START: Filey, North Yorkshire
FINISH: Flamborough North Landing, East Yorkshire
DISTANCE: 12.2 miles (Total – 331.8 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 hours
MAPS: OS Explorer 301
ACCOMMODATION: The Almar Guest House, Scarborough
This walked promised to be a cracker. As I woke up on the morning the weather was perfect although it was a little blustery, which may prove problematic on the clifftops later in the walk. I didn’t let that put me off and after scoffing down my full English breakfast courtesy of The Almar Guest House in Scarborough, I was back on the bus to Filey where I had finished the day before.
From the town centre I headed back down to the promenade which was beautiful in the golden autumn sunshine. I followed the promenade for a short while, soon reaching its end where I had a choice to make. I could either continue my walk along the clifftops or walk along the beach as far as Reighton Gap. I knew that high tide was due in about 1pm and as I got to Filey the tide was already right up to the promenade. Down the coast I could see there was still plenty of beach left for me to walk along which the tide hadn’t covered yet. Also I did have options from exiting the beach at Primrose Valley and Hunmanby Gap should the tide be getting a bit too close for comfort, so I decided to head along the beach and see how far I could get.
I climbed down to the beach passing by an interpretation panel which noted Filey’s place in early aviation history. Back in 1910 an application was made to Filey Urban District Council by a Scarborough resident, Mr J.W.F. Tranmer for permission to bring state-of-the-art flying machines to Filey’s sands where he could operate a flying school. His request was granted and soon an aircraft hangar was constructed on the clifftops near to where Primrose Valley Holiday Park is today, along with a concrete slipway down to the beach. The first two planes arrived shortly after from France, which were transported by rail to Filey and were flown on the 25th July 1910. John William House was the pilot of this first plane to fly at the Filey Flying School and such was his devotion to aviation that he spent his honeymoon in Filey where he crashed his plane in front of his new wife who must have wondered what sort of maniac she had married.
In early 1911 the Flying School was taken over by Robert Blackburn (who renamed it the Blackburn Flying School) so that he could test out his new airplanes built in the School’s hangar. Blackburn brought in experienced pilot ‘Benny’ Hucks to fly his new planes who flew the brand-spanking new Blackburn Mercury I plane to Scarborough and back achieving a dizzying height of 365 metres (1200 feet). Hucks was popular with visitors to Filey who would marvel as he became the first English aviator to complete the loop to loop. Hucks would later make a night flight round trip to Bridlington and Scarborough, landing on Filey beach by the lights of lit bonfires.
Hucks left Filey and was replaced by Hubert Oxley. Oxley often liked to plunge the plane towards the ground in a steep dive before pulling up at the last minute. This action cost him his life and the life of his co-pilot on the 6th December 1911 when the wings broke up on the plane as he was attempting this maneuver causing the aircract to plummet into the ground at 150mph. The Flying School didn’t last much longer either, eventually closing in the September of 1912. Blackburn’s plane-building company stayed reasonably local, moving to Brough in East Yorkshire where it eventually became part of BAE systems, the second biggest defence company in the world.
I continued along the beach, being ever conscious of the approaching tide. The first exit from the beach at Primrose Valley came and went, but I decided to keep on going. I still had plenty of sands available to walk on and there were a good number of people walking ahead so I knew I didn’t have to worry about the tide too much, at least not until I got to the next exit at Hunmanby Gap.
I still felt like I had plenty of time to get to Reighton Gap which was the next exit point after Hunmanby Gap, however the number of people on the next stretch of beach was thinning out quite a bit. I still decided to risk it, thinking that I would still have plenty of time to turn around if the tide was closing in too fast. I closed the distance to Reighton Gap pretty quickly however to my horror I realised that the tide had cut off access to the exit here (below) and with steep cliffs to my right I had little chance of getting out this way. I kept going for a very short distance to see if there was anyway through. Luckily I saw a couple of people descending down from the clifftops on a path hidden from my view so I knew there was a way up to the top. I still would have plenty of time to turn back round f I couldn’t have got through, however I knew this was a warning that I should not ignore in future.
