Cliffs at Flamborough Head above a lively seaside town
At the foot of the white cliffs near Bempton and Flamborough, the sea has carved out little bays, decorated with dripping caves and pillars of chalk rock. South of Bridlington Bay, however, quite another kind of coast begins. Unrelieved by a single nook or promontory, the sands of Holderness stretch southwards for mile after mile, backed by low, crumbling cliffs of red mud and flat farmland, where the sea eats relentlessly into the land.
From April to mid-July the cliffs at Bempton pulsate with vast numbers of sea-birds, which nest on shelves and in crevices in the chalk. From the RSPB bird reserve car park a footpath leads to fenced viewing terraces. Below them the cliffs drop vertically for as much as 400 ft, every ledge crowded with mewing, screaming, cackling or cawing birds.
Some 33 species of birds breed there, including kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, puffins and gannets. In autumn, when most of the birds have flown back to the open sea, a few late gannets still perform their spectacular aerobatics, plummeting into the sea from 100 ft up in pursuit of mackerel.
From the car park at North Landing an easy footpath skirts the cliffs to the west and down to this pretty cove. There is a beach of chalk shingle and large caves to explore at low tide. It is possible to walk round the rocks to other bays, but timing is important to avoid being cut off by the tide.
Flamborough’s North Landing is a picture postcard of a cove. Sheltered by an arcade of white cliffs, the little bay has a narrow strip of sand, and light reflected from the chalky sea-bed turns the water a luminous turquoise.
Fishing cobles are drawn up on a broad, steeply sloping ramp below the lifeboat station. The cobles are launched from the beach, and fishing excursions and short pleasure trips round the coast are available in them. This is the best way to see the spectacular rock formations, where the sea has chiselled out caves in the face of the cliffs. The cave mouths are framed by pillars and arches of chalk that rise out of the waves like the columns of a vast cathedral.
This plateau of rolling turf is 150 ft up on the cliffs and surrounded on three sides by the sea. There are good footpaths around the cliffs, flat enough and wide enough to take a wheelchair. For the agile there is a footpath down the side of the cliffs to Selwicks (pronounced Silex) Bay; there are steep steps at the foot of the path. From this chalky cove it is possible to walk below the headland and explore the lunar landscape of white chalk stacks and boulders and glittering rock pools.
Flamborough fishermen used to keep one coble at South Landing and another at North Landing so that one of them could be launched whichever way the wind was blowing. However, this is not a place for inexperienced sailors, for there are treacherous currents around Flamborough Head, particularly when the tide is on the turn.
The beach at South Landing consists of rough shingle and boulders of chalk, unsuitable for bathing, but popular among sunbathers who bask against the heat-reflecting cliffs. From the car park, footpaths lead to superb clifftop walks, east to Flamborough Head and west to Danes’ Dyke and Sewerby.
A deep ravine runs 2 1/2 miles across the Flamborough peninsula from north to south. Largely man-made, it served as a fortification to isolate Flamborough Head and to defend it from the mainland. Despite its name, however, the ditch was dug long before the Danes occupied this coast in the 9th century. Flint arrowheads found on the site suggest a date before the Iron Age, making the dyke at least 2,000 years old.
The southern section of the dyke, between Bridlington Road and the sea, is laid out as a nature trail. A delightful path makes a circuit of 1V4 miles along the edge of the densely wooded dyke, dipping down occasionally into the ravine.
The white cliffs of the Flamborough peninsula roll gently to an end at Sewerby, and the sands of Bridlington begin.
Sewerby is a tiny village with a few streets of terraced houses, a pub, a church, and a Georgian mansion, Sewerby Hall, set in 50 acres of parkland. The Hall houses a small museum and art gallery, and a collection of trophies and mementoes of the Yorkshire aviator Amy Johnson.
Two towns in one, with two distinct centres a mile apart, make up Bridlington. The livelier of the two has grown up around the seafront, where safe sandy beaches stretch a mile on either side of the busy tidal harbour. Pedestrian walkways encircle the stone walls of the harbour, a good vantage point from which to watch the fishing trawlers returning each evening to unload their catch at the quayside.
For the sea angler there are fishing trips in large cobles, and there is excellent fishing in the bay for codling and plaice, with good cod and haddock in winter. On the north side of the harbour is a museum of harbour history, with displays of sea-fishing methods, which is open daily in summer. Facing the harbour is the sleek prow-shaped building of the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club.
A mile inland, just off the Scarborough Road and almost submerged in the suburbs of modern Bridlington, stands the priory church of St Mary, the focus of the old town centre. The 13th-century church contains intriguing carvings of mice running up the woodwork. The Bayle Museum of local antiquities is housed in the 14th-century gatehouse of the priory; there is limited opening, in summer only. Nearby, the High Street has become a quiet backwater, with well-preserved 18th-century houses and shopfronts.
Bridlington has a regatta in mid-August and a sea-angling week in September.
The rapidly eroding clifftop of Skipsea is reached by Mill Lane, and there are steps down to the beach from East End, east of Ulrome. There are also steps to the beach from the track leading from the Far Grange holiday camp, I1/: miles south of Skipsea, and trailer-borne boats can be launched from there. A huge mound near Skipsea church is all that remains of a castle built by William the Conqueror’s lieutenant, Drogo de Bevere.
Along Hornsea’s promenade the most popular entertainment is the bowling green. Inland, and separated from the seafront by an attractive park, the centre has kept its character as an old market town. In the main street, called Newbegin, is a farmhouse, dating back to the 16th century, which houses the North Holderness Museum of Village Life, open daily in summer. This has reconstructed Victorian rooms, collections of farm gear and railway relics and even, at the touch of a button, the recorded reminiscences of a local sage.
At 2 miles long, Hornsea Mere is Yorkshire’s largest freshwater lake, and it is less than 1 mile from the sea. The eastern end of the mere has been developed for recreation: there are sailing and rowing boats for hire, and fishing licences are available for coarse fish, including large pike. Visitors can bring their own boats, but if under 12 ft they must be ‘Mirror’ class.
Hornsea Mere is also a bird sanctuary, important as a breeding site for some 600 pairs of reed warblers and as a wintering place for thousands of wildfowl. The best viewing points are on the public footpath along the south side.
South of the town, the Hornsea Pottery has a leisure park and provides a wide range of entertainments for visitors who come primarily to see quality pottery in the making.
There is only a turning place where [he beach road suddenly stops on the steadily eroding cliffs. There is no fixed path down to the sands, merely a track of hard-packed mud. Usage has made this track safe, but avoid climbing down the unstable mud cliffs elsewhere.
The sleepy farming village is set back from the coast, which is just as well since the sea bites off about 16 ft of mud cliff every year. The road to the sea comes to an abrupt end with huge cracks in the tarmac, and drops at a drunken angle over the cliff. The wooden steps down to the beach are rebuilt every year. Above, a few shacks still perch on the clifftop.