21 April 2009

Britain's strangest ride: What's the point of Spurn Point?

One of the oddest places in Britain to cycle is Spurn Point, a long sand spit no wider than its single-lane road, that takes you three miles out into the North Sea.

I wanted to include it in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book, but didn't in the end, because logistically it's just such a challenge. It's a 50-mile round trip from the nearest train station, Hull, across landscape of monosyllabic tedium: flat, dull, bare.

This is the Holderness Plain. And it certainly is plain. Welcome to Ironing Board World. You'll be pining for the lush scenic drama of Doncaster or the vibrant cosmopolitanism of Hull.

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However, it can sort of work as an alternative ending to the Trans Pennine Trail. That route takes you 215 miles or so right across England, east from Liverpool to Hull. The usual ending is an old rail trail to Hornsea, on the east coast. But in many ways Spurn Point is a more interesting way to round off the TPT. That's what we were doing over the weekend.

After the steely Baltic sweep of Hull's marina, and the imposing sharky profile of its excellent Submarium, you hack out a few miles on a cycle path alongside Hedon Road. There's an old railway path that you can cycle from Hedon all the way to the small town of Patrington. It's excitingly situated on the Greenwich meridian, shown by a plaque.

Winding roads take you to Easington, with its floral wind-turbines (above) and gas terminal. Finally comes Kilnsea, which is little more than a pub and a cafe. Thanks to Europe's fastest coastal erosion, the cafe gets a better and better sea view every year (right).

And from here you have one of the strangest geographical cycling experiences in Britain. Three miles of sandy single-lane takes you out in a gentle curve to the very end of the spit, into the middle of the mouth of Humber. The restless strand keeps moving and they keep having to reposition the road. You see lots of places where the old tramlines jump out the sea, slash across the road into the estuary side, and then cross again further on.

A middle half-mile section of temporary road is very bumpy, made apparently out of concrete lego, but elsewhere it's flat and smooth. Cars can drive to the end for three quid, so you often have to stop and let them past.

The spit bulges at the end, and is big enough to have one of England's remotest communities: the seven households who make up Britain's only permanently-stationed lifeboat crew (along with a few on the less remote Thames). They work on a rota and are on call 24/7. There's one rescue a week on average.

The coxswain's wife runs a small cafe in a caravan and will tell you about life here over a cup of tea. After twenty years she still loves it. Food shopping and secondary school is at Withernsea, 17 miles up the coast; big stuff, returning a toaster perhaps, needs a trip to Hull.

Out on the end is a surreal shipscape, a twitcher's delight of wading birds, and a smokestack horizon like the stumpy aftermath of a distant forest fire.

Spurn grows over a 250-year cycle, after which it is breached, washes away, and starts growing again from further upriver. The latest dissolve is years overdue. The groynes can't hold back the sea forever, so go while you can. Yes, it's awkward to get there by bike, but it's a reminder that there's plenty of Weird Stuff to see without flying anywhere.

And it's better than the alternative way of visiting Spurn, which involves getting into difficulties on your smack in a mountainous sea, and being rescued.


  1. I loved this ride, thoroughly recommended. Thanks for the tips! The railway line can get a bit over grown but it's easily manageable on a mountain bike, hybrid, tourer. There might be some clearance problems but slow and steady gets you through.

    You can actually pick up the railway trail in Hull itself. http://goo.gl/maps/vstO (Estcourt Street recreation ground is where it starts). It'll take you all the way to Patrington.

    From Patrington the road is fast (cars!) so watch out and keep visible.

    There's a good fish and chip shop in Hedon for the way back.
    Closed Mon lunch. 16.15-20.00
    Tues-Sat 11.15-13.45 & 16.15-20.00

    and there's a bakery that makes sarnies in Patrington too.

  2. Hi Rob,

    I work for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, and we're currently looking to develop a leisure cycle map with routes based in south east Holderness. One of the potential routes I've been mapping is along Spurn Point and I noticed that not only have you already done this route but that you have some excellent photographs of the site.

    I wonder if you would be willing to let me use some of your photos for our map? I can download them from your Flickr account and obviously I will add your copyright and a link to your website to the map itself. Would you be prepared to give us permission for this?

    Kind regards,

    Claire Green

  3. @rossmcross - Glad you enjoyed it! A trip to Spurn Head was my first big bike ride ever, when I was a teenager, so it's something a bit special to me...

    @Claire - yes, of course I'm delighted for you to use any images of mine to help people discover this subtly astounding landscape. Hope the routes go well.