On 30th September 2014 I took an ill advised boat trip in Turkey.
After the debacle of the IMX excursion to Ephesus and Pamukkale and the road side break down we seriously considered cancelling our next IMX trip to Bodrum because this was by boat and whilst breaking down in a car is bad enough, in a boat it could be catastrophic.
The visits to the Ancient sites of Turkey complete on 28th September 2014 we were making our painful return journey…
Hagi wasn’t in the AA roadside breakdown service or whatever the equivalent is in Turkey so there now followed a long winded debate as each of the passengers looked inside the engine compartment in turn as though they knew what they were talking about and offered alternative diagnoses and possible solutions.
There was a lot of head scratching, nodding and general agreement but the truth was however that there was no more engine technical knowledge between them than you could expect to find in an average reception class at a primary school and one by one the suggestions all inevitably failed.
Continuing the tour of Ancient Turkey on 27th September 2014 I was at the site of Heirapolis/Pamukkale an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.
The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds.
On 26th September 2014 I was continuing the visit to Ancient historical sites in Turkey…
The young man that sold me the tour assured me that the journey from Ephesus to Pamukkale would take two hours so I was shocked when the driver now said that it would take three and a half.
I was dreading this part of the journey with the noisy Lithuanian family and the darts team chimps but then at a short stop we had a stroke of luck and were transferred to a smaller more comfortable vehicle with two young quiet couples. This was much better and we were so pleased about that because as the car pulled away we could hear that the the other bus had broken out into a spontaneous medley of classic cockney knees-up songs!
Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 25th September 2014 I was on a coach excursion visiting Ancient historical sites in Turkey…
The problem with bus trips is that you cannot choose your travelling companions – it is a game of chance!
I imagined that we would be accompanied on this trip by middle aged historians in crumpled linen suits and battered panama hats, archaeologists carrying trowels and leather bound notebooks and the entire cast of a Merchant Ivory film but at the first pick up we were joined by a Geordie and boisterous Lithuanian family and then horror of horrors by a noisy bunch of women who looked as though they should really be going to a market rather than one of the World’s finest archaeological sites.
Growing weary of the tedium of the lock-down and with holiday plans to Sicily in tatters we decided to meet with our friends and spend an evening together for a meal in a nearby pub. Kim tracked down an excellent deal of only £50 each for bed, breakfast and evening meal at a well recommended place with a two star AA rosette. Unlikely as it sounds owned by chef Colin McGurran who was a winner one time on ‘Great British Menu’.
It turned out to be a very good deal, placed on the south bank of the Humber Estuary, comfortable rooms, good views and an excellent meal. Kim had posh burger and I had East coast mussels.
The Hope and Anchor (above) is in the unfortunately named hamlet of Ferriby Sluice and is at the point where the River Ancholme drains into the Humber Estuary via a sluice gate and a set of locks. A hundred years or so ago it was a busy marina and a departure and return point for the leisure and packet boats that regularly used the Humber.
Boats have always left Ferriby (the clue is in the name). The Romans stopped here in Lincolnshire at the end of their great road, Ermine Street which linked London and Lincoln before continuing to the Humber and then crossed the river to the north bank to continue into Yorkshire. The Romans were famous for straight roads and the section from Lincoln to the Humber, a distance of thirty-five miles is one of the straightest in England.
Ferries on the Humber continued to be important until the construction of the Humber Bridge in 1981.
After breakfast we walked for a while along the banks of the River Ancholme butI have to say that it is not an especially thrilling or picturesque sort of place, a carpet of smelly algae on the river (thank goodness for coronavirus masks), a redundant cement works and a marine breakers yard. It does however have a National Historic Ship – The Amy Howson, a sloop that once worked the Humber and the Rivers and tributaries along the way to towns and cities as far apart as Grimsby and Sheffield.
It was rather chilly so we didn’t stay long this morning before driving across the River Ancholme and away along the south bank of the Humber.
This was a day for crossing rivers and driving west we crossed the Trent and then turning north the Ouse, the third and fourth longest rivers in England (after the Severn and the Thames). We were more or less at the point where they converge to form the River Humber. Other rivers contribute as well, principally the Don and the Aire and we crossed those as well.
Actually, the Humber isn’t really a river at all because for its entire length of only forty miles or so it is tidal so technically it is an estuary (I only mention this here in case someone challenges me on this important point of detail).
It may be one of the shortest rivers in England but it is also one of the most important as it deals with natural drainage from everything on the east side of the Pennines, the North Midlands and the Yorkshire Moors.
We rather rudely passed through Goole, Britain’s furthest inland port without stopping, I must go back and visit one day, but today we continued to the market town of Howden, a place that I have wanted to visit for some time.
Howden is a small historic market town lying in the Vale of York in the East Riding of Yorkshire, three miles north of the port town of Goole, it regularly features in lists of desirable places to live and is high up on a standard of living index. I liked it immediately and not just for the fact that it has free car parking.
All roads in Howden lead to the attractive Market Place next to the ruins of the sixteenth century Abbey and Minster, one of thirteen in the county of Yorkshire. Here is a curious fact, Howden was granted to the Bishop of Durham by William the Conqueror in 1080 and the town remained an enclave of Durham until 1846.
I imagine the Minster was once a fine building but it lost its status during the Reformation, was vandalised by Parliamentary soldiers in the English Civil War, the roof collapsed in 1696 and over the next hundred years or so the site was looted for its stone for alternative construction projects in and about the town and whilst the Minster lies in ruins the town has a network of streets with very fine Georgian buildings.
The Minster is currently undergoing restoration and we found it closed today which may have been due to the work or alternatively the dreaded coronavirus.
We found the town very agreeable and liked it very much so we walked the streets of the historic centre before stopping for coffee and cake at a town centre tea shop. We left in mid-afternoon and followed a route along the north bank of the estuary before crossing over the Humber Bridge back to North Lincolnshire which completed our quest of crossing all major rivers of the area.
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…
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.
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.
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.