From Gibraltor Point to Spurn Head, exploring Lincolnshire
Mark Rowe hikes across Lincolnshire, discovering beaches and seaside towns: revisiting Grimsby via the city of culture, Hull, before ending up at the magnificent Spurn Point, Holderness.
Lincolnshire's coast often gets overlooked, something I've always found puzzling as it offers big skies, views to the horizon, long and empty beaches (Anderby Creek is a particular favourite) and snug pubs and fine food.
I begin my journey at Gibraltar Point, a broad headland that nudges out in The Wash and The North Sea. I'm greeted by a shiny new visitor centre that opened last year, raised on stilts to prevent it suffering the fate of its predecessor, which was washed away in 2013. This is the perfect place to drop down through the gears and escape the hassles of everyday life: you can gaze over the dunes and the North Sea and watch for skylarks erupting vertically - like a harrier jet. The sea lavender throws a purple haze over the saltmarshes and makes the whole spectacle extremely easy on the eye.
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Highlights of the East Coast of England
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I follow the coast northwards through Lincolnshire's picturesque grazing marshes, past the bucket and spade seaside resorts of Skegness and Mablethorpe. Then I turn inland to Louth where the Priory Hotel provides my bed for the night. I develop a soft spot for the hotel: it's a stylishly renovated Regency building (so fits in well with much of Louth's architecture) and the owners seek to employ people with learning disabilities that they can train up. The food is excellent and centred on a 7-course tasting menu.
The next morning I climb the tower of St James' church (the building is topped by an outstanding late Gothic steeple, at 87m the highest of its kind in England) and survey what feels like the whole of the east coast of England. Returning to the coast I make my way to another seaside resort at Cleethorpes and its conjoined twin, the fishing port of Grimsby.
I worked here in the 1990s as a junior reporter when the town was on its uppers - its once-mighty fleet of fishing trawlers as thoroughly filleted as any fish. In recent years the vertiginous decline has been halted by the construction of vast arrays of offshore wind turbines in the North Sea and Grimsby's fishing heritage has enabled it take advantage of new green industries. I learn more about the past history at the Fishing Heritage Centre, one of the UK's great visitor attractions. The interpretation is done really thoughtfully: I enter a recreated quayside and a world of sloping floors, wafting tar and screeching gulls. There's rather startling archive footage of fishermen in foul weather and I finish with a tour around the Ross Tiger, an old trawler.
I follow the Humber inland - the scale and size of both estuary and river slowly dawning on me - and turn off to visit Winteringham Fields, a highly regarded foodie's favourite. 'People travel a long way to come here' (true) - claims the promotional literature - 'but the food doesn't' (also true). All ingredients on the one-mile menu are sourced from the river or local farms. You can stay too, in rooms supported by exposed oak beams. Not cheap but this place won't let you down on a special occasion.
The next day I cross the Humber Bridge. This year Hull is enjoying the spotlight as the UK city of culture. I visit the indoor arcade of Trinity Market where a walk of fame highlights the many from Hull who have left their mark on things, from slavery campaigner William Wilberforce to aviator Amy Johnson, poet Philip Larkin, film director Anthony Minghella and playwright John Godber, whose works have often formed the bedrock to the town's highly regarded Hull Truck Theatre, if a play is on during your visit, pop along - you won't be disappointed. The Ferens Art Gallery has benefited from a £5m refurbishment linked to the city of culture status and this year is exhibiting masterpieces from the National Gallery and Oxford's Ashmolean. I wander around the water's edge, criss-crossing between the mouth of the river Hull and the Marina and settle in for lunch at the vibrant 1884 Dock Street kitchen. Tempted as I am by the glass of fizz included in the lunchtime set menu, I'm aware I have a surprisingly long journey that afternoon: I'm keen to visit Spurn Point (a shingle spit that dangles like a comma at the mouth of the Humber and which is separated from Hull by nearly 30 miles of emptiness.
Twenty years ago I visited Spurn Point and was told by a cheerful ranger that within a couple of decades it would be gone, washed away by the sea, and she would be out of a job. It's still very much there, thanks in part to a series of groynes, wooden sea defences that deflect the greatest force of the tides and waves (storm surges still occasionally overwhelm the point, briefly giving Yorkshire its own island). We all like a bit of sunshine at the coast but Spurn is one place that is arguably more enjoyable in windy weather as the place feels truly elemental. If it gets too much you can retreat to the charming Blue Bell cafe, munch on cakes and more substantial offerings, most of it locally sourced, and chat to the artist in residence.
I turn back inland to spend the night at the Pipe and Glass, a really excellent pub just north of Beverley. There are just the five rooms, so you'll do well to book ahead. If you've had an afternoon walking backwards into the wind at Spurn, this former coaching inn - it dates back to the 15th Century - is the perfect retreat. I settle in the bar with a pint of Two Chefs ale, brewed with local honey. Michelin-starred food awaits in the restaurant but if you are unable to drag yourself away from the bar - a perfectly plausible scenario - then there's an excellent menu. I plump for the pheasant sausage roll.
The following morning I take a stroll around Beverley. The town's medieval history is still apparent and I walk along the waterway to a backdrop dominated by Beverley Minster. The minster is 'only' a parish church but boasts the proportions of a cathedral; it is simply gorgeous, from its slender twin towers to its Gothic features, all pointed arches and stiff-leaf decoration.
Heading north-west from Beverley I reach journey's end at Holderness, a mournfully beautiful stretch of coastline. The word 'literally' is over-used but this is - sorry - literally, the end of the road: entire sections of cliff around the small town of Skipsea have been ripped away, leaving tidily maintained roads exposed in cross-section, fronting thin air and falling out of view like the dip in a roller coaster.
Holderness is believed to have the fastest-eroding coastline in Europe and bunched-up houses, kiosks, caravans stand in line, as if awaiting their appointment with the guillotine. Right along the coast are small towns, villages and communities whose residents wonder if they will still be there when the Ordnance Survey next gets round to updating its maps.
Almost 30 years ago Philip Larkin captured Holderness’s sense of otherness when he wrote that “Behind Hull is the plain of Holderness, lonelier and lonelier, and after that the birds and lights of Spurn Head, and then the sea.”
An edgy joke does the rounds here: “How far is your house from the coast?” you ask. “About 20 years,” comes the reply. This smashed landscape stands in utter contrast with the normality of every life - cattle graze on fields near the coast, the beaches remain popular with holidaymakers. It's the coast but not as you know it.