231. Kilnsea to Spurn Head and return

March 2017

This was a fascinating walk out to the wild and remote Spurn Head. Spurn Head is an extremely narrow spit of land (in places just a few metres wide). It stretches for around 4 miles south from Kilnsea to it’s tip, where there are a few buildings. It is a place I was very much looking forward to visiting.

I was staying in Hull but at the Hull West Premier Inn. This meant I had to drive through Hull City centre first, then eastwards to Kilnsea. It took nearly an hour as it is further than I had realised. I parked in the little car park just east of the village of Kilnsea where there is a car park and toilet marked on the map (and a caravan park). The car park was small but free and there was space.

Getting down to the beach was not as easy as expected. The road just fell over the cliff and there were no steps.

Kilnsea

There were low mud cliffs, so I had to step down into the mud where someone had put the concrete base of some fence to aid descent. Down onto the beach it was now an easy walk since the tide was out and there was plenty of firm sand. The beach was initially a mix, sand at low tide and mud at the top. So I kept near the shore, where it was firmed underfoot.

Spurn Head

As Spurn Head is a dead-end I planned to walk there and back as I assumed there was no bus serving Spurn Head. My assumption was correct, although I was surprised to find that there had been a bus service to the tip of the point, known as the Spurn Ranger. It used to run on Sundays only (and I was doing this walk on a Sunday), but ceased a few years ago (I’m not exactly sure when), having first been cut back to the visitor centre and then abandonded altogether (for reasons that will become apparent later).

So instead for variety, I planned to walk there on the beach as much as possible and back on the road (traffic permitting) and attempt to round the beach on both sides of the spit. So I was starting out along the beach.

Out to sea there were all sorts of bits of concrete, presumably left over from World War II.

The beach at Kilnsea

The weather today was very cloudy with intermittent drizzle, but somehow it seems to suit the slightly bleak end-of-world feel to the location.

After a while the sand began to come softer and be harder to walk on. So I headed up onto the low cliffs behind the beach and a path over the grass. The extra height gained gave me a good view over the spit, too.

Spurn Head

A sign ahead warned there was no “safe access” to the beach which I took to mean there was access to the beach and suspected it would be fine, when I needed to get down there.

Over to the right I could see what looked to be a shipping container and some sort of old army truck (whose purpose I would later find out).

Spurn Head

My hunch was right (despite the health and safety doom mongers), which was easy – down a sloping path.

Spurn Head

Hardly dangerous, as the sign had suggested. Now back on the beach I continued passing numerous old broken bits of concrete.

Spurn Head

After a while I decided to head up the beach as I was now on thinnest part of the spit and wanted to get an overview, and see over to the other side of the spit. The beach was also getting muddy and with areas of clay, so going was harder.

Spurn Head

In addition, I had areas of coastal defences, now mostly ruined, to negotiate.

Spurn Head

Having reached the top of the beach, I realised I was on just sand. I was puzzled as I thought there was a road to Spurn but there was no sign of it. There weren’t any dunes either – just a few tyre tracks in the sand.

Spurn Head Breach

Having read previous reports of trips to Spurn head I thought there was a (toll) road to the end. In fact I was sure I had seen it on the BBC coast program several years previously and surely the bus must have used it?

What I hadn’t realised is that this all changed in 2013. About ½ a mile of the road was washed away in storms. In fact the storms washed away all the dunes too. This also explains why the bus service had ceased.

This wasn’t a new problem. In fact, this news article is from 1996 and documents that Spurn Head had effectively become an island during a storm which washed 320 metres of the road away and reports that this is the fourth time it has happened in 15 years. It goes on to suggest that the problems began as early as the 1850s when hard defences were built along the coast, reducing the amount of material that drifts along the coast and builds up Spurn Head.

Back then when the road was destroyed, it was re-built and re-opened. This time it looks like that won’t happen.

Spurn Head Breach

Until 2012 the peninsula had a community of permanent residents, who would be cut off without a road. The residents were the staff of the RNLI Lifeboat station at the end of the spit, and their families, who lived in a community of houses around the lifeboat station. This all changed in 2012 when the RNLI decided to move to a 6-days on 6-days off shift system because they felt the community here was too remote. This means that whilst there are people at the lifeboat station at all times, they no longer live permanently on the spit but commute here from the mainland, living on the spit only for the duration of their shifts.

Without any residents there is less need to have a road, the lifeboat crew can travel here by boat, if needed. As a result the decision seems to have been taken that the road won’t be re-built. So Spurn Head is now commonly an island when the tide is high, as the waves wash right over the beach.

The lifeboat crew currently use 4 wheel drive vehicles which are capable of driving over the often soft sand in order to get on and off. Though if erosion continues it is likely the tidal flooding will become more common and eventually Spurn Head will become an island permanently.

All of this didn’t seem to get much publicity (at least not outside of the local area) so I was quite taken aback to find that it was now a tidal island. I soon saw signs about the tide times and the safe crossing times. Oddly I had now seen such a sign in the other direction, presumably because I could not see it from the beach.

