Filey to Spurn Head
'As the shore winds itself back from hence,' says Camden, after describing Flamborough Head, 'a thin slip of land (like a small tongue thrust out) shoots into the sea.' This is the long natural breakwater known as Filey Brig, the distinctive feature of a pleasant watering-place. In its wide, open, and gently curving bay, Filey is singularly lucky; for it avoids the monotony of a featureless shore, and yet is not sufficiently embraced between headlands to lose the broad horizon and sense of airiness and space so essential for a healthy seaside haunt.
The Brig has plainly been formed by the erosion of Carr Naze, the headland of dark, reddish-brown boulder clay, leaving its hard bed of sandstone (of the Middle Calcareous Grit formation) exposed to the particular and ceaseless attention of the waves. It is one of the joys of Filey to go along the northward curve of the bay at low tide, and then walk along the uneven tabular masses of rock with hungry waves heaving and foaming within a few yards on either hand. No wonder that there has been sufficient sense among those who spend their lives in promoting schemes for ugly piers and senseless promenades, to realize that Nature has supplied Filey with a more permanent and infinitely more attractive pier than their fatuous ingenuity could produce. There is a spice of danger associated with the Brig, adding much to its interest; for no one should venture along the spit of rocks unless the tide is in a proper state to allow him a safe return. A melancholy warning of the dangers of the Brig is fixed to the rocky wall of the headland, describing how an unfortunate visitor was swept into the sea by the sudden arrival of an abnormally large wave, but this need not frighten away from the fascinating ridge of rock those who use ordinary care in watching the sea. At high tide the waves come over the seaweedy rocks at the foot of the headland, making it necessary to climb to the grassy top in order to get back to Filey.
The real fascination of the Brig comes when it can only be viewed from the top of the Naze above, when a gale is blowing from the north or north-east, and driving enormous waves upon the line of projecting rocks. You watch far out until the dark green line of a higher wave than any of the others that are creating a continuous thunder down below comes steadily onward, and reaching the foam-streaked area, becomes still more sinister. As it approaches within striking distance, a spent wave, sweeping backwards, seems as though it may weaken the onrush of the towering wall of water; but its power is swallowed up and dissipated in the general advance, and with only a smooth hollow of creamy-white water in front, the giant raises itself to its fullest height, its thin crest being at once caught by the wind, and blown off in long white beards.
The moment has come; the mass of water feels the resistance of the rocks, and, curling over into a long green cylinder, brings its head down with terrific force on the immovable side of the Brig. Columns of water shoot up perpendicularly into the air as though a dozen 12-inch shells had exploded in the water simultaneously. With a roar the imprisoned air escapes, and for a moment the whole Brig is invisible in a vast cloud of spray; then dark ledges of rock can be seen running with creamy water, and the scene of the impact is a cauldron of seething foam, backed by a smooth surface of pale green marble, veined with white. Then the waters gather themselves together again, and the pounding of lesser waves keeps up a thrilling spectacle until the moment for another great coup arrives.
Years ago Filey obtained a reputation for being 'quiet,' and the sense conveyed by those who disliked the place was that of dullness and primness. This fortunate chance has protected the little town from the vulgarizing influences of the unlettered hordes let loose upon the coast in summer-time, and we find a sea-front without the flimsy meretricious buildings of the popular resorts. Instead of imitating Blackpool and Margate, this sensible place has retained a quiet and semi-rural front to the sea, and, as already stated, has not marred its appearance with a jetty.
From the smooth sweep of golden sand rises a steep slope grown over with trees and bushes which shade the paths in many places. Without claiming any architectural charm, the town is small and quietly unobtrusive, and has not the untidy, half-built character of so many watering-places.
