As far as the eye can. Sea.

Abstract panorama from Spurn Lighthouse

There are peninsulas and there are peninsulas.  The narrowness of the fragile spit that links Spurn Head to the mainland means it is easy to stand with water visible on either side of you.  Proceed south and the Head itself is more substantial, but climb to one of the highpoints and you now have a third watery vista ahead where the  North Sea’s salty waters blend with the silts, muds and fresh water that the Rivers Ouse and Trent feed into the Humber.    A sailors playground.

Yet in the 85 miles or so between here and Whitby, the East Yorkshire coastline is believed to have 50,000 shipwrecks, of which the most famous is probably the Bonhomme Richard.  Remarkably this was as a result of a sea battle in the American War of Independence.

Now I’d always assumed that the hostilities were confined to the far side of the Atlantic, but American naval hero John Paul Jones brought the fight to the British and engaged HMS Seraphis.  Though the British ship had the upper hand for most of this single vessel conflict, a falling mast from the Bonhomme Richard crashed into the British frigate’s hold and ignited the gunpowder there.  Most of the other vessels that lie on the seabed here didn’t have such spectacular ends, and fell victim to the rocks and heavy seas that crash against them.

Naturally Spurn has a part to play in protecting mariners and their craft and it does so in several ways.  Let’s begin with the lighthouses since they are my theme for the year.  Two of them.  One raised up, the other living dangerously by dipping a toe into the waters at each high tide.

There are records of lighthouses at Spurn dating back to the 15th century though the present examples are far more recent.  The lower light was originally one of a pair that would be aligned to mark the safe passage, though the original was washed away and this continued to be a problem until 1852 when the present design proved strong enough to survive the forces of nature.  Now the highlight’s days were numbered for 40 years later a single light was brought into service (the current black & white tower).  Nothing remains of the highlight that it replaced but the lower light stands defiantly in the Humber, though with a curious piece of redesign.  The lantern has been removed and replaced with a water tank.

The lights are augmented by another life saver.  Or several.

Spurn Head’s position makes it a good place to establish a lifeboat station to rescue those in difficulty whether at sea or in the estuary, but it’s remoteness and the transient existence of roads and paths from the mainland, renders that same location impractical in the event of “a shout”.  It would take too long to get there even on those occasions when it is possible.  Spurn is therefore home to the only permanently resident lifeboat crew in the UK.  Even with a team permanently at hand there are practical issues.

Their craft are moored on the Humber where the shallow mud flats mean that the high and low water marks are some distance apart.  No use anchoring your vessel after a high-water rescue and then finding it stranded on a mudflat next time you need it.  Instead the vessels stay some distance offshore, and the crew have a purpose built pier allowing them to reach them at any point in the tidal cycle.

Yet another organisation plays a part in the safety of shipping here though.  Another large structure, akin to an air traffic control tower looks out over the river mouth.  And that’s pretty much what they are: Vessel Traffic Services.

So plenty of help for the sailor.  But the lighthouse is surely the most elegant.


Travelling Hopefully

What is the difference between passion and obsession?  The argument is a subjective one and people I’ve been in relationships with have taken both sides in describing my love of photography and my drive to blog about it.

I ask the question having spent a weekend exploring the coastline of East Yorkshire; exploring with an open mind to what I might find, but with a very specific objective in mind.

Some time ago I was inspired by photographs in another photographer’s gallery on Viewbug, and in particular one long exposure image of an unusually shaped line of sea defences.  Since it combined both my love of things marine with the technique that I’m trying to perfect at the moment I was keen to know where it was.  The photographer had posted no details so I messaged the question.  No response.

Which is the point at which that “obsession” kicked in.  I knew from the rest of his imagery that he was based in the north of England, and in all likelihood Yorkshire.  (The best landscapes are usually shot by those who live there and know the way in which light and weather interact as well as being near enough to be there during the golden hours at dawn and sunset).

Yorkshire is England’s largest county; historically divided into three “ridings”, North, West and East.  Those who wondered why there wasn’t a South Riding (other than as the title of novel) overlook the meaning of “riding”.  The Vikings, who settled in the region, had a word “thridding” which meant “a third”.  Of those thirds only the East Riding had coastline, so that narrowed down the possibilities.

Enter Google Earth!  I scanned the satellite shots of that coastline in search of the particular feature and as I worked my way south I passed other geographic features of note; Flamborough Head and Spurn Head in particular.  The place names had a common theme too; Hornsea, Kilnsea, Withernsea… only Ursula le Guin was needed to complete the picture.  I didn’t spot the groyne I wanted but there were so many along this shoreline that I might have missed it.  My interest was truly whetted nevertheless, which is why at 9.00am on Saturday I found myself 150 miles from my bed on Humberside and stopping at a church in village called Patrington.

St Patrick’s church was not on my agenda but the impudence of that spire demanded my attention.  I discovered a Grade I listed building built in the Decorated Gothic style (early 14th century).  The similarity between the name of the village is a curious one, but apparently without explanation, though the church has another name too; the Queen of Holderness, Holderness being the peninsula on which it stands.  Which brings me back to that outstanding spire.  Whether built with the purpose in mind or not, it has proved a useful navigational aid in an area where the sea was crucial to the lives of those who lived here.

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But on with my quest and I eventually reached the spit of land leading to Spurn Point.  Miles of boulder clay deposited by natural forces creating an ever-changing land and seascape similar to the shingle at Orford Ness.  No route for cars so it was time to walk those miles once the tide had subsided to allow passage through the “washover” section.

And here I found wooden posts emerging from the sea as those waters receded.  Hundreds of them.  None forming the structure that had inspired my trip* but enough to produce some interesting shots, and one that I absolutely loved.

  1. It is better to travel hopefully…
  2. …than to arrive

Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice, part titles.

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I may not have arrived at the source of my original inspiration, but my hopes were fulfilled.

*I subsequently rediscovered the image – taken in Caister, Norfolk, but now that I have, I think I prefer my own shot above!