to Aldbrough

Ages: Colin was 63 years and 71 days. Rosemary was 60 years and 213 days.
Weather: Starting hot and sunny with a refreshing breeze—turning cloudy, then rain.
Location: Withernsea to Aldbrough.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 945½ miles.
Terrain: An unofficial cliff path which petered out (or fell over the cliff!) so we had to walk between corn fields and an eroding cliff top. Twice we had to cross a very deep ditch. We managed to scramble down to the beach towards the end, where the tide was sufficiently out, but we had to climb up again after half a mile, using some hacked out steps.
Tide: In, going out later.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None, though we were tempted to go and find the road when the going got difficult.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Skipsea. With bikes on the back of the car, we drove to Aldbrough we parked at the top of the cliff just before the road fell over the edge! We cycled to Withernsea along rather hilly roads, and I never got off to walk despite my advanced age!
At the end, we had our tea. It was a bit of a bind having to drive all the way back to Withernsea to pick up the bikes, than return again to get to Skipsea. We stopped in Hornsea to buy some milk, and found the car park flooded due to a torrential downpour!
Two days later we returned home. It now takes eight hours to drive back to Bognor—that is how far we have walked!!

Today is our elder daughter’s 37th birthday. I can hardly believe it has been so long since I gave birth with great difficulty (53 hours in labour!) to our first child, a wonderful daughter whom we christened Maria Christina. She was born with a shock of black hair which suddenly turned honey-blonde when she was eleven months old. Despite the fact that I had ‘toxaemia of pregnancy’—a condition which has never been explained to me properly—and everything seemed dire at the time, Maria turned out to be a beautiful, intelligent and very healthy child. She is now a fully qualified chiropractor, and runs two clinics which are both her own businesses. She has a lovely personality, and we are very proud of all her achievements. She has been married to Steve for eleven years, and lives on the edge of the New Forest.

