Category Archives: Europe

Staycation 2020 – Clifftop Walk to Port Mulgrave

The weather continued to improve.  Not enough to go to the beach which disappointed the children but enough to go for a walk which disappointed them even more.  I don’t know why I should be surprised by that, sixty years or so ago I expect I was just as reluctant to walk when on holiday with my parents.

From the cottage we walked down into the picturesque fishing village with its sash-windowed stone cottages with hanging gates and quirky names some bright with buoys and boat-shaped planters, seagulls squawking an unruly chorus on the rain shiny bird stained tiled roofs.

Staithes owes its existence to the fishing industry which, in its heyday, employed three hundred men and supported over one hundred boats. The whole village played an active part in the work, helping with repairing nets, baiting hooks and launching boats. When the railway opened in 1885, three trains per week transported Staithes fish to British cities. At the turn of the twentieth century steam trawlers from larger ports killed the locals’ livelihood, until only one full-time fisherman remained in the village.

At the Cod & Lobster pub, we turned on to Church Street and walked the steep uphill climb to join the Cleveland Way. I closed my ears to the complaints and offered the bribe of an ice cream upon our return.  Our legwork was amply rewarded at the top by breath-taking views of the coast and countryside and a spectacular view of the village and the harbour.

From there we continued along to Port Mulgrave, the path drifting dramatically close to the edge of the cliff top revealing continuous evidence of coastal erosion.  The problem is that this coastline really shouldn’t be here at all because it is made up of unconsolidated soft clay and small stones called glacial till that were scooped up from the sea bed by a glacier during the last ice age and dumped here as the ice eventually melted and receded north about ten thousand years ago.  It is just soft clay with the consistency and the look of a crumbly Christmas cake that simply cannot resist the power of the waves.

At Port Mulgrave the cliffs have been scraped away not by erosion but by industrial processes.  There’s a different reason for the existence of Port Mulgrave – ironstone mining, which transformed this part of the coast in the mid-nineteenth century. There were ironstone seams in the coastal rocks laid down between 206 and 150 Million Years ago and the sheltered bay made a good harbour for boats coming to ship the ironstone out to Jarrow. The industry is long gone and little remains of the harbour, but the shoreline at Port Mulgrave stands as a reminder of the industry that once characterised this coast, one hundred years ago there were almost one hundred mines in North Yorkshire.

Rows of domestic properties and individual houses exist on the top of the cliff but Port Mulgrave is now derelict and the port itself is completely gone, destroyed by Royal Engineers during the Second World War to prevent it being used as a landing base for an invading army.

We had walked for just over two miles and I was happy to carry on but the constant complaining was beginning to wear me down so eventually I gave in and we returned by a shorter alternative route back to Staithes where the children remembered my promise of an ice cream.

Later on it started to rain again so we were confined once more to the cottage.  During the night the rain continued and became heavier so I wasn’t too disappointed when morning came, we could pack the suitcases and begin the long drive home.

As you can see,, I have perfected the art of standing on higher ground than my granddaughter…

 

Staycation 2020 – Saltburn-by-the-Sea

On the third day the rain had stopped but had been replaced by very strong winds. I had considered visiting nearby Boulby cliffs, the highest in the north-east of England but with responsibility for an adventurous grandson who cannot stop climbing I thought this may not be especially wise so we visited nearby Saltburn-by-the Sea instead.

Saltburn is an interesting place, a Victorian new town developed to provide seaside facilities to the emergng iron town of Middlesborough, it was designed and built in the space of only a few years in the 1850s and 60s.

After parking the car we made directly for the promenade and to the pier. The pleasure pier is characteristically English, a genuine icon and one that I have never really understood.

No one in England lives more than seventy miles or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline. If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.

Construction of Saltburn pier began in 1867 with a traditional design of a metal frame (piles) and a wooden deck, designed principally to get people to Saltburn by paddle steamers from the nearby industrial towns along the River Tees.

