232. Aldbrough to Withernsea

September 2016

I had allowed plenty of time for this walk, as I expected it to be a challenge! Although around 10 miles in length on the direct route, there was only a footpath or road along the coast for around 2 miles of this length. The rest of the route could be along footpaths and roads some distance inland. If I went that way, it would add several miles. The map suggested however there was a beach all the way. I hoped therefore to use this rather than have to head further inland, but it depended on the tide being out and the conditions being favourable.

I was doing this walk as a day trip from home by train and so had booked the train tickets around 3 months previously (with no knowledge of the tide times at the time). I was therefore very pleased when I checked the tide times the day before I did this walk to find that low tide roughly coincided with the mid-way point of my walk. I hoped this would give me the best shot at making it along the beach.

I had managed to get a single ticket from London to Hull for £15 and a return ticket back for only £12.50, a bit of a bargain I thought. I took a train to London Waterloo, two tube trains across central London, a train from London to Doncaster and finally a train from Doncaster to Hull. All the trains were busy but importantly they were also punctual.

The reason this was important is this was actually the second time I had attempted to do this walk. The first time ended in failure when my train was late arriving at Hull. This meant I missed the extremely infrequent direct bus from Hull to Aldbrough and meant the walk would then not be possible in the time available on that day (leading me to undertake a different walk, starting from Hull). (This bus does not run at all any longer).

Hull station is very useful in that it is both the bus and the rail station so I can switch onto the bus without even needing to leave the bright and airy station. This time I made it on time and so from the station I took the bus to Aldbrough and I made it this time. This was my second time to Aldbrough (as I had done the walk north from here previously) and I recall the last time I was here I was the only person still on the bus (other than the driver, obviously) but in this case there was another passenger too.

Aldbrough village is around a mile from the coast, however the bus helpfully does not terminate in the village centre but continues along Seaside Road until the coast, so I did not need to walk from the village centre.

In fact the bus turns around (it is dead-end) only a few metres from the point where the road we had been following falls off the cliffs!

The road to nowhere

As I had come to realise, this is another stretch of coast where erosion occurs very rapidly – I would certainly not buy a house here!

I walked from the bus stop to the end of the road. The end most house nearest the coast still looked lived in but the one before that was now clearly derelict, awaiting it’s likely watery end. In fact most of the houses here were pre-fab type so I imagine it is a very cheap place to live. I guess there is not much point building an expensive house knowing it will only be a few years before it falls into the sea.

As I mentioned, my plan for this walk is to walk south along the beach all the way to Withernsea. The first problem though is getting to the beach – there is no path or steps down to the beach at Aldbrough. The reason is obvious, with rapid erosion any footpath will quickly be lost to the sea and any attempt to build some sort of access (such as steps or a ramp) is only going to be a temporary (and costly) measure.

Last time I was here there was a fairly well used route down the cliffs to the beach (and I saw others use it before going the same way) – but this time there wasn’t.

I went around the concrete barriers at the end of the road (designed to deter access) and followed it to the point the road simply dropped off the cliffs! Here I gingerly stepped down the cliff face over the remains of the road and the muddy and soft cliffs. The cliffs are not sheer here, but slope gently, meaning it is not too bad. At one point I could see some of the earth literally falling away as I watched, a few metres further along the cliff from where I was descending – a reminder of how fragile these cliffs are (and how what I was doing was not really a good idea). It was not really a sensible place to get down to the beach, but there is really no alternative, as there is no maintained access for many miles. As you would have realised by now I made it down to the beach in one piece, but the path was clearly much less used than it was last time, I could see few footprints in the mud and none at all on the beach.

I turned right and followed the beach. At the base of the cliffs were all sorts of bits of concrete, tarmac and bricks, from the road. This is the view of my route down to the beach – the remains of the road can be seen having fallen over the cliffs.

Aldbrough

The remains of buildings and roads that have gone over the cliffs in recent years was much in evidence. The cliffs here are incredibly soft. They are really just a mud and very soft clay at the bottom. The sea, the whole way along the coast for this walk was red with the earth that washes into the sea on each tide. In fact the cliffs erode here at a rate of more than 2 metres every year. If I had paid attention I could probably find buildings that were here on my last visit (in 2012) but have since either gone over the cliffs or been demolished before they reached that state. The cliffs also seemed to be in two layers, a darker clay like layer at the bottom and an upper layer which was more earth and mud.

The beach was deserted and there were not even footprints on the beach so I was the only person to have come down here this day, or at least since high tide.

Near Aldbrough

Grass was still in evidence on the parts of the cliffs that had recently slipped.

Near Aldbrough

I was soon passing more debris, an old World War II lookout building part way down the cliff and a couple of pill boxes right down on the beach.

Near Aldbrough

It was a windy and cloudy day but it was at least dry. The wind was blowing the sand towards me, making interesting patterns on the beach.