Above a steep and narrow hollow, running straight down to the sea, and densely wooded on both sides, stands the church. It has a very sturdy tower rising from its centre, and, with its simple battlemented outline and slit windows, has a semi-fortified appearance. The high pitched-roofs of Early English times have been flattened without cutting away the projecting drip-stones on the tower, which remain a conspicuous feature. The interior is quite impressive. Round columns alternated with octagonal ones support pointed arches, and a clerestory above pierced with roundheaded slits, indicating very decisively that the nave was built in the Transitional Norman period. It appears that a western tower was projected, but never carried out, and an unusual feature is the descent by two steps into the chancel.
A beautiful view from the churchyard includes the whole sweep of the bay, cut off sharply by the Brig on the left hand, and ending about eight miles away in the lofty range of white cliffs extending from Speeton to Flamborough Head.
The headland itself is lower by more than a 100 feet than the cliffs in the neighbourhood of Bempton and Speeton, which for a distance of over two miles exceed 300 feet. A road from Bempton village stops short a few fields from the margin of the cliffs, and a path keeps close to the precipitous wall of gleaming white chalk.
We come over the dry, sweet-smelling grass to the cliff edge on a fresh morning, with a deep blue sky overhead and a sea below of ultramarine broken up with an infinitude of surfaces reflecting scraps of the cliffs and the few white clouds. Falling on our knees, we look straight downwards into a cove full of blue shade; but so bright is the surrounding light that every detail is microscopically clear. The crumpling and distortion of the successive layers of chalk can be seen with such ease that we might be looking at a geological textbook. On the ledges, too, can be seen rows of little whitebreasted puffins; razor-bills are perched here and there, as well as countless guillemots. The ringed or bridled guillemot also breeds on the cliffs, and a number of other types of northern sea-birds are periodically noticed along these inaccessible Bempton Cliffs. The guillemot makes no nest, merely laying a single egg on a ledge. If it is taken away by those who plunder the cliffs at the risk of their lives, the bird lays another egg, and if that disappears, perhaps even a third.
Coming to Flamborough Head along the road from the station, the first noticeable feature is at the point where the road makes a sharp turn into a deep wooded hollow. It is here that we cross the line of the remarkable entrenchment known as the Danes' Dyke. At this point it appears to follow the bed of a stream, but northwards, right across the promontory—that is, for two-thirds of its length—the huge trench is purely artificial. No doubt the vallum on the seaward side has been worn down very considerably, and the fosse would have been deeper, making in its youth, a barrier which must have given the dwellers on the headland a very complete security.
Like most popular names, the association of the Danes with the digging of this enormous trench has been proved to be inaccurate, and it would have been less misleading and far more popular if the work had been attributed to the devil. In the autumn of 1879 General Pitt Rivers dug several trenches in the rampart just north of the point where the road from Bempton passes through the Dyke. The position was chosen in order that the excavations might be close to the small stream which runs inside the Dyke at this point, the likelihood of utensils or weapons being dropped close to the water-supply of the defenders being considered important. The results of the excavations proved conclusively that the people who dug the ditch and threw up the rampart were users of flint. The most remarkable discovery was that the ground on the inner slope of the rampart, at a short distance below the surface, contained innumerable artificial flint flakes, all lying in a horizontal position, but none were found on the outer slope. From this fact General Pitt Rivers concluded that within the stockade running along the top of the vallum the defenders were in the habit of chipping their weapons, the flakes falling on the inside. The great entrenchment of Flamborough is consequently the work of flint-using people, and 'is not later than the Bronze Period.'
And the strangest fact concerning the promontory is the isolation of its inhabitants from the rest of the county, a traditional hatred for strangers having kept the fisherfolk of the peninsula aloof from outside influences. They have married among themselves for so long, that it is quite possible that their ancestral characteristics have been reproduced, with only a very slight intermixture of other stocks, for an exceptionally long period. On taking minute particulars of ninety Flamborough men and women, General Pitt Rivers discovered that they were above the average stature of the neighbourhood, and were, with only one or two exceptions, dark-haired. They showed little or no trace of the fair-haired element usually found in the people of this part of Yorkshire. It is also stated that almost within living memory, when the headland was still further isolated by a belt of uncultivated wolds, the village could not be approached by a stranger without some danger.
