Friday, July 15, 2005

Walk116 -- Skeffling, via Spurn Head, to Kilnsea

Ages: Colin was 63 years and 68 days. Rosemary was 60 years and 210 days.
Weather: Cloudy at first but turning warm and sunny. A lovely breeze.
Location: Skeffling to Kilnsea, via Spurn Head.
Distance: 11½ miles.
Total distance: 926½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy sea banks. A sort of road down Spurn Head. Grassy/sandy paths. Beach round the end of Spurn Head.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Skipsea. With bikes on the back of the car, we drove to Kilnsea where we parked in the Visitor Centre car park which was free and had toilets! Then we cycled along country lanes to Skeffling.
At the end, we had our tea, and then drove back to Skeffling where we picked up our bikes. It seemed an awful long way back to Skipsea, we are both very tired.

We walked along the seabank east from the car park, and were relieved to find that it was reasonably free of weeds. In fact it was quite pleasant as we followed a group of people with horses, not all of them riding, to the next car park about a mile and a half further on. There we sat on a seat called HARRY to have our lunch. We looked across the Humber to the industry we had passed north of Grimsby — we could still hear the ‘industrial hum’ in the distance — and felt glad that we had passed that bit of coast. There were one or two ships plying up and down the estuary, but it didn’t seem over busy. We looked at the curve of Spurn Head stretching out before us with its lighthouse on the end, and set off.
We were a bit bothered by a kid on a mini-motorbike, there seem to be so many of them these days and usually unsupervised. He shot off on the ‘permissive path’ ahead of us, so at least we knew it was walkable — until he came back! But thankfully he buzzed off then, and we didn’t have to listen to that awful two-stroke noise anymore. The path continued to be free of weeds and pleasant until we got within about fifty yards of Kilnsea. There it came to a dead stop at the fence of an hotel — we think the soft ‘cliff’ had been washed away. Fortunately it was easy to get down on to the beach, and the tide was out far enough to let us past. We climbed up again over some huge boulders which had been put there, I think, to slow the erosion. A Second World War ‘pill-box’ teetered at an angle above them.
We were less than half a mile from our car at this point, but we didn’t nip across to it for a quick cup of tea — though we were tempted — because we still had eight miles to walk and time was getting on. We continued along a grassy seabank with a pool on our left hand side. Not only were there fishermen, but also a swan family proudly showing off their six cygnets!
We came out at the road which runs the length of Spurn Head — it is four miles long, and they charge you £3 to take your car down there. (It’s free to walk!) Much of the spit is only the width of the road, and it is gradually moving westwards as it wears away on the east side depositing silt on the west. For much of the Winter the road is closed because it is too dangerous with the wind and tides, and the people who live down the end (there are some!) are cut off from civilisation. According to our ‘rules’ we didn’t actually have to walk to the end and back because it is a dead end, but we thought it was such an interesting place — quite unique in fact — that we wanted to experience it. The information centre we were standing by was closed.
Kilnsea is full of notices about the history of Holderness — this part of the East Riding.

Holderness has a rich military history. Two kings landed at Spurn with their armies and marched through Holderness to battle for their kingdom.
The area has long been a focus for military defence. Sand-le-Mere, Holmpton and Spurn were identified as potential invasion points at the time of the Spanish Armada and the NapolĂ©onic wars. Early warning beacons were on every high point and Militia garrisoned along the coast. During the two world wars Southern Holderness was heavily defended and many fortifications, such as pillboxes, a rare acoustic mirror, part of a tank wall and batteries remain. From the tip of Spurn Point, which was under military occupation for forty years, you can view Bull Sand Fort, the location of the first WW2 casualty in the UK. The radar station of RAF Patrington / Holmpton established during WW2 also served during the Cold War years. When commissioned in 1943, the BBC Radio Station at Ottringham – code name OSE5 – broadcast messages of hope to a besieged Europe: the most powerful in the world, it could not be jammed.

