After all my recent global gallivanting, it’s nice to be back in the UK.
I’ve started my new job in London and feel like I’m settling in well. Though, as anyone who’s been bitten by the travel bug will agree, when you’re stuck sitting in an office all day thoughts of long, lazy days on beautiful beaches are never far from mind (especially when emails about flight sales and last minute bargain breaks keep coming through). My next trip isn’t too far away however…
Though not quite the Caribbean coast in Mexico or the tropical climes of Colombia, this weekend some friends and I are off glamping in the Lake District. I’ve never been to the Lake District before, and I’ve never been glamping – so as you can probably imagine, I’m quite excited. We’ll be staying here, at Rainors Farm in the Wasdale Valley. Isn’t it beautiful?
I do love exploring the UK, maybe even as much as I love exploring places overseas. Before I left my life in Yorkshire and moved back down to Reading, one Sunday back in March I took myself off to Spurn Point for the day. I needed some space away from everything (and everyone, given everything that was happening with my then partner), and Spurn was somewhere I’d wanted to go since moving up north at the end of August the previous year.
So with no other plans on the breezy-but-bright Sunday, it seemed like the perfect time to go. I pulled on my waterproof jacket and jumped in the car, driving 40 minutes south, unsure of what it would be like given the particularly damp start to the year we’d had up in East Yorkshire.
Spurn Point is one of the most striking features of Britain’s coastline, stretching for 3.5 miles across the Humber Estuary. The curving spit is only 50m wide at some points, so it kind of looks like an elongated tongue from above:
It has been formed over the last 10,000 years. Sand – which has often been eroded following storms from further north in Holderness – has been gradually pushed further south by wave and tide action (or ‘longshore drift’, to get technical), resulting in the 3.5 mile long system of dunes seen today.
The sand and shingle banks are held together by Marram grass and Seabuckthorn; therefore Spurn’s environment is very fragile and open to the ravages of the North Sea. But because the Point is an important wildlife haven for migrant birds, lizards, roe deer and numerous species of insects, it’s been labelled the Spurn National Nature Reserve, and has been protected by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since 1959.
The Trust tries to work with nature, rather than against it, so allows the natural processes to take place.
As a result, there is no longer any motor access to the Point beyond a certain area. Access is solely on foot, bike, or aboard the specially equipped vehicle on which the Trust runs “Spurn Safaris”. They weren’t running on the Sunday I popped down to Spurn Point, but after reading up on them, they sound like a great initiative to give locals and tourists more information about the area on a whistle stop tour.
With it being low tide when I arrived at Spurn, I walked for about six hours that day, across all kinds of terrain. Had I visited the reserve before the winter of 2013 however, it would have been a very different story…
The history of Spurn Point.
Spurn Point’s ever-changing environment has kept Britain’s cartographers busy for centuries, as they constantly have to amend the Yorkshire coastline.
The first major settlers made a home on the Point in the 14th Century, at the medieval port of ‘Ravenspur’, which – like many Holderness villages of latter generations – was eventually a victim of a ravenous sea. The first ‘modern’ residents were the lifeboatmen of the early 1800s, who, along with their families also made a home alongside their vessels. Nowadays though no one lives on the Point, as it’s much too dangerous with the sudden tidal surges that the Humber Estuary is prone to (remember that one that nearly resulted in a cancelled trip across to Lincolnshire, to the Hope and Anchor in South Ferriby?).
One dark night back in December 2013, a storm hurtled eastwards between Orkney and the Scottish mainland. As it charged into the North Sea and veered towards Holland, a tidal surge barrelled down the east coast of Britain. Five hundred miles to the south, it smashed into the fragile Spurn Point peninsula. The sea was already swollen by over 6ft because of a high spring tide, so when the surge finally hit Spurn, it simply snapped the thin neck of land in two. The road running down to the tip of the point, which had weathered many a storm since its construction at the outbreak of the World War I, was ripped out in under an hour.
When daylight broke the next morning, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust made a terrifying discovery: the angry North Sea had actually remodelled the coastline, moving part of the peninsula 80 yards to the west, thus the storm had created Yorkshire’s “newest island”.
When the tide is high, the thin stretch is completely covered, making the peninsula inaccessible. As the tide was low when I visited, I was able to walk the full stretch of the spit, without any difficulty, though some parts of the trail were very rocky.
Fossil hunting is popular in the area, with an abundance of fossils to be found among the pebbles on the beach. Though I didn’t find any prehistoric remains, as I continued along the beach on the right-hand side of the spit, walking towards the lighthouse, I came across some pretty pink and white balloons, whose ribbon had caught on the shrubby Marram grass.
I must confess, with everything that had been happening with my (now ex) boyfriend over the few weeks prior to me heading to Spurn Point, my head was all over the place. So when I saw the balloons looking so alone without any party to attend, I felt a sudden surge of sadness. I was mesmerised by them blowing in the breeze, so I stopped to take a few photos, before setting them free to continue their unknown journey:
Continuing on towards the lighthouse, I then found a set of animal footprints in the sand. They looked like they belonged to a small dog, but dogs aren’t allowed passed a certain point because of the nature reserve, so could these be the tracks of “Basil” the fox that has befriended the RNLI crew at Spurn Point?
Spurn Lighthouse is located (as one might expect) at the end of the Spurn peninsula. As I edged closer and closer to it, it loomed over me like a big, stack of black and white Licorice Allsorts, reminding me instantly of the pillars inside the Siena Duomo.
Until that sunny Sunday the closest I’d gotten to going up inside a lighthouse was at Playa Sucia in Puerto Rico last year. We didn’t quite manage it, due to bad weather conditions, so of course I had to go up the lighthouse at Spurn Point. Who would have thought that after travelling to 30 countries around the world, my first lighthouse ascent would be on home turf here in the UK?
Anyway, up I went, after paying £4 (adult rate, children £2) to the resident artist who manned the building, and kindly lent me a set of binoculars…
At 128ft tall, it’s not the UK’s biggest building by any stretch, but boy, climbing those stairs was a mission. The lighthouse is over a century old, so some of the stone floors and stairs are very worn and uneven in places, and the staircase leading to the lantern room is possibly the steepest I’ve ever climbed.
I’d recommend wearing sensible footwear if you want to ascend the lighthouse tower this summer – sandals and flip-flops are probably not suitable.
As you can see, the views were absolutely breath-taking, and I could see for miles, even without the binoculars I’d been lent. But I didn’t stop up there too long – without any of the windows open up in the lantern room, it was like a greenhouse, and I could feel myself warming up. So down I went, climbing down the stairs backwards, as advised.
Once back down on terra ferma, I continued to walk up passed the RNLI building, along the marked woodland trail, and out onto the beach at the end of Spurn Point.
As I climbed over the dune and down onto the shore, I found myself staring out to the most amazing view I think I’ve ever seen in the UK:
After everything that had been happening with my (now ex) boyfriend, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed. Dropping down onto the edge of the dunes, I just sat and stared out to sea. I was the only person on the beach, and with no phone signal and social media to distract me, I felt so alone, with just my own thoughts for company. I can’t even remember how long I sat there, letting the sun shine down on me, it’s rays visible against the cloudy backdrop.
After a while though I realised that it was beginning to get chilly and a bit darker. Conscious of the tide coming in quickly, I began to make my way back to the Bluebell Cafe, where I had parked my car.
I turned back just once – and that was when I’d realised just how far I’d come.