Memories of Spurn

by Gillian Granger, January 2007

On April 12th 1952 I stood on the cliff at Easington with my mother and we looked south. Before us lay a long lonely shore, with concrete blocks on the beach, and nearby were meadows with grazing cows. In the following year we came here often, yet never saw this scene again. But we had fallen in love with the lonely shore and the luminous sea.

On January 31st 1953, we were in the Wharfe valley. It was very windy, and we were startled to see a haystack being blown to pieces. In April of that year we came back to Easington, and saw a great change. The storm that destroyed the haystack was a catastrophe at the east coast. The shore had changed, the meadow gone. The dunes were swept away, the rushy dikes had vanished. The huge concrete blocks and the slabs of the sea wall had been hurled on to the fields. Parts of the arable land were covered by a layer of sand, mud and pebbles and a litter of tangled barbed wire. Hedges were draped with hay.

This was the first time we saw the power of the sea over the land, and how it changes so much.

Spurn and the North Sea coast changed constantly all the years I went there. Sea walls of mud were built, only for the waves to tear them down. Tank blocks were arranged on the beach south of the Warren. Watching a bulldozer going out to sea to position the blocks, Colin Massingham was awed by the man’s intrepid driving.

“Is he going to end it all?” he said wonderingly.

Sea going bulldozer - 12.03.88
Sea going bulldozer - 12.03.88 (Photograph - G. Granger)

Spurn is ruled by wind and sea. Countless gales have ripped over the peninsula. The worst I remember was on October 30th, 2000, a violent storm force 11. I had to leave my caravan because it was the end of the season. Until it was time for the bus I took refuge in the toilet block - solid brick and not likely to take off in the battering madness of the gale. I heard a deafening screech of metal, and looked out to see what looked like half a caravan being hurtled along the camp road by the gale. I hadn’t expected the bus to come, but it did, and I got on, supported by two kindly locals. In Withernsea there was talk of the buses being taken off. But a bus came and I clambered aboard. The skilful driver went slowly and carefully to Hull. A ride on the top deck of a bus in a Force 11 gale is a very exciting enterprise.

One of Spurn’s best remembered characters was Redvers Clubley. He was usually seen in old clothes, with a length of string around his waist. My mother thought he was wonderful. He would tell us about his early life. His cure for warts was to rub them with “a big black snell (snail)”, leave the slime on the wart and stick the poor snail on a thorn. As the body dried and fell off, so would the wart. He once went to a dance adorned with snail slime - no one would dance with him, he said. As for the moon landing, he didn’t believe it had happened, it was just a trick.

I last saw Redvers, very old now, in the garden of his home at The Tower. He smiled vaguely at me, and his sly charm was still there.

Redvers Clubley collecting entrance fees at Spurn
Redvers Clubley collecting entrance fees at Spurn (Photograph - Spurn Bird Observatory)

The glory of Spurn is the birds, so many of them, thousands of Knot swirling like smoke clouds along the bay, terns with their cheerful creaky voices, little bright birds hiding in the bushes. Among the best was a pair of Golden Orioles, usually hard to see, but here the male had found a fat caterpillar and the female Oriole wanted it and the ensuing chase brought them out into the open.

It was fascinating to see the migrants travelling through, thousands of Swallows and Meadow Pipits going south, Redwings and Starlings coming across the sea from the east, Robins and Goldcrests suddenly appearing everywhere. One day thousands of Sand Martins paused at the Point, they were on the wires, on the beach, even clinging to walls - 10,000 of them the warden, Barry Spence, reckoned.

We were lucky enough to see a bird which will cause discussion for a long time. On the shore near bushes that were taken by the sea years ago was a very strange bird, black and orange with a long tail. We asked John Cudworth what it could be, and he said it was a Rufous-sided Towhee.

Spurn hasn’t only got birds to enthrall us, there are plants and insects. Yellow-horned poppy flowered there for a few years, and there are unexpected finds such as Marjoram, Eyebright and Black Bryony, and recently the alien Canadian Fleabane is making a takeover bid for the Point.

Lesser Rorqual, Easington Beach. 22.10.60
Lesser Rorqual, Easington Beach. 22.10.60 (Photograph - G. Granger)

Thanks to the warden I saw Essex Skipper, and at the Warren I twice had the thrill of seeing a Death’s Head Hawkmoth, a magnificent insect. Sometimes the ants take to the air in nuptial flights and once I saw Common Terns hawking for them. Recently I saw a Great Diving Beetle walking along the footpath near Kilnsea Church.

On a guided walk we were thrilled to see a Long-eared Bat - those ears! And long ago a Noctule Bat flew along the road at Kilnsea. Many years ago a Lesser Rorqual was washed up on the beach between Easington and Kilnsea. It was left on the beach, slowly decaying, and years later people reported finding the bones of an Elephant on the beach.

Bones of the Lesser Rorqual
Bones of the Lesser Rorqual sometimes mistaken by visitors for those of an elephant (Photograph - G Granger)

At Spurn days are full of promise, hopes of a mysterious stranger from hundreds of miles away. Perhaps a Sooty Shearwater, gliding and tilting over the sea, so far from its birth place in the South Atlantic, or a tiny green Pallas’ Warbler, darting about with frantic energy.

Mrs. Granger and Gillan's sister with their dogs along Beacon Lane
Mrs. Granger and Gillan's sister with their dogs along Beacon Lane, Kilnsea (Photograph - G.Granger)

To set out to Spurn is to start on an adventure. Spurn is always changing, yet the enchantment never fades.