Maps: OS Landranger 101; Explorer 301
Start: Dotterel pub Reighton (131747)
Finish: Bridlington bus station (186669)
Distance: 10.4 miles (plus optional out-and-back to Bempton RSPB adds extra 2.0 miles)
Going: Easy but a relatively long walk
Natural England NCA: 26 (Vale of Pickering)
Special interest: Bempton RSPB, Bridlington Priory
From the Dotterel pub bus stop, walk down the B1229 to the fingerpost at (J). Turn right and follow the public footpath which goes along field edges, passing to the right of the MOD property, and on to Speeton. (Older OS maps show a break in the p.r.o.w. east of Beacon Hill but this has since been made public.)
Continue through Speeton village and turn left to St Leonard’s Church. From the church car park, take the Headland Way across to Speeton Cliffs. The route is well signed, passing through numerous kissing gates, before turning sharp right at (K) and following the top of the cliffs. At the time of writing, this next section of the planned England Coast Path has not been officially opened, so look for notices showing possible improvements to the path shown on current OS maps.
After crossing the boundary between North and East Yorkshire, there’s another mile to the fingerpost pointing right to the path (L) leading into Hoddy Cows Lane. Here there is the opportunity to do an out-and-back diversion to the internationally renowned RSPB site at Bempton Cliffs (M). However, today’s walk is a relatively long one and you may feel that there is not sufficient time. In that case, turn right and head into Buckton.
Reaching the B1229 again, do a quick left-right shuffle (N) and then follow the road formerly called Mucky Lane; officialdom has given it a far less memorable appellation. Be careful along this stretch of road; it does carry double decker buses. It is possible to do a short-cut (of about 1.5 miles) immediately after crossing the railway line and follow the quiet cycle route along Grindale Road to catch the Coastliner on the A165. Otherwise, continue walking south, past Mill Farm, to Hawthorns Holiday Park (O). Here turn right on the bridleway.
At (P) the walk turns left and carries on all the way down the byway and Pinfold Lane to the main road (Q). (In emergency, the Coastliner bus can be caught here.) Right-left turns lead us on down Pinfold Street to Bridlington Priory Church. Hopefully, there’ll be time to investigate this majestic building with its rich history.
Leaving the Priory by the west gate, locate the tarred path on the south side of the churchyard wall and follow this, over a suburban road (Jubilee Avenue), along the side of the city cemetery and on to St Aidan Road. Turn right, then quickly bend left at the Y-fork; veer left again at the roundabout and come to Queensgate Park (R).
Go diagonally right over the grass to the main road; turn right; go under the railway bridge and continue to Holy Trinity Church (S). Use the side road to the left of the church to reach the seafront; breathe in the fresh sea air (and fish & chips aroma); turn right and continue along Beaconsfield Promenade. Immediately after the new East Riding Leisure Centre, go right to the main road; turn left, cross the main road; and almost immediately turn right into the street leading to the bus station.
You have reached your final Coastliner destination – Congratulations!
St Leonard’s Church, Speeton
On this final section of the Coastliner Way, we visit one of one of Yorkshire’s smallest parish churches as well as grand scale Bridlington Priory. St Leonard’s features in Dixe Wills’ ‘Tiny Churches’ guide (2016) to 60 of the nation’s smallest but most iconic places of Christian worship. The church dates from not later than 1100, although an even earlier church probably stood on the same site. During the 17th and 18th centuries it survived with absentee curates but the fact that the building was so often empty led to the suggestion (not proven) that it may have been used as a smugglers’ storage depot.
It was during its 1965 restoration that St Leonard’s greatest treasure was uncovered – it is a 12th century Agnus Dei (a lamb, representing Christ, carrying his cross) stone carving set in the church wall.
The following is a very slightly edited version of the ‘Tale’ generously related by Ian Kendall, the former Site Manager at RSPB Bempton, when we passed Bempton on our Land’s End to John o’ Groats walk in 2011.
A Gannet; Britain’s largest seabird; a six foot wingspan; the freedom to roam the oceans; the ability to dive at speeds of up to 60mph headlong into the water to catch fish – what an exciting privilege to see these creatures in action.