Spurn Head

It was like Lindisfarne and I hadn’t expected Spurn to be like that.

Beyond the sign, a sort of sandy track resumed, as did the dunes.

Spurn Head

There were the also the remains of numerous old groynes and possibly more World War II left overs. I was surprised at one point to come across an area with lots of chalk stones. I thought these had been imported to act as defence (the soil nearby is not chalky), but I found later they are washed down the coast from Flamborough Head!

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Onwards and the dunes soon began again. I continued along the firm sand along the beach. Once more there was attempts at coastal defence, in various states of repair.

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Out to sea it was quite hard to tell where the sky ended and the sea began!

Spurn Head

Soon, as the mist began to thin, I began to see the outline of the famous lighthouse ahead.

Spurn Head

As I got more or less there, there was a concrete sea wall again below the dunes, though it was low.

Spurn Head

Once in line with the lighthouse I cut across the dunes for a closer look. The end of the spit widens quite considerably, and the lighthouse is in the centre of a large area of dunes, surrounded by grass, dunes and some gorse.

Spurn Head Lighthouse

The grass around it was neatly mowed and there was a notice about what is on the different floors of the lighthouse.

Spurn Head Lighthouse

I’d have liked to look inside it, but it was all locked up. I had to make do with photographing the striking contrast between the black stripe at the bottom of the lighthouse and the bright-painted green entrance door. (Most lighthouses are red and white striped, but this one is black and white for some reason).

Spurn Head

As I was heading away, I could here an engine. It got closer, and then a quad bike pulled into the grass in front of the lighthouse.

I was in luck – and I couldn’t have timed it better, since this was the wardens just arriving to open it up for the day. Presumably they have to use a quad bike, now that the road has gone! Apparently, it is open from 11am to 3pm each day. The wardens were very chatty and very happy show me around (for the £4 admission). I even got to meet the pet robin they told me comes inside each day when they open it up!

Spurn Head

(Look closely above, it is on the bit of wood being used to prop the right hand door open). It was happy to bounce around on the ground floor of the lighthouse – here it is again.

Spurn Head

The lighthouse had an interesting history, having been in service for around 100 years until it was decommissioned in 1985. After a period of dereliction it was restored and opened to the public under the current owners, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The ground floor also has a bit of a cafe (of the crisps, chocolate and and drink cans variety, as they have only limited space to bring food out).

The first two floors were given over to the work of an artist.

Spurn Head

On the next floor there was once a light but now it showed a video of the history of the spit. At once time a railway line ran down the spit with a sail-drawn train (so it was wind powered). There was also a pub here. The spit is today the site of the only constantly manned lifeboat station, the unpredictable weather and difficult access making it otherwise impossible to react quickly. It was an excellent video though the projection onto the round walls of the lighthouse made it a bit tricky to watch!

On to the top, the light is no longer present so the top floor doubles as a viewing platform now. Sadly with the drizzle the view wasn’t as good as I had hoped for, but still good to see the whole peninsula.

Spurn Head

In fact, above is the remains of the former lighthouse, built onto the beach.

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

It was a very enjoyable visit (and well worth the £4 admission). The staff (or more likely volunteers) were very friendly, had a lot to tell me and seemed delighted they had had their first visitor of the day already!

Back down from the lighthouse I returned to the beach and continued round to the far end of the spit.

Spurn Head Lighthouse

Spurn Head

Mine were the only footprints in the sand here, echoing the remote feeling of the spit.

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

I stopped here for lunch. The far end of the spit was indeed remote, just disappearing to calm (today) sea. I checked the map and worked out that from the western (landward) side of the peninsula to the nearest bit of the coast on the mainland (Grimsby), is a little over 6 miles away – this is certainly a remote spot.

Spurn Head

Rounding the corner, things seemed a bit more industrial.

Spurn Head

There was a long jetty I think use by the RNLI but it was all locked with high fences and looked more like the sort of thing used by oil tankers. I passed under that.

Spurn Head

Inland, behind a large and dilapidated wall was the housing of the spit. Built in the 1970s I think it is mostly, if not entirely, inhabited by the RNLI crew. Passing this I continued on the beach. This was where the permanent residents once lived. I presume now they are used by the crew to sleep during their 6-day shifts.

Spurn Head

There is also the low light, built onto the beach though the light is no longer there and it also looks rather industrial, like some sort of chimney now.

Spurn Head

This lighthouse was built in 1852 but was made redundant in 1895 by the new lighthouse I had visited earlier. Surprisingly, it has survived and the top is now a water tank (presumably used for the water supply to the houses), which explains it’s rather industrial look now.

The sand on this side of the spit was softer making for harder going. After a while a line of rocks was present at the tide line and there started to be areas of mud. This is the side that faces the Humber so is more an estuary now than the open sea.

Spurn Head

Still I could look back at the two generations of lighthouse. More chalk rocks were present here, again washed down from Flamborough.