The one thousand, five hundred foot pier opened in May 1869 with a steamer landing stage at the head of the pier and two circular kiosks at the entrance. The first steamers left the pier on 14 May 1870, with a service to Middlesbrough. In the first six months of operation, there were fifty-thousand toll-paying visitors. Steamer excursions added to the company’s revenue with new seasonal trips to Hartlepool and Scarborough.

But stuck out at sea as they are English piers are rather precarious structures and constantly exposed to danger and one night in October 1875 a gale struck the pier removing three hundred feet of the structure at the seaward end, including the pier head, landing stage and part of the pier deck. In the middle of an iron trade slump, it was decided not to replace the missing section or reconstruct a landing stage, leaving a redeveloped pier two hundred and fifty foot shorter.

In the 1880s there was further development but after suffering slight storm damage in 1900, the pier was struck by a china clay ship in May 1924. The collision left a two hundred foot gap in the promenade leaving the bandstand inaccessible. The gap was replaced in March 1929, with a new theatre, completed in 1930 enabling the full length of the pier to open.

When my granddaughter was born in October 2008 it didn’t occur to me that twelve years later she would be taller than me…

It seems that Saltburn Pier was destined for perpetual misfortune. Purchased by the council in 1938, the pier was sectioned during World War II by having part of the deck removed to guard against Nazi invasion. Due to its poor post war condition, repairs were not granted planning permission until 1949 and due to a shortage of steel not completed until 1952.

That didn’t last long. In 1953 gales did more serious damage which took a further five years to complete but soon after in 1958 two piles were lost in a storm.  In 1961 another twenty piles were twisted in storms.  After severe gales in 1971 and 1972, piles were lost at the seaward end leaving the pier in a perilous condition. Further damage in 1974 culminated in October when the pier head was lost and the deck damaged, leaving a length of only one thousand feet.

In 1975 the council had had enough of the pier and proposed to have the structure demolished but a “Save the Pier” campaign led to a public enquiry which concluded that only the final thirteen piers could be removed and it should remain. This left a seven hundred foot length of refurbished pier, less than half the original length of 1869 which reopened in June 1978.

In 2009, the National Piers Society awarded it with the title of pier of the year.  Other finalists must have been seriously disappointed I imagine.

This is the pier that in a howling gale we walked today over a turbulent sea and into a misty gloom. It was cold at the pier head so we didn’t stay long and after successfully directing the children away from the amusement arcade we resumed our walk along the sea front.  William inevitably found things to climb on.

In the afternoon the wind dropped, the sun made a belated appearance and we managed an unexpected hour at the beach.

Staycation 2020 – a Washout in Staithes

We had arrived on a glorious sunny day which had made me rather optimistic for the remainder of the week.  But the forecast wasn’t at all promising. I don’t always take much notice of the weather forecast but this time the Met Office had got it spot on and when we woke in the morning there was heavy rain and a storm and it looked disappointingly permanent.

So we spent the morning in the cottage, the children didn’t seem to mind, they had their phones and devices to keep them occupied but by afternoon I was beginning to get bored so pulled on my rain coat and ventured out into the wet streets.

It was a different place completely today, empty pavement tables abandoned and dripping, the occasional visitor soaked and unhappy, a deserted beach and empty tourist shops.

Even in the rain however Staithes is lovely, a muddle of whitewashed cottages squeezed between towering cliffs on the North Yorkshire coast, it sits on either side of ‘the Beck’ which is a meandering creek which cuts through a dramatic cleft in the rocky landscape and emerges into the sea between soaring cliffs. A footbridge crosses the beck, the south side is in Scarborough Borough Council and the north is in Cleveland and Redcar. At one time it was the largest fishing port in the north-east with a side-line in minerals and mining and there is still a potash mine nearby.

Boulby Mine is a large site located close to the village which at four thousand six hundred feet deep it is the deepest mine of any kind in Europe and has a network of underground roads extending under the sea totalling over six hundred miles in length. It mines for potash and polyhalite both used as fertilisers and this is the only place in the World where polyhalite is mined in a seam three and a half thousand feet below the North Sea.