The history of the gannets at the RSPB Bempton Cliffs nature reserve is a remarkable one. The first nest was way back in 1924, although eggs weren’t laid until 1937 and the first chick didn’t appear until 1938. It is possible that these early colonists were wandering birds from the huge Bass Rock ‘Gannetry’ in the Firth of Forth, although we can never be sure. For a good few years after 1938 relatively few young were reared year on year at Bempton until the late 1960s and their meteoric climb in numbers since then is as follows: in 1970 there were 24 Apparently Occupied Sites (the slightly more scientific version of a ‘valid nest’) and by 1977 this had climbed to 169. In 1986, 650 sites were counted and a mere four years later the thousand mark had been passed with 1035 occupied sites. Things then went exponential – in 1997 2501 sites were counted, 3498 in 2002, 6954 in 2008 and the count in 2009 was 7860! * Even though there are thousands upon thousands of other seabirds at Bempton, including over 37,000 pairs of Kittiwakes and almost 60,000 Guillemots, it really is the Gannets that steal the show.
So that’s some of the hard facts, but what else do we know about this spectacular bird? Well, we know that year on year they are consistently able to fledge the same number of young per pair. Only one egg is laid and it is long process for the adults to successfully rear the chick to fledging. Incubation of the egg, which is laid from very late March onward to late April, takes up to 45 days, but then rearing the chick to fledging takes another gruelling 90 days or so. On average our Bempton birds successfully rear 0.84 chicks per pair, so in other words over six and half thousand chicks leave the ledges every year. No wonder the colony is increasing so rapidly.
Each year we also know that the pairs behave in the same way. There are a number of study plots and in each 50 pairs are followed through the season. Every year the same pair are always the first to return, the first to lay their egg and the first to hatch. It always fills us with joy when we see the season unfold in this way. Watching the antics of the chicks in these plots is fascinating too. One thing which always gets me is just how lazy the chicks are; quite often the larger chicks lie motionless on the nest, with head dangling over the side, looking for all the world dead – until, of course, an adult returns with a crop full of food and then they spring to life with huge enthusiasm.
We now also have a little insight into where the adults go. Using satellite-tracking telemetry, we were able to follow thirteen individuals in 2010 and found that they forage within 100km of the colony and in the main head east south-east. One bird flew a staggering 308km and on average these adults spent 13 hours a day searching for food for their chicks. The fact that the bird mostly flew less than 100km is a good sign that food is, at this moment in time, plentiful, because for a number of other colonies birds fly much further in search of food. Then, of course, it’s winter and most move into north African waters and this is where the young stay for at least a year before returning. When they do return, up to 2000 of these adolescent teenagers can be seen hanging around on the edge of the colony and this is what gives us one of the best spectacles in the Birdwatching world. Thrilling views of these beautiful birds suspended in the wind at the tops of the cliffs only a few feet away from onlookers – absolutely a sight not to be missed.
* Update: In 2015 there were 12,494 pairs – so things (as far as the gannets are concerned) are looking good.
In 2013 Bridlington Priory celebrated its 900th anniversary with a programme of special events which culminated in a Pilgrimage from York Minster to Bridlington. The Priory had been founded in 1113 by Walter de Gant for Augustinian Canons and in the years following it became very wealthy, acquiring lands across Yorkshire. Augustinian Canons ran hospitals, schools and almshouses as well as parish churches. The most noted of Bridlington’s priors was John of Thwing. During his life he was credited with many miracles, including raising the dead, and after his death in 1379, he was later canonised as St John of Bridlington. This meant he was the last Englishman to be made a saint before the Reformation. People flocked on pilgrimage to the sumptuous shrine built to hold his relics. The English success at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 was attributed by Henry V to the intercession of two Yorkshire saints, John of Bridlington and John of Beverley.
However, the last prior, William Wode, took part in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace uprising against Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. After the failure of the rebellion, the prior was executed and the Priory suffered catastrophically. Over half the church, including the shrine and tomb of St John, were demolished or disappeared. Apart from the Gatehouse, which is now the Bayle Museum, only the nave was allowed to remain because that could be used as the parish church of St Mary. (We noted on Walk 9 that a similar fate had occurred to St Mary’s Priory Church in Old Malton.)
On the outside north wall of the Priory is a cupboard-like recess that is thought may have been an oubliette. Sometimes criminals were imprisoned in oubliettes where they starved to death. Yet some Christians volunteered for the ordeal, presumably believing this form of self-torture would be rewarded in heaven.