We started today’s Walk in Withernsea and almost immediately passed a plaque in the wall telling us about another 13th century church which had been lost to the sea. This one was constructed at a point that is now eight hundred yards out to sea, so the builders must have thought they were quite inland at the time. It lasted six hundred years before the sea took it in the 19th century.
We decided to walk on the lower prom, but this came to an end at the northern edge of Withernsea. The tide was right in so we couldn’t continue along the beach—it would have made this Walk considerably easier if we had been able to.We climbed up a lot of steps to road level, exclaiming at the ghastly pink railings along this seafront. What a terrible colour to choose! There were a few more very new houses, far too near the cliff edge to sleep an easy night, and a recreation ground with part of a boat as a wind shelter behind a seat. It looked as if the boat had been dropped from a great height and half buried itself in the ground—a bit bizarre.
For the next couple of miles we walked along the crumbling clifftop. The path was unofficial, but there seemed to be a track all the way along and we had no difficulty getting past. First we passed a caravan site, then we were out in scrappy fields where nothing much seemed to be growing. When we were sufficiently away from civilisation that we felt we couldn’t get shouted at for being on private land, we sat down and ate our lunch. Absolutely no one was about, except a lone fisherman on the beach below. How he got there I’ve no idea, for there was no access with the tide in as far as we could see. The ground was very sandy and crumbly, even the weeds seemed reluctant to grow right near the cliff edge. We kept well back from it in case it went! Colin managed to find a rather lovely butterfly to photograph.
We got to the hamlet of Tunstall, whose importance lies in the fact that the Greenwich Meridian goes out into the North Sea there. We crossed it for the final time on the whole of the Round-Britain-Walk, passing into the Western Hemisphere once again. That is where we’ll stay all the way round Scotland, Wales the South-West Peninsula and back to Bognor—if we manage to get that far. We are travelling North-West at the moment and will not be going this far East again. A notice in Tunstall told us about their Millennium project (at least they had one, which is more than Bognor did.) They put a marker on the edge of the cliff at the exact spot where the Greenwich Meridian crosses over it. Unfortunately the sea is no respecter of Meridian markers, and it lasted just three years before tumbling over the cliff in January 2003. What a loony idea to put it there in the first place! (I tentatively stood on the edge of the cliff in what I hoped was the right spot while Colin took a photo of me, but I moved out of the way very quickly as soon as the shutter went—I didn’t feel safe at all.)
Tunstall seemed to consist mostly of caravans, shacks and wooden holiday homes. I expect there were some more permanent buildings further inland, but we didn’t see them. What we did see were bits of pipe broken off in mid-air, fences hanging over the edge and other obvious signs that the soft cliff is eroding very fast and no one is able to do anything about it. Even the road comes to an abrupt end with a notice stating the obvious—‘subject to coastal erosion’. Further along there was the inevitable remains of a burnt-out car.
It was about a mile after Tunstall that our problems really began. We had walked a track which led to a lane that we had cycled down earlier. This lane goes very near to the cliff-edge and so is officially closed to traffic. That didn’t faze several farm vehicles which simply drove round the barrier, and it didn’t faze us either. A track led straight on from where the lane turned inland, but it soon began to disappear where great chunks of the cliff had fallen down. It eventually petered out, so we walked between the corn and the clifftop which was very narrow and not a real path at all. Walking in the corn was uncomfortable, and walking too near the cliff edge was dicey—we were between the devil and the deep blue sea! Eventually the path completely disappeared, and we were walking rough which was even more uncomfortable.
We came to a very deep ditch which we had to scramble down into and up the other side—luckily it was dry. By now we were wading through waist-high thistles and then it started to rain. We walked along the edge of several cornfields where we could hear combines working away just out of sight on the other side of the hillocks. We were hating the difficulty of our slog through the scratchy corn, hating the rain which was miserable, and hoping we wouldn’t get ‘caught’ by an angry farmer! (This was especially when we had to pass some farm buildings and all the dogs started barking.) However, we met no one, and we don’t think anyone ever knew we had passed by.
Walking became so difficult, we considered scrambling down the cliff to the beach because the tide had started to go out and we could see sand. Fortunately we couldn’t find a way down, it was much too steep and muddy to get down safely. I say ‘fortunately’ because about a mile further on the sea was once again lapping the bottom of the cliff and we would have had to find a way to climb back up again—or wait for the tide to go out. We were squeezed between a wooden fence and the clifftop, and the grass on the other side of the fence was much shorter. So, of course, we climbed over and walked along the edge of the field. Eventually we had to climb back because there were too many barriers in our way.
We were on the clifftop again, but we came to a patch of soft grass which was blissful after all the prickly weeds we had been struggling through. We twisted round the end of some barbed wire fences, crept across what we thought was the lawn of Moat Farm, skirted some bushes and after that found the going easier for a while. But then we came to another deep ditch which was even worse than the first—I had great difficulty getting up the other side. Then the rain set in with a vengeance—my God we were miserable!
We trudged on, and thought we’d got to Cliff Farm, but nothing seemed to tie up with the map. I think we were, perhaps, too tired to read it properly. (Looking at it later, I think we had only got as far as a group of buildings called Ringbrough.) All we knew was that these buildings, some of them derelict, were right up against the cliff edge and there was no way we could get past them. In desperation we decided to turn inland and find the road which we knew ran parallel about a mile away. But I was unhappy about the direction we were walking in—almost back the way we had come—and Colin was just unhappy. Beyond the cornfield to the right of us we could just about see the sea, and there were tractor tracks leading across in that direction. So we followed them, striding nonchalantly but speedily past the farm buildings in case anyone should see us, and got back to the cliff top. Further on we found an old works track leading down to the beach, so it was with relief that we descended to the sands.
The rain eased off, and it was almost pleasant walking on firm sand between the cliffs and the surf. Our problem now was to locate the road where we had parked our car earlier, and find a way up the cliff to it. We were worried that we would overshoot, and neither of us were in the mood to walk further than we needed to. We seemed to go for ages with high cliffs to the left of us and no possible way up. Colin was confident that we hadn’t passed the spot, but I wasn’t so sure. We came to a particularly low part of the cliff, and decided that we must ascend there because it was all much higher as far as the eye could see in both directions. To our delight, when we examined the cliff closely we found that someone had hacked rough steps out of the soft clay. So our ascent was a lot easier than we had thought it would be. To my amazement (Colin was smug!) we were the other side of a caravan site to our car and still had a quarter of a mile to go. I had been so positive we had overshot.
The sun almost came out, and this last tiny bit of such a horrible Walk was along a grassy path and really quite pleasant. We were puzzled by what looked like a tiny oil platform in the sea, but since the North Sea oil pipelines come inland around this area it was probably something to do with that. As we approached the road where our car was parked, we could see the bits of tarmac down the cliff where the end of the road had been cut off. Even the double yellow lines were halfway down the cliff!
That ended Walk no.118, we shall pick up Walk no.119 next time at the end of the sea road leading out of Aldbrough. We had tea from our flasks, and then set off to collect the bikes. It was a bit of a bind having to drive all the way back to Withernsea, then return on the same road past Aldbrough to get to Skipsea—all very tiring. When we stopped in Hornsea to buy some milk on the way back, we found the car park flooded due to a torrential localised downpour!

Abandoned Walk!
We had planned to do Walk no.119 on 19th July, the day after Walk no.118. That morning we drove to Atwick with our bikes on the back of the car. It was very windy and rain was forecast. I looked at the rough paths either way on the clifftop, and at the nice firm sandy beach which would be covered by the tide by the time we got started on the Walk. Suddenly I decided that the next three planned Walks could wait until the tide was right to walk on the beach—I was too tired and wanted to go home. So we did, the next day.
UPDATE: A couple of years after we did this Walk there was a programme on TV about coastal erosion. It featured the owners of Cliff Farm, which they had foolishly bought just a few years previously, having to move out and abandon the property because it was falling into the sea! I realised that the reason we had become so confused at that point was because the coastline shown on the map had long since disappeared and we were about a quarter of a mile inland, despite the fact that we were standing on the edge of the cliff.

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