Coast Part 6 2009

The next stage of our UK coastline trip was to get from South Queensferry near Edinburgh to Sutton Bridge by The Wash. This stage is fairly straightforward with only three major rivers to cross; the Tyne, the Tees and the Humber. We had a definite reason for starting this part around the first week of July, this was to ensure that we arrived at the Farne Islands and/or Coquet Island before the Puffins left. Although our trip is concerned primarily with the mainland coast we don't rule out islands especially if Doreen has specifically declared an intention to visit one! This was to be one of the shorter legs, with the journey to the start and finish points only a little less than the trip along the coast.

South Queensferry - Nene Cut, Sutton Brudge

As its a short trip I thought I would vary things a bit and write this blog with a more thematic slant rather than chronologically cover the highlights as I have done in the previous parts. As before I haven't mentioned here every little seaside village we passed through and so have produced a list as a seperate blog. This also includes the maps and links to the campsites, note the maps don't always show all the smaller roads. I shall repeat the warning of earlier parts, we have a reasonably slim panel van conversion and its only a little over five metres long. Some of the lanes we travelled down and wild camps would be unsuitable in anything much larger.


Puffins and other feathered attractions

We are only by the loosest of definitions 'bird watchers', but they do interest us, although even with the aid of books we often haven't a clue what we are looking at. Puffins should be easier though, everybody knows what they look like and I do know they are temporary residents on the Farne and Coquet islands just off the Northumbrian coast. Some weeks before starting I emailed the boatman at Amble and asked by what date we should arrive to be sure of seeing them, 'July 18th' was the unequivocal response. Perhaps they had already booked their flights.

In fact we saw Puffins well before that, on a video monitor at least, at the North Berwick Sea Bird Centre. They have cameras on The Isle of May and Bass Rock that you can control, and resident experts to let you know what you are looking at. The evening before we had looked out over the Firth of Forth at Bass Rock and marvelled at what appears to be a snow covering, until with binoculars you realise that its covered with thousands of nesting birds mostly Gannets. A short lecture on Gannets at the centre revealed to us that a baby gannet is fed until it is one and a half times the weight of it's parents then pushed off the cliff so that it arrives on the sea (sometimes it takes more than one bounce off the rocks). If it subsequently discovers how to fly, dive and fish then its on the road to survival, otherwise not.

Bass Rock from N Berwick


Anyway using the cameras we had our first Puffin sightings and in the centre saw how small they are and how fragile their skeletons, this for a bird that winters seven months in the North Atlantic or North Sea and lets face it they aren't great flyers, more like flappers, although the tiny wings work brilliantly under water. Three days later we were up close to Puffins as they viewed us on one of Billy Shiel's boats out of Seahouses. I should explain that in an earlier life as a lighthouse engineer I had many a trip on these boats, though this was the first time I picked up the tab rather than Trinity House. For Doreen this was a novel experience and from the ear to ear grin she wore for several days afterwards I knew that it hit the spot. (Seeing Puffins that is, not seeing me pick up the tab!)


Puffins on Staple Island, The Farnes


As well as Puffins there were Gullimotts, Shags, Cormorants, Kittywakes etc. As the weather deteriorated we didn't go to Coquet which was the 'reserve' plan, but we weren't finished with birds. Amongst the other highlights we went to Bempton Cliffs near Bridlington, Yorks and Freiston Shore near Boston, Lincs and we saw Gannets again, Kittywakes again along with Avocets, Sand Martins a few Barn Owls and more Oyster Catchers than you could shake a stick at and yes every now and again a Puffin or two. For bird lovers some more pictures


Gannet, Gullimotts, Kittiwakes, Avocets and Penguins (?)


I will finish this section with the clown of the skies goose stepping off the rocks .


Geology and other science stuff

At this point a confession, several quite memorable geological places/events were missed. Not that we didn't go near to them but either we didn't realise we were 'there' or didn't remember their significance or just didn't find them! Siccar point for example, is where three geologists observed slightly sloping rocks overlying steeply inclined and eroded older rocks and reasoned that this sort of structure was as a result of a long process of deposition, folding, tilting, erosion and more deposition and thereby started modern geological thinking which was at odds with the then interpretation of biblical time-scales. The date 1788. Now we knew about Siccar Point and we even saw nearby cliffs with similar structures but at the time we passed by on the nearest road less than a kilometre away without stopping. I have included a link at the end if you want to read up on it.

