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.

 

 

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Headonist

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.