Slice of Yorkshire that time forgot: David Hewson visits a part of a lost world which has resolutely turned its back on the twentieth century

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The Independent Travel
The east coast of Yorkshire has reluctantly shuffled its toes into the late twentieth century these past few years. People no longer look at you queerly in Bridlington if you fail to order a cup of hot Bovril with your lunch. Scarborough even has ethnic restaurants. Filey, a funny little fishing town-cum-resort perched between the two, overlooking a classic, five-mile half circle bay, is holding out to the bitter end.

Here lunch is dinner and supper, the last meal of the day, hits the table at six o'clock. Miss this and, after 7pm, there is a likelihood you will not eat. Stray southerners range around at night, starving and wild-eyed. After a couple of days you recognise each other, exchange notes, and become pathetically enthusiastic at small discoveries, a pub with five different kinds of crisps, a boozer where, if you look sufficiently desperate, they'll run up a Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy as late as 8.30.

In Filey you eat early to prepare for the highlight of the evening, social intercourse of a kind one thought relegated to Stanley Holloway monologues. In the bar of the Seafield Hotel, a little B&B behind Filey's posh clifftop Crescent, I listen, near catatonic, to two new residents.

'How do,' said visitor one. 'Bradford.'

'How do. Leeds.'

'Keepin' well?'

'Am I buggery. Went to dentists last week. Said root canal was up creek. 'Ad to 'ave the whole lot done, complete root canal surgery right there on the spot. Look. . .'

Over the beer mats and Tetley towels a partial denture is removed and a fat finger shot up into the roof of his mouth, exposing flabby acres of pink and red gum. A commentary on West Riding dental practices follows.

Fortunately, it's hard to understand someone who insists on speaking with half a denture missing and a fleshy digit shoved into the roof of his mouth so I sit there, nursing a warm soapy gin and tonic ('Ice? Lemon?' the barman asked incredulously) wondering how much they paid Alan Bennett to script this stuff.

There are any number of reasons for visiting Filey. The beach is clean, long and rarely crowded. The countryside is bold and handsome, with one maritime feature that deserves to be better known, the long thin rock finger of the Brigg, pointing into the chilly, grey waters of the North Sea. Even the fish and chips.

The best reason is the place itself. They don't make them like this any more. They could throw a fence around the place and sell it as a piece of ancient Yorkshire in amber - Jurassic Park with Sam Smiths on tap.

In its way, it is phenomenally popular. During school holidays a sub-section of West Riding society emigrates to the B&Bs and private hotels of Filey, blocking them solid for a couple of hectic weeks, then goes home quietly delighted.

Once you get over the culture shock, Filey is a pleasant spot, particularly at the beginning or end of the summer, when the hotels are half full. The brave go in winter, when the wind can be bitter and biting and Filey resumes its real life as a tiny, introverted fishing community.

The focal point of the place is Coble Landing, a little stone slope where the clinkered wooden launches - cobles - are tractored at all hours across the flat, yellow sand into the bay. This is real, old-fashioned inshore fishing, with salmon, mackerel and flatfish among the quarry. Amateur sea angling is also a delight here. A few pounds will buy you a seat on one of the bouncy little cobles, a hand line and a can of worms. You can also fish off the sea wall when the tide's in and from the ragged rocks of the Brigg. The star catch is mackerel which, when they arrive, race around the bay like crazed creatures, biting anything in their path. You don't even need anything on the hook, the idiot fish swallow the lot and then fight like tigers.

From Coble Landing to the Brigg is a mile or so, but you need to watch out for the tide, which can leave the Brigg cut off, providing regular work for the local inshore lifeboat crew.

Newly washed under a receding tide, the Brigg is a glorious finger of slippery paths and vivid, exciting rock pools. Little shrimps and crabs clamber around limpid natural aquaria with deep purple sea anemone waving away around the edge. The birdlife is equally varied, with redshanks, turnstones, oyster-catchers and dunlins.

Filey's winters can be long and eventless, which may explain the wealth of little leaflets available to help you explore the place. The 25p nature trail guide available at the tourist office is one of the best I've encountered, clear, informative and full of enthusiasm and detail.

Your other purchase should be the 65p leaflet on Filey Town Walks, of which there are only two. One explores 'new' Filey, the largely Victorian development along the southern cliffs around the Crescent, once the domain of fancy, expensive hotels, Rotary Club territory where a pair of jeans guaranteed a rapid exit. Now most are flats or retirement homes, but one smart hotel remains, the detached and eccentric White Lodge where, on a good day, pounds 12 buys a seafood platter with crab and lobster straight from the Coble Landing.

Old Filey lies around the Ravine, a glacial gash running down to Coble Landing. This is the fishing Filey of centuries past, with neat little terraced cottages and a cluster of attractive 18th century houses. St Oswalds lies on the far side of the Ravine, reached by a little footbridge, a squat, friendly church, with handsome exterior hedging and a fat golden fish for a weathercock. Bits of Norman work mingle with early English inside.

Just a short drive from town, in the elegant village of Hunmanby, normality begins to return; the pubs serve food well into the witching

hour. If you drive past the village, on the back route to Bridlington, the road climbs higher until you reach a good, rearward viewpoint, with a picturesque panorama of the whole of Filey Bay, the line of white houses of the Crescent smart against the clifftop green and the Brigg stretching out in the distance, foam waves slapping against the rocks. A little bit of Yorkshire in a time warp, and just the place to recover from a spot of root

canal surgery.

INFORMATION

White Lodge Hotel (0723 514771), Filey's one top-rank hotel from pounds 27 per person B&B, three nights including dinner pounds 120 per person from 13 September. They serve dinner as late as 8pm with excellent seafood in season. B&B from pounds 12 per person through Filey Tourist Office, 0723 512204.

(Photograph omitted)

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