Lifeboats and lighthouses – more East Coast Adventures

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Lovely Lighthouse

Our beautiful English East Yorkshire coast is well worth a drive out in your Morris Minor with a flask of coffee. The eight mile stretch which makes up Flamborough Head is Britain’s only northern chalk sea cliff. Think of it as the white cliffs of Dover’s more petite, but prettier, sister. As home to huge colonies of native and migrant sea birds it is also a conservation area and an SSSI (Special site of scientific interest – you knew that) There are two lighthouses to inspect atop the cliffs. One classic beautiful shiny modern one and an ancient chalk tower built in 1674, which is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England. There weren’t any of those nice shiny lenses and electric light back then so they had to build fires on top of the tower to warn the ships away from the rocky coastline.

light my fire

There are about 200,000 nesting sea birds on Flamborough Head, a real treat to see, and the rocky precipice has one of only two mainland British Gannetries – (a useful word when playing scrabble)  That is to say it is  a sort of high rise nursery tower block for Gannets. As well as Gannets there are Kittiwakes and Puffins and birdwatchers or ‘twitchers’ as they are known in the trade can be seen prowling, binoculars in hand.

At the chalk face

The chalk of these cliffs is soft and easily eroded, hence many caves have been created which are great fun for exploring and were ideal hangouts for smugglers in days gone by. It does mean however, that this piece of the coastline is particularly prone to landslides and quite a few properties built along the cliff line have slid into the shiny sea in recent years. A whole hotel – Holbeck Hall – collapsed into the sea in 1993 and more recently five fishermen’s cottages in Whitby have been left teetering on the brink of oblivion. The East Riding of Yorkshire, as it is known, has one of the fastest retreating coastlines in Europe. So you’d better pay it a visit now before it goes!
Flamborough Head has two lifeboat stations and both have very steep slipways indeed. They are open to the public during the summer months and one even has a small cafe precariously squashed into it. You can read about the history of the lifeboats and the rescues they effected. The stories of volunteers and the many lives they saved over the years is always somehow moving despite being told in such perfunctory language, inscribed on wall plaques dating back many years. The result of each launch is listed.

Lifeboat lifeline

Landed 15.
Gave Help.
Saved vessel and 35.
Landed 3 bodies.
Rescued 2 & a dog.
Boy over cliff.
Two boys cut off by tide

Boys it seems will always be boys.
As someone who doesn’t like to get their face wet much, I have always been in awe of those brave enough to risk their lives for others in rough seas. During the very wet 2012 Flamborough’s lifeboat was launched 25 times and rescued 25 people. Together with the Bridlington boat a total of 55 people (5 under 18) were saved along this coast last year – the second ever busiest in the lifeboat’s history.

Madeleine is good in water

Other stuff was going on the day we visited in the small shingly cove littered with lovely white pebbles and rocks which do seem to regularly reappear in people’s gardens about these parts. Fishing from sea kayaks was happening, making boat shapes out of pebbles, plucky bathers were in evidence, joggers  running up the slipway (why?) and folk just generally having fun on the sea shore on a lovely bright day. It is nice to know that these traditional seaside pursuits still have an irresistible attraction and that not everyone is sitting inside on their sofa playing Second Life on the internet. They’re still enjoying their first one right here. The Model Village..

I do like to be beside the seaside..


Look what we made!