We find no one to object to our intrusion, and go on towards the village. It is a straggling collection of low, red houses, lacking, unfortunately, anything which can honestly be termed picturesque; for the church stands alone, a little to the south, and the small ruin of what is called 'The Danish Tower' is too insignificant to add to the attractiveness of the place.
All the males of Flamborough are fishermen, or dependent on fishing for their livelihood; and in spite of the summer visitors, there is a total indifference to their incursions in the way of catering for their entertainment, the aim of the trippers being the lighthouse and the cliffs nearly two miles away.
Formerly, the church had only a belfry of timber, the existing stone tower being only ten years old. Under the Norman chancel arch there is a delicately-carved Perpendicular screen, having thirteen canopied niches richly carved above and below, and still showing in places the red, blue, and gold of its old paint-work. Another screen south of the chancel is patched and roughly finished. The altar-tomb of Sir Marmaduke Constable, of Flamborough, on the north side of the chancel, is remarkable for its long inscription, detailing the chief events in the life of this great man, who was considered one of the most eminent and potent persons in the county in the reign of Henry VIII. The greatness of the man is borne out first in a recital of his doughty deeds: of his passing over to France 'with Kyng Edwarde the fourith, y[t] noble knyght.'
'And also with noble king Herre, the sevinth of that name
He was also at Barwick at the winnyng of the same 
And by ky[n]g Edward chosy[n] Captey[n] there first of anyone
And rewllid and governid ther his tyme without blame
But for all that, as ye se, he lieth under this stone.'
The inscription goes on in this way to tell how he fought at Flodden Field when he was seventy, 'nothyng hedyng his age.'
Sir Marmaduke's daughter Catherine was married to Sir Roger Cholmley, called 'the Great Black Knight of the North,' who was the first of his family to settle in Yorkshire, and also fought at Flodden, receiving his knighthood after that signal victory over the Scots.
Yorkshire being a county in which superstitions are uncommonly long-lived it is not surprising to find that a fisherman will turn back from going to his boat, if he happen on his way to meet a parson, a woman, or a hare, as any one of these brings bad luck. It is also extremely unwise to mention to a man who is baiting lines a hare, a rabbit, a fox, a pig, or an egg. This sounds foolish, but a fisherman will abandon his work till the next day if these animals are mentioned in his presence.
On the north and south sides of the headland there are precarious beaches for the fisherman to bring in their boats. They have no protection at all from the weather, no attempt at forming even such miniature harbours as may be seen on the Berwickshire coast having been made. When the wind blows hard from the north, the landing on that side is useless, and the boats, having no shelter, are hauled up the steep slope with the help of a steam windlass. Under these circumstances the South Landing is used. It is similar in most respects to the northern one, but, owing to the cliffs being lower, the cove is less picturesque. At low tide a beach of very rough shingle is exposed between the ragged chalk cliffs, curiously eaten away by the sea. Seaweed paints much of the shore and the base of the cliffs a blackish green, and above the perpendicular whiteness the ruddy brown clay slopes back to the grass above.
When the boats have just come in and added their gaudy vermilions, blues, and emerald greens to the picture, the North Landing is worth seeing. The men in their blue jerseys and sea-boots coming almost to their hips, land their hauls of silvery cod and load the baskets pannier-wise on the backs of sturdy donkeys, whose work is to trudge up the steep slope to the road, nearly 200 feet above the boats, where carts take the fish to the station four miles away.
In following the margin of the cliffs to the outermost point of the peninsula, we get a series of splendid stretches of cliff scenery. The chalk is deeply indented in many places, and is honey-combed with caves. Great white pillars and stacks of chalk stand in picturesque groups in some of the small bays, and everywhere there is the interest of watching the heaving water far below, with white gulls floating unconcernedly on the surface, or flapping their great stretch of wing as they circle just above the waves.