A lot of the journey so far around the coast has been amongst tough and durable rocks but when you get to the east coast things change and the further south you go towards The Wash the less 'reliable' the coast roads become. From about Scarborough down you keep coming across minor roads that just end abruptly with a notice at a cliff edge and below Spurn head you find that you run out of road a mile or so before the water begins, Gibraltar Point for example is a mile from the sea. This all due to a rapid process of sea erosion, landslip and deposition of soft materials such as sandstone, clays and silts. We met a fellow gazing out to sea at the end of one of those shattered and fenced off roads whose grandfather lived in a village now 300 yards away under the sea. He hadn't been back to that point for 30 years and even in that short time the sea had claimed a farmhouse and a camping field.


Roads to nowhere and nowhere near the sea


So quite a contrast, geological processes taking millions of years and some taking a few tens of years. At Scarborough in the early nineties there was an example of what can happen almost overnight. The Holbeck Hall hotel started collapsing as the ground beneath slipped towards the sea. Now again we knew about it but didn't know exactly where it was - poor preparation on my part. Anyway at one point long after we had given up looking for the site we went to a car park not 50 yards from where the hotel once stood without realising it, the same car park that is shown on all the overhead photos of the collapsing hotel! The nearby viewpoint that we went to at Black Rocks has a view of Scarborough now which was once blocked by the hotel.


Holbeck Hall Landslip (photo Brit Geological Survey)

Where you aware of volcanos in Scotland? Well yes, 300 million years ago there were volcanos, Bass rock, see earlier picture, and The Law at North Berwick (and the Law at Dundee - see part 5 of this Blog) are all the central plugs or cores of long extinct volcanos. (Edinburgh Castle is on a volcanic outcrop of basalt, much of Glencoe was formed by volcanic activity). The basalt or other igneous rock is much harder than the sedimentary rocks that surrounded them so as they were eroded away over geological time all that remains now is the hard core.


Technology and transportation

Redcar beach and steelworks on Tees


This part of the coast had great contrasts; two of the largest chemical industry sites I have seen in the Tees and Humber estuaries along with ship breaking steel works etc, close by and even overlapping nature reserves and fantastic beaches. We don't just do the pretty bits of the coast, and many's the time we have driven right up to the security barriers at the entrance to these nightmarish but essential places. In the interests of balanced reporting here are some images for those that would prefer to see chemical works rather than birds.

Ship Breaking and Chemicals Works


I was much more pleased to see the Tees transporter bridge still in operation (although with a 3 ton weight limit that makes it only suitable for smaller vans). The one in Newport, S Wales was not working when we were there in April 2008 and this one was was fictionally removed to the Arizona USA by the 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' cast. Obviously they built to last in 1907.

Crossing the Tees by transporter bridge


Also of much interest was HMS Trincomalee, the oldest warship afloat, now in Hartlepool in a graving dock and restored to her original configuration and name; for many years she was a training ship in Portsmouth and named Foudroyant. Ordered in 1812 and built in Bombay (Mumbai) using teak rather than oak she was launched in 1817. Billing her as "the last of Nelson's frigates" is a bit rich though given that she was ordered 7 years after Nelson's demise at the battle of Trafalgar. It is an excellent day out as along with the ship there are shops inns etc all of the period with audio video tours about life on board ship, press gangs and the like. Hartlepool museum, which is free, is co-located.




Wherever you have ships you have shipwrecks and even before the RNLI was formed there were lifeboats manned by volunteers. The oldest preserved lifeboat is Zetland, at Redcar and its crews saved over 500 people during its active life, there are more details in the fishing section below.



No section on transportation would be complete without some conventional bridges and at Berwick-upon-Tweed you get three for the price of one photograph

Fishing and Fish

Mention of the Zetland reminds me about fishermen because they were the profession from which most early lifeboat crews were drawn. The free museum in which the Zetland is housed, on Redcar sea front, shows early photographs of these fishermen and drowning at an early age seemed a common option as the cause of death. Certainly it was a hard life then and as we had already seen from TV documentaries, its a hard life still. Before even starting this trip we had decided never again to moan at the price of fish.

We weren't finished with fishing related museums though, we knew from a visit in the 90's that the National Fishing Heritage Centre was in Grimsby and this time we paid it a three hour visit. This included an optional trip around the Ross Tiger, a side trawler bought by the Grimsby council for £1 in 1992. I think that the museum is basically aimed at children but we knew so little about fishing that it suited us nicely. The main part of the museum is a series of scenes set in the 1950s around the back streets of Grimsby and on board parts of a trawler. The Ross Tiger was of this era as well, being launched in 1957. Assuming you have some agility and don't mind enclosed spaces the tour around the ship (for which there is no extra charge) is a must. The chap who takes you round served aboard her for four years and explained how trawling was done far better than any exhibit or film. The ship has been restored back to her fishing days which ended in 1984 when she was converted to work in the offshore oil industry. I have included a link to the Ross Tiger website at the end.

