Spurn Point: liminal Yorkshire

Spurn Point

I spent a fantastic day at Spurn Point on Sunday. It’s a long, thin strip of sand pointing into the North Sea just outside of Hull which is in an endless cycle of destruction and rebuilding caused by the sea eroding and depositing material. It’s full of crumbling defensive positions dating from the Victorian era through the fifties and has an apparently abandoned (but possibly still functional) lighthouse. It also has the busiest, and only full-time, lifeboat crew in England.

There are no facilities there at all and the only access is via a single-lane track, which is a private toll road. It’s one of those definitively liminal east coast places that leave you walking between worlds, and it’s also a fantastic beach. Just two hours from middle-of-the-country Sheffield, it’s a broad, soft sandy cove facing out over the Hull estuary traffic, which even on a hot day such as Sunday is largely empty.

This area has always been on the edge and has frequently washed over it. There’s a great page about Spurn’s history and its position as the location of a near-mythical village, Ravenser Odd, here. Let me quote some of it for the hard-of-clicking (such as myself):

“From the chalk outcropping of the Wolds at Flamborough Head 122m (400 feet) high, to the silt laden out-flowing of the Humber estuary, a distance of some 45 miles or 72.4k., during recorded history, have vanished beneath the ever encroaching waves of the North Sea some 30 habitations including the townships of: Hartburn; Hyde; Withow; Cleeton; Northorpe; Hornsea Burton; Hornsea Beck; Southorpe; Great Colden; Coilden Parva; Old Aldborough; Ringborough, Monkwell; Monkwike; Sand le Mare; Waxholme; Owthorne or Sisterkirk; Newsham; Old Withernsea; Out Newton; Dimlington; Turmarr; Northorpe; Hoton; Old Kilnsea; Ravenspurn; and RAVENSER ODD. The last of these, Ravenser Odd, geographically was an odd place indeed. Its existence was but fleeting, but its historical impact more perhaps than should have been expected for a place of such physical insignificance… the township and port of Ravenser Odd was located at the mouth of the Humber Estuary, on the northern shore very close to the tip of the sand spit known today as Spurn Point. During its existence its name was recorded variously as Ravenser, Ravenser Odd, Ravenserodd, Ravenserod, and simply – Lod. This well known land/navigation mark is a fluid feature, it is thought to undergo a life cycle of some 250 years, during which it gets destroyed, is reborn some metres further westward, stabilises, and then is destroyed again… “The earliest reference to the headland is in the 7th century A.D. when according to Alcuin’s Life of St. Willibrord, Wilgils, the father of the apostle to the Frisians, Willibrord, is said to have settled there as a hermit. Known as Ravenser, from ‘Hrafn’s Eyr’ or ‘Hrafn’s Sandbank’, there are several references to Spurn in the Icelandic sagas, especially in connection with its use as an embarkation point for the defeated Norwegian army after the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The name Ravenser was also applied to a small settlement, probably of Danish origin, which seems to have been located somewhere near the base of the headland a mile or two south-east of old Kilnsea. Never itself a town of major importance and predominantly rural in character, Ravenser was to be completely overshadowed by what may be described as a mediaeval ‘new town’, its near neighbour, Ravenser Odd.”

The surviving place names in the area are very obviously evidence of Thor-worshipping vikings – much like half of England I suppose.

Reached via a weird mix of flat Anglian countryside and bleak industrial cityscape, it’s one of those places that is not hard to find but incomprehensibly distant. We put on our wet suits and had a high old time in the sea, dodging the occasional jelly fish and fighting the awesome undertow. I suspect in driving rain in midwinter it would be even more impressive but it was utterly captivating. Further along the coast there are gems such as Robin Hood Bay and of course Goth Mecca Whitby, but I recommend it to anyone seeking a Ballardian escape on the north east coast.

More here.

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