Now, that's a fine example of Yorkshire bluff
Flamborough Head is a haven for seabirds and a beacon for sailors. Mark Rowe goes exploring
Sunday 28 August 2005
Start at the 13th-century Church of St Oswald in the ancient fishing village of Flamborough, make your way across the churchyard and turn right into Water Lane. At the end of the road, take the fingerpost sign for Danes Dyke. At a hedge, cross a stile where the path becomes overgrown but follows the field edge before curving to the right to follow a hedgerow. Turn left at a T-junction with a metalled road to reach Danes Dyke car park. Take the path to the right of the ticket machine entombed in brick, with a wall on your left. A set of stone steps drops into the dyke and to a footbridge.
Danes Dyke is a ravine earthwork, two-and-half-miles long, which bisects the headland from north to south, and is up to 70ft deep and 100ft wide. It was erroneously attributed to the Vikings but the discovery of prehistoric flint tools has dated the dyke to the neolithic period; part of the dyke is natural but Stone Age Man would have had an awful lot of digging to do to complete it.
Although modern roads now whisk you across the dyke, this ancient division still creates a sense of a community separate from the rest of the world: age-old crafts, peculiar to Flamborough Head, such as the knitting of windproof fishermen's jumpers (known as Gansey sweaters) continue in the villages. The feeling of other-worldliness is tangible, and compounded on clear days when the sky attains an intensely blue colour that I have rarely seen elsewhere in the UK.
Woodland has reclaimed the dyke, and you may well spot roe deer. Keep to the main path, ignoring a track up to the right. The path climbs and you turn left at a crossroads. If you ignore the path to the golf course you emerge from the woods at Dykes End, a small beach.
The usual route climbs on to the cliffs and heads for Beacon Hill and South Landing, with views across Bridlington Bay, but a recent minor cliff collapse closed this section; if the path has not been repaired the most appealing diversion is to walk along the beach to the lifeboat station at South Landing. This is easily manageable at low tide and takes around 45 minutes. Check tide times in advance.
The beach can be slippery, particularly when you pick your way through the chalk reefs. South Landing has a rectangular expanse of sand and several rock pools. The fossils to be found here include the charmingly named Devil's toenails and ammonites. Rejoin the cliffs here; from above the dramatic fissured reef ridges that reach out to sea are starkly visible.
A delightful stroll of two-and-a-half miles leads to the lighthouse. At one point a flock of sand martins and house martins flitted overhead, gorging on summer insects. When you approach the lighthouse go straight ahead over minor paths to Green Stacks Pinnacle, a small, eroded chalk headland colonised by seabirds.
Flamborough's geographical position, so far out into the North Sea, attracts migrating birds, though the RSPB is worried about poor breeding rates in recent years. Around 200,000 seabirds use the cliffs. You can see eight species there, including the kittiwake. If the gannets are co-operative, they will plunge arrow-like into the water. Puffins breed here, too, but they will have flown the nest by now.
Head for the lighthouse, which was built in 1806 and is operated by Trinity House. Its beam is visible for 29 miles and continues to act as a waypoint for deep-sea vessels and coastal traffic. Nearby, stands the curious chalk tower, thought to be its 17th-century predecessor. Go through the car park and down steps toward Selwicks Bay. The path climbs and follows the coast to North Landing, passing more stunning bird colonies and smugglers' caves that continue to be eaten away as the sea tightens its grip. Underfoot look for Bird's Foot Trefoil, a flower known as "bacon and eggs" for its yellow and red colour.
At North Landing descend into Holmes Gut, a steep-sided valley, and then start the steady climb toward the mighty cliffs of Bempton - they are just beyond this walk but are the highest in the UK. Erosion at Thornwick Bay requires a short plod inland before returning to the coast. Half a mile farther and just beyond a holiday village, turn left across a stile to take the path past Sixpenny Hill plantation back to Flamborough. If you have time, revisit this fantastic coastline from the Yorkshire Belle, which sails from Bridlington to the headland and Bempton daily until October.
GIVE ME THE FACTS
Distance Nine miles.
Time: Five hours, excluding time to tour the lighthouse.
OS Map: Explorer 301; Scarborough, Bridlington and Flamborough Head.
Where to stay: Mark Rowe stayed at the Manor House in Flamborough (01262 850943; www.flamboroughmanor.co.uk) which offers b&b from £36 per person per night, based on two sharing. Flamborough lighthouse (www.trinityhouse.co.uk) is open Tuesdays 1.30-4pm and 11am to 4pm, Wednesdays to Sundays. Admission costs £2 for adults, £1 for children. Tours take place every half hour.
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