Straight out of the fishing museum and into the adjacent Sainsburys. What a disappointment! Part of a chill cabinet just a yard long with pre-packed fish. In Redcar just three days before we had shopped at Morrisons where there were two chill cabinets each about triple the length plus two large fresh fish counters. I reckon that every sea fish I knew existed was on offer there, we were spoilt for choice. They had three sorts of kippers but none were from Craster.


Like Marmite you either like kippers or you don't, we love them but Craster kippers are in a different league. Its a very heavy smoke so quite unlike the Manx kippers that we adored in part 4 of our trip at Peel. The heads, tails and bones are still there but its well worth the extra effort. I would describe the initial taste/smell as smoky rather than fishy but what a taste! Trouble is, it made me crave an Islay whisky, not a suitable breakfast tipple. So the big question - which wins in a taste off between the Arbroath Smokie (see part 5) and a Craster Kipper? Well they are both top of their respective leagues and we have decide not to try and adjudicate, after all smokies are haddock and kippers are herring, but which do I prefer? No, sorry, not telling, all I wish is that I could get both easily.


The rest of the fish? We bought line caught salmon in Redcar and it tasted wonderful and fish and chips in Whitby (takeaway from the Magpie Cafe) which I highly recommend but I reckon we haven't yet matched the fish restaurant at Dungeness which we can look forward to revisiting further along the coast. (Skate to die for).


Hospitality and height barriers

Thanks to CarolGavin (Carol Johnstone) and Humber-Traveller (Peter Kissagizlis, now sadly no longer with us) for the hospitality that they gave us and also to the people who offered suggestions on where to go on this part of the trip. Very much appreciated. Thanks also to the towns and counties with an enlightened attitude to motor homes and camping. We wild camped a lot and made use of two of the facilities of the Camping and Caravan Club that we hadn't tried before. Motor home stop-overs, give you the use of all facilities for three hours this extended our range and made it more likely that we wild camped or went on the very basic certificated sites. We also visited our first temporary holiday site. This was being run by the East Midlands British Caravan Club who are part of the C&CC and the site was adjacent to a full CS. We were made to feel very welcome so a big thanks to them as well.


Some boos to the places that don't even let motorhomes park during the daytime, I don't understand what they hope to gain. West of North Berwick and East of Dunbar for example, for miles there are no car parks you can use. North Berwick itself has two wild camping spots and good cheap parking, we spent a night and half a day there and also spent a fair bit of money as well. Likewise Prestonpans and Dunbar got our custom. So the losers were Longniddry, Aberlady, Gullane, Barns Ness, Skateraw and Thorntonloch (double boos to Gullane we even got a snooty look from a man in a hut there because we obviously weren't golfers as well as not being in a suitable vehicle). Also double boos to whoever put the unmarked height barrier before a car park on the edge of the Wash, miles from anywhere which we succesfully drove to for afternoon tea and a walk. (Grid ref TF 448340). I'll save my spleen however for whoever runs the Spurn Head National Nature Reserve who have decreed No dogs. Not 'no dogs off leads', or 'no dogs allowed out of your vehicle', but no dogs at all. We wanted to tick the box of driving to the end of Spurn point and were quite willing to pay the £3 to do it but they wouldn't let us. On their website they say its because they are a National Nature Reserve, no other explanation, so a triple boo to them. We wild camped on the shore at Skeffling, a few kilometres away as the bird flies where we saw all the same birds as at Spurn Head because they don't understand the concept of silly rules and were quite happy to approach our dogs.

A Cheer and ....

...... Two Boos

To finish this section, one of the most inhospitable places, just one of many between Chapel St Leonards and Skegness


and finally

No blog can cover everything we saw or did so I'll leave you with a section of oddities. They include: A Jawbone N Berwick Law, improvised headgear at Berwick upon Tweed, art commemorating the filming of 'Atonement' at Redcar,  whats over the wall at Paull, and what happens if you dont trim your virginia creeper at Kilnsea



Then there was a wild camp near Bamburgh Castle, sand devils at Seahouses, a seastack at South Shields, tunnel at Whitby and the narrowest named 'road' that we saw at Staithes:

There will be those suffering from map withdrawal so for those here are the maps:

Queensferry to Berwick on Tweed via North Berwick

Berwick on Tweed to Amble via Bamburgh

Amble to Redcar via SouthShields

Redcar to Bridlington via Fylingdale 


Bridlington to Humberston via Skeffling

Humberston to Sutton Bridge via Wainfleet


and finally, finally couldn't leave you without a seal picture here is our favourite one:

Link to Holbeck Hall collapse
Link to Part 7 Coast Part 7 2010