Thursday, November 01, 2007

How all this started...

Looking for some resources for a workshop I'm doing on Saturday, I stumbled across this old piece of work, the piece of work that started me on the rocky road to On A Shout. This feature was for the illustrious publication the Holderness Advertiser, back in the day. I'm not sure when it was in, 2001 I think, maybe 2002.

REMOTE. Desolate. Isolated. Anyone would think that Spurn Point didn't have anything going for it. However, this unique location is a place where you can be at one with nature, the Humber Pilot and Britain's only full time lifeboat crew, as DAVE WINDASS discovered . . .

ANYONE that has driven down the narrow concrete road leading to Spurn Point will have asked themselves the same question: "Will this journey ever end?" Ten miles an hour on a bumpy surface for three miles is no fun. And just what is at the end of the road?

For one, there are bird spotters, as ever out in force. For another, there is the crew of the Humber Lifeboat, carrying out routine maintenance between calls. Then there are the team of Humber pilots, ready and waiting to assist ships in their safe passage down one of the country's most treacherous estuaries. There are empty beaches, a lighthouse, the Humber Pilots Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) tower, a cafe and...and...oh, there's plenty.

Remote Spurn Point is unlike anywhere else you are likely to visit. It is, if you allow your imagination to run riot, like something from another planet.

For people seeking a natural day out, this is certainly the place to head. A nature reserve owned and managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Spurn's mud flats are the perfect feeding grounds for wading birds. The peninsula is also the perfect place from which to spot birds migrating to sunnier climes. Bird spotters head to the Point in their droves, in the knowledge that this is one of the most important sites in Europe for wintering and migrating wading birds and wildfowl.

Andrew Gibson is the new Spurn Nature Reserve officer. He said: "Two different types of people come here. There are those that want to experience the wildlife and natural history and then there are those that just want to wander on the beaches, to have a day out.

"There are some misconceptions about Spurn. Some people think that it's an island, which it isn't of course, it's a narrow, vulnerable peninsula. Spurn is desolate but that it one of its most appealing features.

"This is a very natural environment. It would be easy to think, we'll add new features for visitors but if we added too many it would become just like the things that people come here to try and get away from.

"Right now, at this very moment, there are around 20,000 birds feeding.

"We own and manage the land, right down to the low level water. So, even if you are on a beach at Spurn, you are on land owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

"Why is this a bird spotters' paradise? How's this for an example. On Sunday September 22, at 6.12pm, there was a Black Browed Albatross here. That is a very rare sight. But the chance of seeing birds like that is what draws the enthusiasts here."

John Bennett, a bird spotter down for the day from Barton-upon-Humber, agreed. He said: "On a typical day, you will see a lot of migrants heading across the east coast. This is the perfect place to spot birds. This morning, for instance, I spotted an Arctic Skua. The beauty of Spurn is that you feel at one with nature. If you want solitude, this is the place to be."

Spurn Point is actually made up of material that washes down the coast from the North. It is a constantly evolving piece of land, being eroded and re-formed as mother nature goes about her business. History suggests that Spurn point is on a 250-year cycle of breach and re-growth. Areas where recent breaches have taken place can be seen from the road diversions on the famous bumpy road, originally built at the time of World War II. The area known as Narrow Neck was built up to defend it in 1860 - up to this point it was constantly wave swept.

While cars can travel down the road at a cost of £2.50, perhaps the best way to enjoy these natural surroundings is on foot, providing you're confident you can manage the 3.5 mile walk to the end.

While the atmospheric surroundings are totally unique, it should not be forgotten that there are two functional and essential services housed on the Point. The Humber Lifeboat - manned by the RNLI's only full time crew - is stationed here, as is the Humber Pilot, whose jetty is situated on the Humber side of the Point and their VTS tower located on the North Sea side. Both services are tenants of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

The first lifeboat was stationed at Spurn Point in 1810 and the crew was made up from the men of Kilnsea. The lifeboat then was a ten oared boat and carriage costing £284. Today's Severn class lifeboat - the Pride of Humber - costs more than £1.4m. The RNLI took over the lifeboat operation in 1911.

The Men of the Humber Lifeboat have been awarded 33 RNLI medals; 3 Gold, 13 Silver, 17 Bronze and also awarded one George Medal and an MBE. The MBE recipient was none other than the legendary Brian Bevan, who retired last year.