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

As the beach narrowed to just a thin strip I headed up into the dunes and found the old road was just a metre or so beyond. I could also see the rail tracks embedded within it, presumably from the old sail-powered train that used to be used to get here.

Spurn Head

Having found the road I walked on this instead, it was much easier. Thn angle of the railway tracks with respect to the more modern road give an indication about how the spit has changed over the years (it is moving west I believe).

After a while I came to the end of the road as such.

Spurn Head

Although it did continue ahead it was fenced off, as the concrete blocks that make up the road had broken apart and slipped down leaving the road to have a camber of about 25 degrees!

Broken road to Spurn Head

Signs warned of the danger of continuing but the alternative was to walk on a new sandy road over the top of the dunes which with the soft sand was hard work, so I walked around the barrier and continued along the broken road, with more evidence of the old railway line.

Spurn Head

At the end I could continue on the old road again which was now back horizontal.

Soon it split probably a previous attempt to repair it, with the old road soon becoming a dead end and the new route heading downhill to the sands.

Spurn Head

A short distance further bought me to what is now the end of the road. Like at Lindisfarne, there was a wooden shed here to act as a tide shelter for those that get caught at high tide in poor weather. (Although I’ve not written it up here yet, I had been out to Lindisfarne prior to coming to Spurn Head, hence the comparisons).

Spurn Head

The track soon became sand with dunes either side, alongside which was much washed up debris, presumably from subsequent storms.

Spurn Head

Soon the dunes ended and it was back onto the sands over “The Breach” as it’s now called.

Spurn Head

I stuck to the beach on the left here to avoid repeating my earlier walk.

Spurn Head

The tide goes out a long way and the flat sand pooled with water reminded me a lot of the walk on the Broomway over to Foulness. This too is a remote community so it had parallels with this walk.

Spurn Head

Soon the beach began to turn to salt marsh. I was quite surprised how quickly this began with the beach going from sand to mud in just a few metres.

Spurn Head

So I headed back up to the old road now just the odd bit of tarmac visible in the sand.

The breach on Spurn Head

At the far end of the beach I continued on the old road, now intact again, to the car park where the was a cafe and little information hut (closed).

Spurn Head

The old Army vehicle I had seen earlier (which they call a “Unimog”) is now used for the “Spurn Safari” that the wildlife trust organise for those unable to unwilling to walk out here, as it can drive over the sand of the breach.

Spurn Head

All in all it was a fascinating walk. As I continued along the road I was surprised to find that there was a car park here, but you still had to pay to drive along to it, so I was glad I had opted for the free car park a little further north.

Spurn Head

At the car park, rather than follow the road back up to the car park I had used, I returned to the beach side and continued on the beach back to my car. I climbed back up the end of the collapsed road tor each the car park!

This had been a wonderful walk and had closed the small gap I had left on my previous walk. Whilst it would have been nice to have fine weather, somehow the grey, drizzly misty weather added to the atmosphere of the place and made me appreciate it’s remoteness more.

After a quick refreshment stop I began the long drive home. This time rather than sticking to the motorways I decided I’d prefer to cross the Humber bridge and so having done so headed down the A15 and A46 towards Newark and joined the A1 there. It was when I hit Cambridgeshire the first delays began. Road works on a roundabout had reduced the A1 to a single lane causing an almost 2 mile queue. It took about 15 minutes to get past that. After that I had had enough of the A1 (signs warned of further road works ahead) so I turned off it along the A421 towards Milton Keynes, in order to join the M1 and continue south. That was perhaps also a mistake because the M1 was stop-start all the way from where I joined it to the M25. The M25 too was stop start all the way. In the end the delays added about 45 minutes to the journey which was frustrating when I just wanted to get home!

Still it had been an excellent walk and a memorable weekend. I had very much enjoyed this remote stretch of coast and extremely glad I had not opted to miss it out. It is a place of constant change, which has a fascinating history and is very atmospheric.

This is a circular walk so there is no public transport needed. However if you wish to come here by public transport the nearest you can get is Easington, around 2 miles from Kilnsea on bus route 71. This runs from Withernsea, with connections from Hull.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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4 Responses to 231. Kilnsea to Spurn Head and return

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi John, i visited Spurn Head over a year later than your visit, but was fortunate to have a had beautiful and sunny day with excellent visibility. The whole spit is a mish-mash of many previous occupations and each very interesting. I especially enjoyed the tip of the spit, which had an hard sloping beach and came very close to passing shipping entering the estuary. Just behind the tip of the spit is a large complex of WW1/WW2 installation that have been totally swamped by thick gorse. Like yourself, a very enjoyable day for me as well.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes it’s a really interesting place and I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I missed those World War I/II installations you mention, but another piece of history that makes up Spurn Head.

  2. Fascinating – nature fighting back against us! It’s quite an alien landscape to me, we have nothing like that here.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes you’re right, I couldn’t think of anywhere similar either. The closest I got was the lighthouse near Fortrose, but that peninsula is much shorter and certainly not an island, even at high tide! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading.

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