I climbed up the steep path, passing the remains of an old World War II gun emplacement. At the top I walked by a couple of bungalows before coming out at the edge of Reighton Sands Holiday Park. There had been a noticeable change in the wind speed as I climbed the steep path. As I walked through the holiday park it was very blustery, which didn’t bode well for further on in the walk when I would be walking along the exposed clifftops.
THE HEADLAND WAY
The next part of the walk wasn’t too clear on the OS map. According to the map there was a public footpath which ran inland from Reighton Sands, through Reighton village and then across to Speeton village where I would join the Headland Way back on to the coast. I didn’t really want to do a massive diversion inland, and according to a couple of people who have walked this stretch of the coast there is a footpath from Reighton Sands along the clifftops to the Headland Way whilst completing bypassing Reighton and Speeton altogether. I decided to take faith in their advice and began to meander my way through the holiday park.
Leaving the caravans behind I crossed a large open space at the top corner of which was a path that took me around the edge of a large field. There was a path cut into the grass so I’m assuming that either the land belonged to the holiday park or the local farmer had allowed a permissive footpath to be put around the edge of his field for the holidaymakers to walk around. At the other side of the field was a cut through to another field. There wasn’t a clear path here as such, however it did look like plenty of people had previously come this way so I didn’t feel too much like I was trespassing as I walked along the edge of two more fields.
A little further ahead I knew my gamble of taking the more direct route had paid off when I saw a “Headland Way” sign pointing along the clifftops. I would be following the Headland Way for the next two days as it lead almost all of the way to Bridlington via Flamborough Head.
This section of the walk was absolutely stunning with the magnificent chalk cliffs of Bempton stretching out ahead of me. These cliffs are the highest in England standing at over 100 metres tall. The chalk cliffs are also the only ones on the eastern coast of England and if you’re continuing in a clockwise direction around the coast they are the last chalk cliffs you will see until the White Cliffs of Dover.
It felt quite exposed on these clifftops, especially with the wind whipping up. Also the coastal path didn’t seem to be well maintained along this stretch. At some point in the past a fence had been put up to stop unwary walkers from falling into the sea, however now the fence was in tatters in many places and completely gone in other spots with just the stone pillars jutting out of the grass. I felt like if I put one foot wrong I would be tumbling into the North Sea far below me. However the views more then compensated for the ever-present danger, especially as I looked back down the coast towards Filey (below).
It wasn’t long before the path was climbing again, taking me ever higher above the sea. At the top the path leveled out a little bit, although there was still a slight gradient. I soon came to another wooden sign rocking in the wind which pointed back towards where I had come from. The sign said “North Yorkshire” so I started to wonder if I had crossed the county line into East Yorkshire. A quick check of my map suggested I had so I did a little jig as I had completed the coast of another county. I had walked all of North Yorkshire’s coastline.
BEMPTON CLIFFS & RSPB BEMPTON
Crossing over into East Yorkshire I was treat to the most fantastic sight – four deer scampering across the fields off to my right. Goodness knows where they had come from as it was open farmland for miles around. Presumably they were just out for a wander like me. Anyway I continued to follow the path as it undulated along the clifftops, passing by an OS trig point which at 135m above sea level would be the highest point on the walk.
Off to my left I could see a good number of seabirds swooping along the cliffs, attempting to get to their nests burrowed in the white chalk before setting out again. The birds would often raise a series of squawks when they saw me approaching and would shoot off across the open sea as if to frighten me off. It didn’t disturb me at all and it was actually quite pleasant to see them trying to float in the thermals above the cliffs.
I continued on for another mile and soon came to a sign welcoming me to RSPB Bempton, which is home to Britain’s largest seabird colony. Around half a million seabirds use the chalk cliffs between March and October including gannets, guillemots and puffins. The reserve stretches for five kilometers along the cliff tops and provides a number of viewing platforms which give an absolutely cracking view of the chalk cliffs and the myriad of seabirds who call the cliffs their home. I could have spent many hours just watching the birds swooping about, as I assume so did the other people who were on the viewing platform.
As much as I wanted to stay I had to continue onwards. There was a visitor centre nearby and I was looking to have a break for lunch and also make a quick visit to the loo. On the way there I passed a number of derelict brick buildings which once over belonged to RAF Bempton. The base was opened in 1940 and was a radar station for all of its operation until its closure in 1972.