Dave Steenvoorden, second coxswain of the Humber Lifeboat, has been on Spurn for 12 years. A former Grimsby fisherman, Dave said that the team of seven is a tight knit group.

"We are a very close team. We're well drilled and when we head out on a job we can read each other's minds.

"We work seven days on and one day off and we're on 24 hour call. Our main bread and butter work is maintaining the lifeboat and the station, and we have to keep in form with regular exercises. I would say, on average, there is one call out per week.

"The Humber is a very hairy waterway. If we were to compare traffic levels to those on a road we'd be looking at the M25 so, when we're heading out on a call it's similar to crossing three lines of motorway. The Humber is also notoriously difficult to navigate - one minute you'll be in water 50ft deep, then nearly to ground the next.

"We have a close working relationship with the Humber Pilots and in emergency situations they will route shipping around us, to allow us to cut across traffic.

"Living here is very strange. When I started in this job an old hand gave me some good advice. He said I should, without fail, try and get off the Point on my days off, make sure I have regular holidays. So I make sure I follow that advice."

Dave's wife Karen operates the café situated near the Lifeboat station."It's a bit of a sideline," says Dave, "It gives visitors somewhere to get a snack and provides us with the extra money to get off the point when we need to.

"For me, life revolves around the boat and the chance that we could get a call at any minute of the day. It's an unusual place to live, an unusual job but I would say that my quality of life is excellent. There are seven families here, and eight school-age children and we all know each other and have bonded in a way that would not have been possible if we lived in more conventional surroundings. There are definitely more pros than cons to being here."

Gary Hartley, launch coxswain for the Humber Pilot, said: "Currently, we have around 34 staff here. Our vessels include five pilot launches and four conservatory craft, used for surveying the estuary. There are three launches here on the station, which allows us to get out to vessels when needed. The Humber is the busiest estuary in the country, there is a huge volume of traffic here and all have to be piloted up and down to ensure safe passage. Given the volume of traffic there are remarkably few incidents.

"The tower allows us to monitor traffic. Day to day tasks include ensuring that we have enough fuel here to power the boats. That sounds easy but this is not the simplest place to get to, we've been cut off a couple of times.

"As for Spurn itself, this can be a perfect place given the right conditions. There are no amusement arcades, just beaches and nature and, although winters can be a bit harsh and it becomes a bleak place to work, there is always somewhere to get out of the wind. I actually live in Hull but I often bring the family here for a day out."

Visitors can see for themselves this natural beauty. As well as birds, Spurn is full of flora, and supports a unique selection of species. The dunes are full of Marram Grass, while the mud flats contain Sea Aster and Glasswort. The most visible plant life is Sea Buckthorn.

There are also many species of moths and butterflies, while the most observant of visitors will spot rabbits, weasels, foxes, stoats, field mice and even Roe deers. As there is a chance that, at some time in the future, Spurn Point may split from the mainland, perhaps you should head down that bumpy road while you can.

For more information about the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, visit the website

For more information about the Humber Lifeboat and a history of the Spurn Bird Observatory, visit the website

Spurn point is situated on the north bank of the entrance to the River Humber.

Spurn stretches 3.5 miles into the Humber estuary.

Spurn's mud flats are a major feeding ground for wading birds.

Spurn is full of the remnants of military fortifications.

The rail lines that are still visible led to Kilnsea Camp during World War I.

Spurn was an important military base during the Napoleonic war and World War I and II.

Spurn is a National Nature Reserve owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since 1960.

Spurn Low Light was built in 1852.

Spurn Light House was built in 1895.

The RNLI's only full-time lifeboat crew live on Spurn.

The Humber Pilots' control centre, situated at the very tip of Spurn Point, monitors shipping on the Humber, while pilots navigate vessels down the estuary.

No dogs are allowed on Spurn Point.

Warren Cottage, which stands at the entrance gates along with the Information Centre and was built between 1840-50, houses the Spurn Bird Observatory.

1 comment:

Bazza & Wifey said...

I really enjoy Spurn every time I go (which isn't often enough) and I really enjoyed reading this post. Given its proximity to Hull, it always amazes me how empty it is. Many a time I've spent a day on the beach and not seen a single soul. Long may it stay that way!