Near the modern lighthouse stands a tall, hexagonal tower, built of chalk in four stories, with a string course between each. The signs of age it bears and the remarkable obscurity surrounding its origin and purpose would suggest great antiquity, and yet there seems little doubt that the tower is at the very earliest Elizabethan. The chalk, being extremely soft, has weathered away to such an extent that the harder stone of the windows and doors now projects several inches.
In a record dated June 21, 1588, the month before the Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel, a list is given of the beacons in the East Riding, and instructions as to when they should be lighted, and what action should be taken when the warning was seen. It says briefly:
'Flambrough, three beacons uppon the sea cost,
takinge lighte from Bridlington,
and geving lighte to Rudstone.'
There is no reference to any tower, and the beacons everywhere seem merely to have been bonfires ready for lighting, watched every day by two, and every night by three 'honest householders ... above the age of thirty years.' The old tower would appear, therefore, to have been put up as a lighthouse. If this is a correct supposition, however, the dangers of the headland to shipping must have been recognized as exceedingly great several centuries ago. A light could not have failed to have been a boon to mariners, and its maintenance would have been a matter of importance to all who owned ships; and yet, if this old tower ever held a lantern, the hiatus between the last night when it glowed on the headland, and the erection of the present lighthouse is so great that no one seems to be able to state definitely for what purpose the early structure came into existence.
Year after year when night fell the cliffs were shrouded in blackness, with the direful result that between 1770 and 1806 one hundred and seventy-four ships were wrecked or lost on or near the promontory. It remained for a benevolent-minded customs officer of Bridlington—a Mr. Milne—to suggest the building of a lighthouse to the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, with the result that since December 6, 1806, a powerful light has every night flashed on Flamborough Head. The immediate result was that in the first seven years of its beneficent work no vessel was 'lost on that station when the lights could be seen.'
The derivation of the name Flamborough has been conclusively shown to have nothing at all to do with the English word 'flame,' being possibly a corruption of Fleinn, a Norse surname, and borg or burgh, meaning a castle. In Domesday it is spelt 'Flaneburg,' and flane is the Norse for an arrow or sword.
At the point where the chalk cliffs disappear and the low coast of Holderness begins, we come to the exceedingly popular watering-place of Bridlington. At one time the town was quite separate from the quay, and even now there are two towns—the solemn and serious, almost Quakerish, place inland, and the eminently pleasure-loving and frivolous holiday resort on the sea; but they are now joined up by modern houses and the railway-station, and in time they will be as united as the 'Three Towns' of Plymouth. Along the sea-front are spread out by the wide parades, all those 'attractions' which exercise their potential energies on certain types of mankind as each summer comes round. There are seats, concert-rooms, hotels, lodging-houses, bands, kiosks, refreshment-bars, boats, bathing-machines, a switchback-railway, and even a spa, by which means the migratory folk are housed, fed, amused, and given every excuse for loitering within a few yards of the long curving line of waves that advances and retreats over the much-trodden sand.
The two stone piers enclosing the harbour make an interesting feature in the centre of the sea-front, where the few houses of old Bridlington Quay that have survived, are not entirely unpicturesque.
In 1642 Queen Henrietta Maria landed on whatever quay then existed. She had just returned from Holland with ships laden with arms and ammunition for the Royalist army. Adverse winds had brought the Dutch ships to Bridlington instead of Newcastle, where the Queen had intended to land, and a delay was caused while messengers were sent to the Earl of Newcastle in order that her landing might be effected in proper security. News of the Dutch ships lying off Bridlington was, however, conveyed to four Parliamentary vessels stationed by the bar at Tynemouth, and no time was lost in sailing southwards. What happened is told in a letter published in the same year, and dated February 25, 1642. It describes how, after two days' riding at anchor, the cavalry arrived, upon which the Queen disembarked, and the next morning the rest of the loyal army came to wait on her.