In its heyday Staithes had around fifty sea captains, most famously of course, Captain James Cook who came here as a boy to work in a chandler’s shop, but then caught sea fever and abruptly left. The shop is long gone but the cottage is still lived in, unlike many others which have become holiday lets but its place at the heart of ‘Captain Cook Country’ now underpins Staithes’ busy tourist season.

I visited the local museum which has three main themes, Captain Cook of course, the long gone railway line which once served the coastal fishing and mining industries and tales of smugglers. This section of the North Yorkshire is almost as famous as Cornwall as a location for smugglers. I used to like tales about smugglers when I was a boy, this is a booklet that I bought in with my pocket money in Cornwall in about 1966…

The Yorkshire coast is just two hundred miles from Europe across the North Sea. Ships taking sixteenth and seventeenth century exports to the mainland continent often returned loaded with contraband and other items that was destined to avoid the revenue duty. 

It was the most unlikely of contraband that drove the trade – tea. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Yorkshire folk loved a cuppa no less than now, but tea was one of the most expensive commodities because of punitive levels of taxation, which at one point reached nearly one hundred and twenty per cent.

Just look what happened in the American colonies as a consequence of a tax on tea!

It cost up to thirty-five shillings a pound – but in the Netherlands it was only seven old pence. Smugglers seized the opportunity to buy it for next to nothing and sell for many times more than what they paid and a trade sprang to life that operated from 1700 until about 1850.

Yorkshire’s coastline was ideal for smuggling, with miles of deserted beaches where contraband could be landed and caves for its storage. Villagers were insular and wary of customs men from the outside, so they kept their mouths shut and took the smugglers’ backhanders. Ships would lay off the coast, their cargoes being run in by smaller boats. The trade flourished, with Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Landing and Runswick Bay the favoured landing places, the contraband being moved inland by pack-horses or on carts with their wheels muffled by rags.

And so I soaked up the history and later I soaked up more rain as I walked the steep hill to the car park to buy more time and to visit the local store to buy more provisions for the lock-down evening: nothing to do with Covid, just the abysmal weather.

Staycation 2020 – North Yorkshire

As for everyone else, the Covid pandemic made rather a mess of travel plans for this year.

We made it to Cyprus in March just ahead of the crisis but then had flights cancelled to Spain in April and to Lisbon in June. Only recently Easyjet cancelled our September flights to Sicily but I have to say that I was not desperately disappointed by that.

Once a year I like to go away with my grandchildren and we have got into the habit of finding somewhere in England. Encouraged by our previous good fortune with the weather in Suffolk in 2018, Cornwall and Yorkshire in 2019 and with some easing of the lockdown restrictions, I found a cottage in North Yorkshire in the coastal village of Staithes, a place that I have wanted to visit for some time.

So, in the last week of August we crossed the Humber Bridge and made our way north and whether they wanted one or not a planned an itinerary that included some history lessons.

Half way through the journey we stopped at the village of Stamford Bridge close to the city of York where there was an important battle in September 1066.

The death of King Edward the Confessor of England in January 1066 had triggered a succession struggle in which a variety of contenders from across north-western Europe fought for the English throne. These claimants included the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada who launched an invasion fleet of three hundred ships and an estimated nine thousand soldiers.

The invaders sailed up the Ouse before advancing on York and things went well at first and they defeated a northern English army at the Battle of Fulford close to York.

At this time the English King Harold was in Southern England, anticipating an invasion from France by William, Duke of Normandy. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he headed north at great speed and completed the journey from London to Yorkshire, a distance of nearly two hundred miles in only four days, enabling him to take the Norwegians completely by surprise who until the English army came into view the invaders remained unaware of the presence of a hostile army anywhere in the vicinity.

Harold’s victory was emphatic and as terms of the surrender the Vikings promised never to bother England again so the Kingdom seemed safe. A fortnight later Harold was dead at the Battle of Hastings and William was pronounced King. Harold’s victory at Stamford Bridge was important to William as it meant the north was secured and William could get on with organising the Norman Conquest.

