Spurn Head Spit


The Simple Things - - THINK/EXPLORING -

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

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