'God that was carefull to preserve Her by Sea, did likewise continue his favour to Her on the Land: For that night foure of the Parliament Ships arrived at Burlington, without being perceived by us; and at foure a clocke in the morning gave us an Alarme, which caused us to send speedily to the Port to secure our Boats of Ammunition, which were but newly landed. But about an houre after the foure Ships began to ply us so fast with their Ordinance, that it made us all to rise out of our beds with diligence, and leave the Village, at least the women; for the Souldiers staid very resolutely to defend the Ammunition, in case their forces should land. One of the Ships did Her the favour to flanck upon the house where the Queene lay, which was just before the Peere; and before She was out of Her bed, the Cannon bullets whistled so loud about her, (which Musicke you may easily believe was not very pleasing to Her) that all the company pressed Her earnestly to goe out of the house, their Cannon having totally beaten downe all the neighbouring houses, and two Cannon bullets falling from the top to the bottome of the house where She was; so that (clothed as She could) She went on foot some little distance out of the Towne, under the shelter of a Ditch (like that of Newmarket;) whither before She could get, the Cannon bullets fell thicke about us, and a Sergeant was killed within twenty paces of Her.'
In old Bridlington there stands the fine church of the Augustinian Priory we have already seen from a distance, and an ancient structure known as the Bayle Gate, a remnant of the defences of the monastery. They stand at no great distance apart, but do not arrange themselves to form a picture, which is unfortunate, and so also is the lack of any real charm in the domestic architecture of the adjoining streets. The Bayle Gate has a large pointed arch and a postern, and the date of its erection appears to be the end of the fourteenth century, when permission was given to the prior to fortify the monastery. Unhappily for Bridlington, an order to destroy the buildings was given soon after the Dissolution, and the nave of the church seems to have been spared only because it was used as the parish church. Quite probably, too, the gatehouse was saved from destruction on account of the room it contains having been utilized for holding courts. The upper portions of the church towers are modern restorations, and their different heights and styles give the building a remarkable, but not a beautiful outline. At the west end, between the towers is a large Perpendicular window, occupying the whole width of the nave, and on the north side the vaulted porch is a very beautiful feature.
The interior reveals an inspiring perspective of clustered columns built in the Early English Period with a fine Decorated triforium on the north side. Both transepts and the chancel appear to have been destroyed with the conventual buildings, and the present chancel is merely a portion of the nave separated with screens.
Southwards in one huge curve of nearly forty miles stretches the low coast of Holderness, seemingly continued into infinitude. There is nothing comparable to it on the coasts of the British Isles for its featureless monotony and for the unbroken front it presents to the sea. The low brown cliffs of hard clay seem to have no more resisting power to the capacious appetite of the waves than if they were of gingerbread. The progress of the sea has been continued for centuries, and stories of lost villages and of overwhelmed churches are met with all the way to Spurn Head. Four or five miles south of Bridlington we come to a point on the shore where, looking out among the lines of breaking waves, we are including the sides of the two demolished villages of Auburn and Hartburn.
From a casual glance at Skipsea no one would attribute any importance to it in the past. It was, nevertheless, the chief place in the lordship of Holderness in Norman times, and from that we may also infer that it was the most well-defended stronghold. On a level plain having practically no defensible sites, great earthworks would be necessary, and these we find at Skipsea Brough. There is a high mound surrounded by a ditch, and a segment of the great outer circle of defences exists on the south-west side. No masonry of any description can be seen on the grass-covered embankment, but on the artificial hillock, once crowned, it is surmised, by a Norman keep, there is one small piece of stonework. These earthworks have been considered Saxon, but later opinion labels them post-Conquest. In the time of the Domesday Survey the Seigniory of Holderness was held by Drogo de Bevere, a Flemish adventurer who joined in the Norman invasion of England and received his extensive fief from the Conqueror. He also was given the King's niece in marriage as a mark of special favour; but having for some reason seen fit to poison her, he fled from England, it is said, during the last few months of William's reign. The Barony of Holderness was forfeited, but Drogo was never captured.
[A worked flint was found in the moat not long ago by Dr. J. L. Kirk, of Pickering.]