Twenty-two of our communities lost to the sea and Humber since Roman times. Eight villages and hamlets, such as Tharlesthorpe, Sunthorpe and Burstal Priory, affected by changing levels of the River Humber.
On the coastline, fourteen settlements including Owthorne, Old Kilnsea, Hoton and Monkwike lost as the soft clay gave way to the force of the sea, often with traumatic effect. Bones and coffins washed on to the beaches of Withernsea, Owthorne and Kilnsea.
Fortunately previous generations salvaged relics from these doomed settlements and traces of lost villages can still be found throughout the area.
Meres, draining into the Humber, existed at Out Newton, near Withernsea and at Sand-le-Mere. The Valley Gardens in Withernsea is the remnant of the mere that lay between Withernsea and Owthorne.

From the Queen of Holderness, the beautiful St Patrick’s Church at Patrington, to the ancient Tithe Barn at Easington, the area houses some unique buildings. Some of our churches are of great architectural and historical interest, and many contain tombs of Knights, relics from lost churches or graves of drowned sailors.
Many buildings in Withernsea and the surrounding towns have unusual or quirky features such as ‘turrets’. Don’t forget to look out for buildings made of cobbles used due to lack of natural stone.
Visit Sunk Island, site of a failed post WW1 colonisation project and inspiration for the novel South Riding. Most of the buildings are listed, including the church designed by Samuel Teulon. Take time to drive past the Constable Mausoleum at Halsham and seek out the old school house with its unusual gable end. Or drive up to Garton and look at Admiral Storr’s tower.

With all this in mind, we set off along the narrow road. We had sea to the left of us and sea to the right of us, and every time a car came by we had to dive into the thin strip of long grass which was all that separated us from the briney. The road was tarmacked on concrete at first, but then it came to an abrupt stop on the beach which had shifted itself sideways. The road had been rebuilt a little to the west but instead of tarmac or concrete, bricks had been laid down. A couple of cyclists came along, complaining about the bone-shaking and teeth rattling! We were practically on the beach on the eastern side—the spit is extremely narrow at this point. It wouldn’t take much to turn Spurn Head into a real island. About half a mile further on we came back on to the original concrete road.
The spit widened after that, and we took a ‘riverside’ path through the dunes to the west of the road. This was a meadow full of wild flowers — it was lovely! There were lots of orchids, and they were absolutely magnificent. It certainly made our decision to do this Walk worthwhile! We came to a bird hide, and since we were suffering a bit from the heat we went inside for some shade. We sat there and ate our apples. We didn’t see many birds whilst in the hide, but on the Walk as a whole we notched up sanderlings, knots, redshanks, curlews and oystercatchers. We also saw lots of butterflies and dragonflies in 'our' meadow.
And the wild roses gave off such a lovely scent. We had to go back on to the road eventually, and since this was still narrow causing us to keep dodging cars we didn’t enjoy that bit very much. It seemed a long way, but eventually we came to the lighthouse — well, two lighthouses really. We passed the tall lighthouse which was to our left, and it isn’t situated right at the end of the spit. We still had another half mile to go, which was a bit of a disappointment. This lighthouse was built in 1895, and replaced an earlier lighthouse which was situated just to the south of it. On the beach to our right was another lighthouse — Spurn Low Light — which was built in 1852 to help shipping find the deep water channels in the Humber.
We were up on quite a bank, which we found surprising as it felt almost like a cliff, but we eventually found our way down on to the firm sandy beach. There a notice told us about the Spurn Heritage Coast:
Acting like a huge natural breakwater for the mouth of the Humber, Spurn has been a landmark for shipping for hundreds of years. In the past it was also an important military base. Since 1960 it has been Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve.
We also learned the dates of the various lighthouses, that the concrete road was only built during the Second World War and that before that there was no road to Spurn Head. A rail track was laid the length of the spit during the First World War, but no engines ever puffed along it – the local people used sail bogies! (Sounds like fun, but I expect they had to walk if there was no wind.) We were also told that old sea defences not only failed to stop erosion, but they caused problems around the point by blocking the natural movement of the sand.
We walked along the beach towards the jetty leading out to the lifeboats. This was so high up we walked underneath it with plenty of room to spare. Spurn Head has the only permanent full-time lifeboat crew in this country, and the only ones who are paid! This is because the entrance to the Humber is such a dangerous place with its shifting sands and mudbanks, and an enormous amount of ships use it—not only from Hull, but from Immingham and all the associated industry on the southern bank. These men live with their families in the cluster of houses at the far end of Spurn Head, four miles from the nearest hamlet at Kilnsea. Remote enough in the Summer, but in Winter they can be cut off for weeks at a time! The road is closed during windy or stormy weather, and when the fuss dies down it is often not there and has to be built up again. It must take a special kind of person to live on Spurn Head — not for me! As we walked under the jetty we watched some men get into a speedboat and take it out to meet a ship.
Then we walked round the very end of Spurn Head on the beach — it seemed a long way round. We could see Grimsby, Cleethorpes and a lot of the coast further south — it was very clear. It seemed as if we were on the end of the world! I was just taking a photo of Colin when I saw a weasel! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Colin didn’t believe me at first, when I said, “Look! There’s a weasel!” Then he saw it too. It had come out of the grass at the top of the beach and was scavenging amongst the seaweed. We started chasing it in different directions to cut off its escape so we could take photographs of it — it was a mad few minutes. Colin did most of the shouting, but the two best photos were taken by me! Eventually it did ‘escape’ back into the grass, and we both collapsed exhausted on the beach. Too much excitement at our advanced ages!