There is another famous Stamford Bridge in England, in London, the home of Chelsea Football club. It is close to a river, a tributary of the Thames and the name means “the bridge at the sandy ford” and has nothing to do with the village in Yorkshire.

The first history lesson over we continued our journey north-east towards our destination.

The drive across the North Yorkshire Moors is rather tedious it has to be said and patience was running out in the back seat of the car and there was a chorus of complaints “How many more miles?” “When will we get there?” “How many more minutes?” but there was little point rushing, it was a nice day and we couldn’t get into the cottage until four o’clock which was a couple of hours away. I tried my dad’s favourite tactic – a challenge to see the sea first but that didn’t work.

We stopped for a short while at a place called Sandsend which was so busy with staycationers and it was difficult to find a parking place. Once we had managed it we strolled for a while along the front and let the sea air and the fierce wind refresh us after three hours in the car, queued forever for an ice cream and then carried on.

The children would have liked to go onto the beach but I am a bit of a spoilsport in this regard and didn’t relish the prospect of clearing a tonne of sand out of the car which they would have been sure to deposit. In a moment of madness I promised them a visit to the beach later when we had reached our destination and settled in.

We arrived safely in Staithes and it was everything that I was expecting it to be. A charming tangle of narrow winding streets leading down to a walled harbour and pastel painted cottages in a labyrinth of narrow passages and built vertically into the sides of the cliffs. It is quite possibly one of the most photogenic seaside towns in the whole of the country. It was once one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast and famous for herring, so much herring that special trains had to be laid on to transport it away, the cottages all belonged to the fishermen but they are mostly holiday lets now.

I was happy to sit for a while on the terrace and enjoy a beer in the sunshine and Kim a glass of wine but the children hadn’t forgotten my earlier rash bribery/promise and in the late afternoon we were at the muddy beach down by the harbour.

My Lead Soldier Collection – The WW2 Submarine Captain

Submarine Captain

During the Second World War, the Royal Navy lost two hundred and fifty-four major warships in addition to over a thousand minor vessels and auxiliary vessels due to enemy action and to counter these losses a huge shipbuilding programme was undertaken.

The enormous expense involved forced the Government to appeal to the British people to assist in meeting the bill and weeks were set aside during which local communities were encouraged to save to adopt locally a warship.

Read The Full Story Here…

My Lead Soldier Collection – The Norman Conquest

Norman Knights 1066

William the Conqueror and a Norman Knight.

In England we have to National Day, no Independence Day, I am willing to wager that not many people would know the date of St George’s Day, in fact we tend to celebrate a day when we were invaded and lost our Independence.

The Norman Conquest of England is quite unique.  By their very nature most hostile invasions and occupations end up being only rather temporary but in this case, not so.

The Year 1066 is probably the most memorable in English history.  On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down in battle and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”.

Read The Full Story Here…

My Lead Soldier Collection – RAF Battle of Britain

RAF WW2

I have never actually written a post about the Battle of Britain but there is one about the two planes the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

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My Lead Soldier Collection – El Cid

El Cid

The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 has long been known to historians of Spain as the ‘Reconquista’ and the Spanish have organised their medieval history around the drama of this glorious event which over time has become a cherished feature of the self-image of the Spanish people.

Read The Full Story Here…

My Lead Soldier Collection – English Standard Bearer at Agincourt

Agincourt Knight

I visited the Agincourt site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and if we hadn’t been paying attention we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France.

The signage isn’t very special either…

Agincourt Field

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My Lead Soldier Collection – The Spanish Conquistadors

Conquistadors

“…the breed of men who conquered a continent with a handful of adventurers, wore hair shirts day and night until they stuck to their flesh, and braved the mosquitoes of the Pilcomayo and the Amazon”  Gerald Brenan

Many of the sixteenth century explorers and adventurers who carved out the Spanish Empire in South America came from Extremadura and as well as Pizzaro, there was Hérnan Cortés, who defeated the Aztecs and founded Mexico, Hernando De Soto, who explored Florida, and Pedro de Almagro, who accompanied Pizzaro and they all came from this south-west corner of Spain.

Read The Full Story Here…