Spurn Head Spit
Nearing Spurn Head Spit, there are still signs in cottage windows saying #keepspurnwild. Hearing about this campaign on the radio was what first alerted me to the existence of this place. Local residents campaigned hard against The Wildlife Trust’s plan to build a large visitor centre with a car park at the start of the spit. A plan which has now been approved and work begun. The general argument against it seems to be that the planned building will be vast and ugly, encouraging huge amounts of visitors that the village of Kilnsea would not be able to accommodate. Essentially it would disrupt and alter the delicate balance of life that exists in this narrow, endangered landscape.
Nearby coastal villages and the spit itself are also under serious environmental threat. Spurn is a series of sand and shingle banks held together by sea buckthorn and marram grass. It’s 50 metres wide and stretches five-and-a-half kilometres into the Humber estuary. Its extreme geography leaves it open to the North Sea’s ravages and, according to our taxi driver and the residents I speak to, this stretch of Yorkshire coastline is being reclaimed by the sea at an alarming rate. There is a strong sense of this place being under siege by both commerce and the forces of nature.
When I begin the walk along Spurn, I can see the spit curving out ahead of me. On one side is the River Humber and on the other the North Sea, but after a certain point the central ridge rises, and I must either choose a side or walk along the middle, where the views are partially obscured by raised banks of marram grass. I decide to focus inwards for my outward journey, gazing across the richly patterned mudflats and, split into semi-relief by their system of creeks, over to the faint grey outlines of Grimsby and Humberston. But glancing over my shoulder at the still-visible North Sea coast, the vista is dramatically different: a station of wind farms perches on the rough blue waves breaking over pale sands.
Picking my way along, my eyes flit between the view and the abundantly detailed world beneath my feet: multicoloured pebbles and seaweed on complex, veiny rivulets. The spit has been destroyed and restored by floods and storms many times: like re-used clay or dough, absorbing fragments of everyday life into its fabric. Eventually I climb up onto the path with more distant views: of the Humber, the swirling patterns of the mudflats, large industrial boats, the curve of the spit and the lighthouse in the distance. The lighthouse is tall and definite, restored: a visual anchor point. But the settlement I reach at the end of the spit is an odd collection of suburbanlooking terraced homes for RNLI workers, disused Second World War bunkers and abandoned industrial sheds.
The difference in character on the return journey is startling. It’s as if I have been picked up and transplanted elsewhere: a place of white sand with rhythmical grooves on the ground. I pass a lone piece of driftwood sculpted into bonelike form. Battered and decaying wooden groynes stand in rows across the sand, casting long shadows like a wild imitation of the wind farms out at sea. Orange and turquoise rope wraps around them, creating tastefully coloured schemes.
Out at the tide-line I see a lone seal pup lying in the water and I talk to the two marine rescuers. They tell me it is fine, has probably recently parted company from its mother and is just having a bask. More used to seeing seals in a colony, to me this lone animal feels distinctly vulnerable, but then so does Spurn itself. I look down and see more rivulets decorated with pebbles, the same as on the landward shore, and they unite the two in my mind’s eye. The spit flattens and the two paths begin to merge. The tide starts to come in quickly, and the utter fragility of this place is heightened with the narrowing of the land.
Illustrator Alice Stevensen enjoys curious places and surprising perspectives in her travels around the country, seeking out puzzles and wonders with an artist’s eye
Taken from Ways to See Britain: Curious Places and Surprising Perspectives by Alice Stevenson (September Publishing). You can follow Alice’s travels on Instagram: @AliceStevo