I had a lunch break at the visitor centre, sitting outside on the benches provided whilst watching a number of birds flutter around the many bird feeders the RSPB had put up outside. After lunch I returned back to the coastal path and continued eastwards along the clifftops, the views growing more and more stunning with each step.
About a mile from the visitor centre I came to a large linear earthwork (below) which according to the OS map was called ‘Dane’s Dyke’. Stretching for four kilometers from one side of the headland to the other, the earthwork consists of a long deep ditch and a large flat-topped bank. The name ‘Dane’s Dyke’ is actually very misleading as to how old the earthwork actually is. It was thought for a long time that Danish invaders had built the ‘Dyke’ during the time of the Vikings, however more recent studies suggest that the defensive earthwork dates back to the late Bronze Age.
FLAMBOROUGH NORTH LANDING
Leaving Dane’s Dyke behind, the coastal path continued to hug the clifftops. I was beginning to see the end destination of today’s walk at North Landing, but I still had a good distance to go. My legs were getting tired by this point so I was stopping regularly, partly to restore my legs but also just to stop and take in the magnificent views. The chalky clifftops didn’t seem as if they would ever end as they stretched off into the distance towards Flamborough Head.
The path was gradually beginning to descend now as the clifftops decreased in height. Ahead were a number of sheltered coves including the beautiful Thornwick Bay (above). The Bay is said to get its name from Thor, the Norse God of Thunder due to the thunderous roar of the waves breaking upon the rocks. I followed the coastal path around the edge of the Bay, admiring the many caves (there are over 200 of them along this section of the coast) and arches cut into the chalk. I could imagine smugglers using this sheltered bay to get their contraband goods onshore and indeed one of the caves cut into the chalk is known as Smugglers Cave (which is also the largest cave on the east coast of England).
A variety of goods were smuggled to Flamborough including tea, tobacco and brandy, usually by sneaky methods to get them past Customs officials. One way to get the goods on shore was to moor the ship off the headland and signal to the shore that there was a dead person on board. A coffin would then be sent to the ship and returned to land where it would be led on a procession through Flamborough under the noses of the Customs men and then left overnight to be buried the following morning. Unbeknownst to the Customs men the coffin would be full of smuggled goods instead of a body and would be emptied by the smugglers whilst the coffin laid in state overnight. The coffin would then be re-filled with stones and buried the following morning with no-one the wiser!
Coastal erosion had caused some of the coastal path to slip into the sea so I had to divert a little across land at the eastern side of Thornwick Bay. The constant pounding of the waves on the soft chalk means that this coastline is constantly changing. Around the edge of High Holme the path continued before climbing down a steep set of steps and back up the other side to bring me to the end of my walk at Flamborough North Landing.
There is a beautiful little cove at North Landing (above) which has been used as a fishing port since the 13th century. Fishermen still use the traditional coble boat (although it is now motorised) to go to sea in and have been doing so for hundreds of years, although not in as great a number as in previous centuries. According to an interpretation panel overlooking the cove there were ninety coble boats operating out of North Landing in the 1880’s, however by 1959 there were just eight coble boats remaining.
The fishing community at Flamborough was very superstitious and if the fishermen either saw, or some one made reference to a pig, rabbit or hare before they went out into the open sea then they would turn back round and refuse to go any further. Also you weren’t allowed to say the word ‘last’ when hauling in pots, instead the words ‘end line’ or ‘end crab pot’ had to be used or your fellow colleagues would go mental.
It was a very peaceful place to finish off the walk at. There were a couple of people dotting about on the beach below, although I didn’t go down myself as I didn’t have enough time. As I waited at the bus stop for the bus to Bridlington I chatted to another walker who had been doing the same walk as me and commenting on what a lovely stretch of the coast it is. It certainly had been a pleasant walk and I was looking forward to the next day’s ramble where I would finish off the rest of the Headland Way around Flamborough Head and into the seaside resort of Bridlington. For now though it was back to Scarborough via Bridlington and a well deserved rest!
Bempton Cliffs & RSPB Bempton
Flamborough North Landing