Seaside Special - God’s Own Coastline Part 2: East Yorkshire

If you turn south from Scarborough, instead of the craggy, dramatic moors pitching lemming-like into impossibly tiny, inaccessible bays (already celebrated in last week’s post on North Yorkshire), the coastline becomes more varied. This is because, as my junior geology encyclopedia confirms, the ironstone and sandstone bedrock of the lower Jurassic geological epoch (what a great word, especially for a Collins-edition children’s book) gives way to chalks of a later period.

Geology plays a big hand in the framing of the next town down the coast. Filey Bay is capped to the north by a narrow peninsula that extends into the North Sea for a mile or so, known as Filey Brigg. Like any other large geological feature in the land, there are various myths and legends that account for its unusual appearance. Take the Hole of Horcum or Roseberry Topping, both the Devil’s work, it is claimed. My favourite is a tale that the rocks of Filey Brigg were once the spine of a dragon who terrorized the area but was ultimately outsmarted by the townsfolk. They drowned the beast when it dived into the sea to wash parkin from between its teeth. Parkin! Who came up with this guff? For the uninitiated, parkin is sticky, moist, warming cake served in flat slabs. It is the big brother of gingerbread with added oats for serious clout. Lovely stuff, but I can imagine that it would clag a dragon’s teeth with some degree of irritation. 

Filey Brigg at sunset. Parkin anyone?

Filey and then Bridlington, either side of Flamborough Head, have wonderful soft, expansive sands and pleasant, unspoilt townscapes. The beach at Filey is regularly used by racehorses in training and Bridlington has won architectural and design prizes for the beach huts (excuse me…beach chalets) on Princess Mary Promenade, North Marine Drive, South Cliff and Belvedere. 

Bridlington beach: no dogs please

Mrs A and I, sometime around 1993 and before the arrival of children, came to Bridlington to see a thrash metal band. Mrs A was working with a specialist metal record label at the time and one of the bands had asked her to manage them. I thought this was just fantastic. Reflected rock ‘n’ roll credibility was all mine! The band were called Reign. We pitched up at the Bridlington Spa where the band were playing on a stage off the main theatre after the bingo finished and before the ‘70’s disco fired up. A fart between two cheeks. Clearly the town was not ready for a post-thrash doom and grunge workout inspired by the finer moments of Metallica. The sparse crowd, waiting for a bit of Sweet and Abba, were somewhat taken aback by screaming guitars, guttural vocals and pummelling bass drum weaves. I thought they were brilliant.

Earlier that year, we had driven up to the band’s lair just outside Newcastle amidst a freakish snowstorm. We slid and skidded up an icy single track lane to Reign’s small rehearsal barn behind a farmhouse. Over a few beers, we were treated to a run through of their album ‘Embrace’. I’d been to thrash gigs in small venues on plenty of occasions, but nothing quite prepared me for the intensity of that session. Ear splitting and ferocious, the band slammed out dirge-classics with uplifting titles like ‘Forlorn Existence’, ‘Wings Of Sorrow, and ‘A Sombre Tale’ whilst Mrs A and I were pinned against the back wall in a sonic armlock.

That gig in Brid was the last we saw of Reign. The option to manage the band was not taken up by Mrs A and we went our separate ways, leaving behind a little slice of thrash metal madness at the Spa.

The land in between Filey and Bridlington is home to swathes of static caravan parks and holiday villages. The popularity of these caravan parks withstands the ravages of fashion and taste. In contrast to the cliffs to which they cling that crumble in the face of wind and wave.

The area has an enduring relationship with mass tourism. Billy Butlin opened a huge holiday park outside Filey after the war. Construction had begun in 1939 and was completed on the understanding that it would be requisitioned by the RAF as a wartime base. On decommissioning, the shrewd Butlin bought it back at 60% of its original cost. Filey camp was his pride and joy. All Butlin’s new ideas were poured into this site first. It was also his biggest venture, extending to some 400 acres and eventually accommodating nearly 11,000 happy campers. The site even had its own railway branch, forking off the current Scarborough to Hull line at Hunmanby to ferry holidaymakers in and out. I find the scale of the operation mind-boggling.

The branch line and station closed in 1977. Butlin’s closed its doors in 1983 and after a failed relaunch under a new owner, was demolished in 1991. The site was eventually redeveloped as an upmarket Hoseasons holiday village. It competes for business with the myriad caravan and chalet parks that the original site was partially responsible for spawning. We will return to this theme many times on our journey. I hope to be a little more charitable about them than the irascible Paul Theroux. Though it will be a challenge. Brace yourselves.

South of Filey, the landscape changes again. Bempton Cliffs rise gradually out of the bay. The chalk edifices cut and thrust with the broiling sea along fissures, crevices and inlets for six or seven miles around Flamborough Head, before falling away to Bridlington. Genuinely thrilling landscapes. 

Bempton Cliffs

These cliffs are the highest in England, despite what popular myth would have us believe about an off-white range to the west of Dover. Flamborough is not a bad base from which to explore this stretch of coast. We stayed in a B&B in 2003 in the centre of the village. It had a couple of decent boozers, a restaurant and two pretty bays at North and South Landing were only a short stroll away. You have to take your chances with the caravan parks anywhere beyond the village limits, but it is worth the risk. Most of the cliff top is accessible from a well-maintained path. The RSPB centre provides a fantastic haven for seabirds and twitchers alike. This sanctuary facilitated two memorable firsts for me: the up-close sight of a puffin in glorious Summer plumage; and also direct hit from a sizeable dollop of guillemot bab… I view the place with no little affection. 


The RSPB centre has improved significantly since that time and on our last visit my Dad was able to visit the viewing platform via a wheelchair accessible path and saw kittiwakes, gannets and the like for the first time in years.

 On that earlier trip, we had strolled inland from the cliff edge to Bempton village and had a beer and something to eat in the solid, white-rendered White Horse Inn, sat foursquare on the main road junction. Mrs A eyed the seafood platter on the menu and thought she couldn’t go wrong this close to so many quaint fishing harbours. She asked for bread with the platter rather than chips and veg. I suppose the barmaid’s response should have sounded a klaxon-like warning about what was on offer.

“Bread? Just bread? No butter either? No chips or anything to go with it?”

If Mrs A was disappointed that the platter arrived with a couple of slices of white Mother’s Pride on the side, rather than the crusty half-baguette she had imagined, it was nothing compared to the horror in her eyes as she gazed on the fine array of fresh seafood before her. All deep-fried. Every last just-landed prawn, mussel, fish bite and salmon slice.

The whole lot had been tipped in the deep fat pan and came lathered in a cloying, stodgy thick coat of batter. Mrs A was aghast at the sledgehammer treatment meted out to these jewels of the sea. I said she might at least enjoy the side salad, pointing to the solitary lemon wedge balanced on the rim of the dish. None of your poncy southern presentation in those parts. It might not have been fine dining, but no-one went home hungry…

Series navigation: Intro and chapter guide

Next episode: Lincolnshire





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