We started the long trek northwards along the beach. Now that we had ‘conquered’ the Humber, we knew there would be no more ‘back-tracking’ until after we are in Scotland, and that was a comforting thought which spurred us on. From now on, a ten-mile Walk means that we shall progress more or less ten miles further north, and not walk round in circles only to end up twenty miles later at exactly the same place only on the other side of a river.
We were bemused by the amount of rubbish that was washed up on the beach on this eastern side. Mostly it was plastic packaging thrown off ships by people who think the sea is a universal dustbin and subsequently chopped up by the waves, but there was even a bicycle tyre — where had that come from? We looked back to the Head in time to witness yet another ship enter the Humber, and then we carried on along the vast beach.
We passed the tall lighthouse, but the beach sand was getting too soft to walk in comfort so we climbed on to the dunes and walked the ‘seaside’ path. This was a bit up and down, but okay. It came out on the road, but that wasn’t much fun to walk because the grass was so high each side we couldn’t see anything. So when we came to where the ‘riverside’ path went off on the eastern side, we took it because we wanted to walk through the ‘meadow’ again and look at the profusion of wild flowers.
Eventually we had to walk on the road because that was all there was over the narrow part of the spit. We saw very little evidence of the rail tracks from the First World War — the spit has shifted so much over the past ninety years I expect most of them are covered up. We did come across what looked like a gun emplacement, but that was probably Second World War.
When we got to the information centre, which was still closed, we took a path behind it which led us along the seabank to the car park where our velocipede was waiting for us with flasks of tea in the boot! We passed some people who were wild camping — perhaps they had been looking for the non-existent campsites like we were the other day. Our first plan had been to camp at Kilnsea, and that would have meant no distance to travel to our tent after this long and interesting Walk.

That ended Walk no.116, we shall pick up Walk no.117 next time at the car park at Kilnsea. We had our tea, then returned the short distance to Skeffling to pick up our bikes. It seemed an awful long way back to our campsite at Skipsea — how we wished we could have camped further south.

1 comment:

Kris Douglas said...


Lots of engines ran at spurn head, and for a very long time too. Steam and Diesel.