Saturday, 5 August 2017


The Yorkshire coast faces the grey North Sea. It isn't the Cornish Riviera. It has fine cliffs northward of Bridlington, beginning with Flamborough Head. But south of that is just the long, long sweep of Bridlington Bay, a coastline smooth and featureless and liable to relentless erosion from the sea. It ends in Spurn Head, which looks impressive on the map, a spit of land at the mouth of the River Humber, a big hook with a remote and romantic-seeming lighthouse and lifeboat station on it. The reality is a distinctly unimpressive place, low-lying, barely out of the water, and not worth the trouble of a visit, unless you like nature reserves. Trust me on this. I went there on the last day of June. It was the main goal of the day. I'd wanted to see Spurn Head ever since childhood. It was a let-down. It was almost lost in the sea mist. What I could see was uninteresting. I didn't get out of the car: they wanted far too much for the privilege of parking.

But I had a Plan B. I'd drive on, and take a look at Withernsea, a coastal resort just a few miles to the north. Surely this little town would be bright and breezy, perhaps even an oasis of sophistication, the place that jaded city-dwellers in Hull (the big city up the river) came to unwind in style. Hull's Brighton, no less.

Well, I'm afraid this post is going to be negative in tone, and it may be that if I ever revisit Withernsea it will have to be in disguise, and under a false name. There's no avoiding a thumbs-down conclusion. I have my photographic evidence. The camera does not lie.

I approached from the south, trying hard to blot out the dispiriting memory of Spurn Head. The sea mist had been left behind. The sun was trying to peep through. I parked on the sea front. There was a concrete sea wall. Not very attractive, but the sea had to be kept back, so a wall of some kind was expected. On its seaward side would surely be golden sands. I peeped over.

Um. I don't know what to say. It was stupefyingly ordinary. If I said bleak and ugly, that would induce hate mail from any townspeople who might stumble across my blog. But those stone blocks were surely not only to stop the sea eating into the land: they were there to stop visitors getting onto the beach and extracting at least a minimum of fun. I saw a couple in holiday clothes, with a young child. They hoisted their child up onto the sea wall, so that she could view the beach.

You could sense the sensation of numb disappointment she must have felt.

Further along was a telescope that you put coins into, to see the view.

I suppose you might spot a ship taking coals to Newcastle, or a distant oil rig. Precious little else. I'm really not sure what these telescope are there for. This one had been pushed off vertical, so whatever you did see would be at a slant.

Nearby were two plaques, set into the sea wall, telling visitors that centuries ago there were two churches out there, long overcome by the sea and washed away. A brave gesture at heritage-promotion, I thought.

What other historical gems awaited? One you could not miss was this former pier entrance, a castellated confection that was in fact the best thing on the sea front:

Look! The town's coat of arms! Wow. I'm guessing the pier got damaged some time ago, and was washed away. The steps between the towers let you climb down onto the beach, but clearly nobody had discovered that this was a possibility, as the beach was utterly empty. Even though it was 30th June, and in mid-summer.


I walked on, and lo, a green area came into view. It seemed nice enough, and free of litter, but it was almost deserted, apart from local youths and their girlfriends. I wonder what they find to do in Withernsea.

Well, there was still opportunity for the town to impress me with the culture and sophistication I had high hopes of. A sure method of assessing this is to look at the shops, and what they are selling.

Is it just me, or does anybody else think that you need to be a moron to want a winking yellow face with its tongue poking out, hands where its ears should be, and feet growing out of its chin? I know: I'm a middle-class grammar-school kid who votes Conservative and just doesn't get the joke. Pardon me. Still, I was getting a reasonable notion of where Withernsea wanted to position itself on the cultural spectrum. It wasn't all horrible tat. Some places I passed were intriguing, such as this Surf Shack, complete with lifelike mannequins in surfing costume:

A lot of eateries offered fish and chips. This one caught my attention, mainly for the advertising props, such as this curious fish in chef's attire - the phrase 'Turkeys voting for Christmas' came to mind:

And this strange creature with blue eyes, who was meant to be a lifelike doughnut perhaps:

Well, I thought doughnuts had brown eyes. They got it wrong!

Further into the town centre now, and the sense of liveliness, of Something About To Happen got intense. It was hard to single out a typical action scene. I settled on this. Braving the surging crowds, a man got some cash:

But now I'd spotted the lighthouse. This was obviously the very best tourist sight Withersea could offer. A must-see. Eagerly I sought it out. It was well away from the sea front, a bit like the lighthouse at Southwold in Suffolk. And, like Southwold in Suffolk, it wasn't clear why it was built amid ordinary houses, away from the sea. But it must, of course, have been done like that for a Jolly Good Reason. In Southwold, the excellent reason was perfectly clear: the lighthouse was super-close to an attractive pub, practically in the beer garden, as this 1995 shot of mine makes clear. How handy for bone-dry lighthousemen needing a quick pint:

Not so for the Withernsea lighthouse.

The Withernsea lighthousemen had this handsome Methodist church handy instead - surely the best bit of architecture in the town:

Obviously, being able to attend the services at this church was far better for them, especially as it was where Slimming World met each Tuesday and Wednesday (if you examine the noticeboard close up):

The various notices emphasise that, even if Withernsea is light in the Culture Department, it is heavy in Religious and Charitable Endeavour. On my way back to where I'd parked Fiona, I passed this pub:

As well as the eye-catching exterior mouldings, there is that plaque bearing horns and the initials RAOB, which - as any schoolgirl knows - stands for the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. This is where the local herd gathers. You don't see this in Sussex. Or perhaps you do, if you know where to look. All I notice are references to Lions and Round Tables.

Driving away, it crossed my mind to motor northwards to Hornsea, which on the map looked like a similar kind of place. I thought about it quite seriously. I asked myself: would I be coming this way again, to the East Riding of Yorkshire, to sunny Holderness? The answer seemed to be no, not in the next few years anyway. That being so, was it right to pass up the chance of seeing another Withernsea?

Within the hour, I was back in Lincolnshire.

Researching Hornsea later on, I think I would have found more there to write home about. Oh well.


  1. Dear me. Never again will I say an unkind word about Bognor.

  2. I'm sure Hornsea would have been a transformatory experience, Angie.


  3. In my youth I cycled down the east coast from Scotland expecting a holiday atmosphere the whole way and like you found nothing! My camera ceased working soon after I set off but it made little difference to the number of photographs I might have made along the way. Clearly no real change in the last forty years.


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