Poulson, the historian of Holderness, states that Henry III. gave orders for the destruction of Skipsea Castle about 1220, the Earl of Albemarle, its owner at that time, having been in rebellion. When Edward II. ascended the throne, he recalled his profligate companion Piers Gaveston, and besides creating him Baron of Wallingford and Earl of Cornwall, he presented this ill-chosen favourite with the great Seigniory of Holderness.
Going southwards from Skipsea, we pass through Atwick, with a cross on a large base in the centre of the village, and two miles further on come to Hornsea, an old-fashioned little town standing between the sea and the Mere. This beautiful sheet of fresh water comes as a surprise to the stranger, for no one but a geologist expects to discover a lake in a perfectly level country where only tidal creeks are usually to be found. Hornsea Mere may eventually be reached by the sea, and yet that day is likely to be put further off year by year on account of the growth of a new town on the shore.
The scenery of the Mere is quietly beautiful. Where the road to Beverley skirts its margin there are glimpses of the shimmering surface seen through gaps in the trees that grow almost in the water, many of them having lost their balance and subsided into the lake, being supported in a horizontal position by their branches. The islands and the swampy margins form secure breeding-places for the countless water-fowl, and the lake abounds with pike, perch, eel, and roach.
It was the excellent supply of fish yielded by Hornsea Mere that led to a hot discussion between the neighbouring Abbey of Meaux and St. Mary's Abbey at York. In the year 1260 William, eleventh Abbot of Meaux, laid claim to fishing rights in the southern half of the lake, only to find his brother Abbot of York determined to resist the claim. The cloisters of the two abbeys must have buzzed with excitement over the impasse and relations became so strained that the only method of determining the issue was by each side agreeing to submit to the result of a judicial combat between champions selected by the two monasteries. Where the fight took place I do not know, and the number of champions is not mentioned in the record. It is stated that a horse was first swum across the lake, and stakes fixed to mark the limits of the claim. On the day appointed the combatants chosen by each abbot appeared properly accoutred, and they fought from morning until evening, when, at last, the men representing Meaux were beaten to the ground, and the York abbot retained the whole fishing rights of the Mere.
Hornsea has a pretty church with a picturesque tower built in between the western ends of the aisles. An eighteenth-century parish clerk utilized the crypt for storing smuggled goods, and was busily at work there on a stormy night in 1732, when a terrific blast of wind tore the roof off the church. The shock, we are told, brought on a paralytic seizure of which he died.
By the churchyard gate stands the old market-cross, recently set up in this new position and supplied with a modern head.
As we go towards Spurn Head we are more and more impressed with the desolate character of the shore. The tide may be out, and only puny waves tumbling on the wet sand, and yet it is impossible to refrain from feeling that the very peacefulness of the scene is sinister, and the waters are merely digesting their last meal of boulder-clay before satisfying a fresh appetite.
The busy town of Hornsea Beck, the port of Hornsea, with its harbour and pier, its houses, and all pertaining to it, has entirely disappeared since the time of James I, and so also has the place called Hornsea Burton, where in 1334 Meaux Abbey held twenty-seven acres of arable land. At the end of that century not one of those acres remained. The fate of Owthorne, a village once existing not far from Withernsea, is pathetic. The churchyard was steadily destroyed, until 1816, when in a great storm the waves undermined the foundations of the eastern end of the church, so that the walls collapsed with a roar and a cloud of dust.
Twenty-two years later there was scarcely a fragment of even the churchyard left, and in 1844, the Vicarage and the remaining houses were absorbed, and Owthorne was wiped off the map.
The peninsula formed by the Humber is becoming more and more attenuated, and the pretty village of Easington is being brought nearer to the sea, winter by winter. Close to the church, Easington has been fortunate in preserving its fourteenth-century tithe-barn covered with a thatched roof. The interior has that wonderfully imposing effect given by huge posts and beams suggesting a wooden cathedral.
At Kilnsea the weak bank of earth forming the only resistance to the waves has been repeatedly swept away and hundreds of acres flooded with salt water, and where there are any cliffs at all, they are often not more than fifteen feet high.
More to follow ....