The coast south of Aldbrough

Walking along the beach proved more difficult than expected. At the high tide line there was lose shingle, pebbles, rocks and bits of the cliffs. Nearer the shore there was sand, but a line of water tended to gather at the line between the shingle and the sand so if you walk along the sand you had to cross the streams of water leading to these areas at regular intervals. The sea had also made some large indentations and pools in the sand which also had to be crossed and the wind had blown soft sand into some of these so that sometimes when I took a step on to what I thought was firm sand it proved not to be. Mixed in with some muddy areas it meant I tended to alternate between walking on the shingle at the top of the beach and the sand nearer the tide line.

The coast south of Aldbrough

Out to sea I was soon passing a strange pipe. I am not sure what it is, it is not marked on the map (unusually) neither is it on Google Earth and I also could not find anything about it on a quick internet search. So it remains a mystery. You can see it below in the sea.

The coast south of Aldbrough

Soon there was an Observation Post marked on the map (presumably a World War II relice). But it is no longer on the cliff top. It lay, largely intact, at the base of the cliffs having presumably fallen over some time fairly recently (it was still marked on the map).

The coast near Ringbrough

The coast near Ringbrough

It was a flat and straightforward walk but I was concerned by a couple of little streams marked on the map as flowing out to the sea (East Newton Drain and Soldiers Dike) and how I would cross them on the beach but to be honest I did not even notice them in amongst the streams from the areas of water at the back of the beach.

The coast south of Ringbrough

I was also getting a little nervous that I had not seen any access back up to the beach for some time. Whilst I was initially confident that at low tide, as it was, I could walk the whole way on the beach, my confidence was beginning to diminish.

After a few miles the cliffs dropped which is presumably where one of the streams came out. But numerous gates, a fence and “private” notices (I did not go up to them to read the smaller print) suggested that if access was possible, it was certainly not encouraged!

The coast south of Ringbrough

I continued past the rapidly eroding cliffs, more World War II pillboxes now on the beach.

The coast near East Garton, Yorkshire

The landscape was little changing and it was difficult to gauge distance from just looking at the map.

The coast south of Ringbrough

The coast south of Ringbrough

I resorted to getting the GPS out so that I could read out the grid references and work out my position. I realised I was nearly at Tunstall and when I got far enough to be inline with the first road here I could see a man standing at the top of the cliffs, so that must be where the road now ends.

The coast south of Ringbrough

It looks like the road once turned right and ran along the cliff top, but has since been lost to erosion.

The beach near Tunstall

I continued past Tunstall. To be honest you could easily miss it from the beach. The only giveaway is a few street lights and telephone cables visible from the beach as well as the edge of a couple of buildings. The other give away is more bits of brick and concrete on the beach and at the base of the cliffs. I could also see a fence that I suspected was to block off the end of the road at the point it fell off the cliff.

The beach at Tunstall

Whilst I could see that people had been down onto the beach here there was no official access point that I could see. Instead I could see that people had made their way down the cliffs, as I did back at Aldbrough (which must be a disappointment if you are staying at one of the caravan parks nearby and find there is no beach access).

Beyond Tunstall the beach changed a bit too, the cliffs got lower and there was now rocks and the base of the eroded cliffs now visible on the beach.

The beach near Tunstall

I had to take more care here because it was all boggy and muddy in parts and difficult underfoot. Ahead the cliffs got lower and the briefly ended completely at a place called Sand le Mere. A few boats had been piled on the low cliffs here, presumably launched from the beach by the tractors parked near them.

Sand le Mere near Withernsea

A stream flows inland here (Tunstall Drain) and so the valley this has cut reaches sea level. It looked like the water must flow under the beach because I could not see any. There was however a footpath following the drain and heading inland here which at least meant I could now be sure I would not have to turn back, always a relief after so long along the beach.

Muddy cliffs near Withernsea

I had also made better time than expected, as I realised that Withernsea was now not far ahead. I continued on the beach but slowed my pace. I was booked on a specific train home, not due to depart for several hours and as my ticket was only valid on that train I could not head home earlier so there seemed no point in rushing. After the little drop in the cliffs they soon resumed again, with the same muddy soft clay.

In a little under two miles I had reached the first houses at Withernsea, where there was then immediately a sea wall and groynes along the beach.

Withernsea

I came across an abandonded bicycle, presumably washed up by the sea and placed on the beach like this by someone.

Anyone for a bike ride?

Here I headed onto the promenade, which had two levels. I opted for the middle level but soon moved to the top level as I wanted a change from the beach (which was now difficult to walk along because of the groynes that I had to keep crossing).

Withernsea

There were houses very close to the cliff here presumably hoping that the concrete sea defences would hold off the forces of the sea and wind. I would not live here and unless there is a sea wall all along the coast (there isn’t) there is still the risk the sea will simply erode further north and begin to cut inland.

