Getting Noticed

Is it time for another lighthouse?

Flamborough Head’s position protruding into the North Sea makes it a natural location for providing guidance to passing shipping and transmitting messages along the coast, so the site may have been in use this way for nearly 2000 years.  Some masonry that could have been part of a Roman beacon was discovered in the area along with Roman pottery, though the former was subsequently destroyed by quarrying.

Nowadays the promontory features a fog warning station as well as shiny white lighthouse which peers over the rooftops of nearby houses.  Built in 1806 it operated successfully for 120 years before it was decided to raise the lantern.  You can see where the additional section was inserted still.

But if we’re talking lighthouses and Flamborough Head there is a more historic column to view.  Standing further back from the cliff edge and built on commission from Charles II in 1674 this octagonal tower is believed to be the nation’s oldest surviving lighthouse.

I stress “believed” because recent restoration work found no evidence of carbon or charring that would have been left by burning coal fires on the top.  So what’s the story here?

We know that Sir John Clayton (who constructed this tower) was given permission to build a number of lighthouses around the country by the king… and that’s about it!  There are stories that he intended to build three lights to guide ships around Flamborough and effectively hold them to ransom to give them safe passage.

Other stories say that this was only ever built as a watch tower, though given his royal commission, and the fact that there was a historical precedent for burning coal and/or brushwood here, it would seem lacking in initiative if there had never been plans to keep a fire burning on the top.

But what about the lack of evidence for this?  Some stories claim that Clayton went bankrupt before the tower was ever completed, and this would certainly explain the lack of burning on top.  You’d think though that someone else might have finished the job.  Clearly those passing sailors weren’t stumping up much in tolls.

Something else struck me though.  The Fog station and the new lighthouse are both painted brilliant white, matching the chalk from which the old tower is built.  It makes them highly visible, but then the cliffs on which all of these structures stand are made from the same white stone.  By day and by moonlight surely there was little need for further assistance, and perhaps this is why Clayton couldn’t raise the funds?

Just a thought.





My East Yorkshire adventure continues…

After a good night’s sleep in Beverley it was time for a very scenic journey north and east until I reached the coast and my next objective; Flamborough Head.

Courtesy of Vera Lynn and decades of subsequent WWII nostalgia, most people associate English white cliffs with one particular location, but Dover doesn’t have exclusive claim upon sea-washed chalk.  The song’s writer, Walter Kent, was American, which is why he pictured bluebirds in his lyrics.  Sorry Mr Kent, but they’re not indigenous here.  Still we might stretch a point and assume he meant martins and swallows which do at least have a hint of blue.

Flamborough too has calcium carbonate and birdlife, but here the North Sea replaces the English Channel, a sea that has carved, undermined and pierced the chalk into a variety of shapes and in doing so created a habitat for seabirds.

Before I could explore the avian colonies though I had a decision to make; make my way to the large arrowhead shaped outcrop of land that forms the “head” or to the bays that lie to the north and south.  With so much of my photography this year at sea level I decided to maintain that approach and drove to North Landing; where the steep slipway that once provided the launching point for the local lifeboat still exists and fishing boats in various states of disrepair sit precariously on the slope facing the water.

The birds however were too far away so I climbed up to the clifftops – an area I was reluctant to explore too closely due to the obvious risks of walking on soft rock above active water.

Still, it turned out to be the best place.  When I later visited the South Landing I was able to get closer to the shoreline species, but as soon as I unpacked my camera they were scattered by an enthusiastic bulldog thrilled to be off the leash.  I did at least capture one shot of what I think was a sandpiper.

And so to the clifftops.  I’d come hoping for puffins but not a trace (unless they were amongst the swarms of black shapes gathering and diving out at sea).  Instead I got the inevitable gulls and kittiwakes but lots of razorbills too.  Almost as comical as puffins but without the technicolour bill.

Altogether now:

There’ll be black birds over, the white cliffs of Flamorough…

Oh, and the odd wheatear.

My boy lollipop*

On the days that I travel into Darlington quite early, I frequently pass two similarly attired women on North Road.  Dressed in long coats of high-viz yellow, which in case anyone should miss them are augmented by matching hats, they carry oversize black tennis racquet bags slung across their backs.

They are not however exponents of some new ball game with a complete disregard for fashion, out to bag the court before anyone else (though it would be amusing to see them trying to play with these “racquets” and trying to run in their long ungainly coats).  They are a School Crossing Patrol, dressed to ensure that they are visible to motorists, and the bags they carry contain their “lollipops“; long poles with a round sign attached, used to stop the traffic.

When I was young, these lollipops were constructed of a single long pole, which the lollipop man or lollipop lady would carry home with them on foot at the end of their shift.  They were far too long to fit into most vehicles.  Modern lollipops now break down into something more portable and pack away like a sniper’s rifle.

A London "lollipop lady" with St. Pa...
A London "lollipop lady" with St. Paul's Cathedral in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea of the patrol developed in the UK in the 1950’s (though they also exist in Australia), but it was in the 1960’s that the term “lollipop man” was coined following a successful road safety campaign featuring a ventriloquist whose dummy used the phrase, although lollipop ladies are just as prevalent.   It seems strange that as children we were warned against accepting sweets from strangers, but then expected to befriend one who was associated with a lolly!

The round sign at the end of the pole instructs motorists to “Stop” and carries either the word or a symbol for children, and between these is a wide black stripe.  Apparently the intention of this element was to allow patrol men or women to record, with a piece of chalk, the registration numbers of any motorist who refused to stop.  I have never ever seen this done, and wonder if any of our numerous lollipop men and women who patrol our roads today even carry chalk.

The lollipop man who patrols the crossing at the school where I run my photography club is not stranger to having his photograph taken.  In a competition run by local paper The Sunderland Echo he was named School Crossing Patrol of the Year a couple of years back, and has featured in other local press stories too.  John Plumb who originates from  Plymouth (that would be a long walk with a lollipop) has even had a song written in his honour – though it wasn’t the one that is the title to this blog.

Viewing the images of him that have appeared in the press, I didn’t feel that the quality did justice to this special individual.  I hope he likes the picture I took today.  Wish I’d asked him about the chalk though!

*”My boy lollipop” was written in the 1950’s, but became a huge UK hit in the 1960’s when recorded by Millie.  (I’ve never liked it because you can’t get it out of your head – even now!)