Withernsea

When the higher promenade ended I dropped back to the lower one now just above the beach. Further along, some rock armour had also been put in place to try to reduce the erosion. To my left was now a substantial sea wall and in places plaques had been put up marking the point where churches once existed further out into what is now the sea, but had been lost to the sea and erosion. One I think it said would now be 800 metres out to sea.

I now had terraced houses to my right and brick promenade to walk along.

Withernsea

Further up I came to a castle like structure which was rather nice. A little further up I found a sign which indicated this was in fact the landward entrance to a pier that once stood here. Now it has long gone and leads only to steps down to the beach.

Withernsea old pier

In fact the pier has been gone for more than 100 years, after various ships collided with it, and it was not rebuilt.

The beach at Withernsea

The beach at Withernsea

From here I still had more than an hour before I needed to leave Withernsea. This is because I had allowed extra time for a longer walk on road and paths inland if needed (which hadn’t proved necessary). So I headed inland for a look around the town, but to be honest there was not a lot to see, it seemed quite run-down not helped by a few large arcades nearby. I did however spot there was a lighthouse a bit inland, so I made my way towards it. Unusually, rather than being built on the coast as you might expect it was a few hundred metres inland, in amongst Victorian housing. I presume because the lighthouse is taller than the houses around it, it can be seen quite clearly from the shore. I was hoping I might be able to go up the lighthouse for a view of the town – I was in luck.

It turns out the lighthouse is no longer in used, it was decommissioned in 1976 though it has found a more modern use housing mobile phone equipment, amongst other things. Now it houses a small and rather eclectic museum. This is open daily in June, July and August and at weekend afternoons only from May to September. It is now a museum the base housing an RNLI museum as well as a local history museum.

There was also a small railway museum and what I took to be a film museum, as well as a small cafe. However the highlight for me is that it was possible to climb the steps (and there are a lot) to reach the top of the lighthouse. From here I got the hoped for view over the town.

View from the lighthouse at Withernsea

View from the lighthouse at Withernsea

View from the lighthouse at Withernsea

What struck me is how flat it is around here. I suppose I am close to Lincolnshire, but thinking of Yorkshire we tend to think of rolling hills and moors, but that is not the case for this part. The views were not their best due to the grey and overcast day and the windows on the coastal side also seemed to have some salt sea spray on them, despite being some distance inland, blurring the view.

Withernsea Lighthouse

I could also get a view back down the centre of the lighthouse as there were no intermediate floors (though not sure if there had been in the past).

View down Withernsea lighthouse

Having visited and enjoyed the museum (and it is only £2.50 – a bargain) I returned to catch the bus back to Hull.

Withernsea Lighthouse

This ran on time and at Hull I took my train back to London. This time it was a direct train, operated by Hull Trains. I have used this same timed train before and it has been quiet and pleasant. Not so today. I had, unfortunately, picked the day Hull and Arsenal were playing football. This meant the train was packed (and I do mean packed) full of loud and drunken Arsenal supports all the way back to London. There were thankfully a police presence on the train which helped matters (and they were not serving alcohol from the buffet because of it), but it was still an unpleasant train journey back. Although I had booked a seat in the “quiet” coach it was anything but quiet and I was very glad to get off that train once we reached London (though at least it ran to time and only cost me £12.50).

This was not the most varied of walks, but it was certainly interesting. The pace of erosion here is frightening with many buildings been lost each year and evidence on the beach of the numerous buildings that have been lost to the sea over the years. There were nice beaches to walk on the whole way and Withernsea had provided an interesting museum and lighthouse that I could explore. . I was glad that my route along the beach had proved successful and straightforward, once I had got down there.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

East Yorkshire Motor Services bus route 129 : WithernseaSand le Mere Holiday Village – Roos – Garton – Aldbrough (village) – Aldbrough (cliffs) – Mappleton – Rolston – Hornsea.  3 buses per day Monday – Friday, increasing to 4 buses per day during school holidays. 4 buses per day on Saturday. There is no service on Sunday during the winter, but in the summer (early April to early September) the bus also runs 4 times per day on Sunday.

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

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2 Responses to 232. Aldbrough to Withernsea

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, this was one of the few complete walks that involved staying on the beach for the duration. Waking on the beach for that long can be tricky to find out exactly where you are, as you get little indication from the boulder clay cliffs above you. Because I live closer to this part of Yorkshire was able to do a longer walk…. from Hornsea. Liked the photos of the Lighthouse, which I passed a couple of times.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I did wonder about doing this as one walk rather than splitting it into two (as the northern part from Aldbrough to Hornsea, was very short). However I was concerned that if it wasn’t possible to walk along the beach all the way it could be a much longer walk. I was also concerned that covering that sort of distance all along the beach might be tricky, as the time it takes means you cannot have low tide the whole way.

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