Picture credit: Stephen McKay geograph creative commons
“We’ve only ever passed through before, and never actually stopped.. so we really enjoyed the opportunity to stop for a while and have a proper look around this lovely seaside town.” – anon
Withernsea is a small seaside resort, with a population of around 6,000 people and situated on the east coast of Yorkshire. The town is famous for its tourism, coastal erosion, lifeboats and lighthouse.
The town is the unofficial capital of Holderness, an ancient region of very flat land, which was drained in the Middle Ages, meaning the landscape has more in common with Holland than it does the rest of Yorkshire.
Withernsea lighthouse, which stands at 39 metres high, was completed in 1894 and shone its last light to sailors on 1st July 1976. It is no longer operational, and now houses the RNLI lifeboat museum, which charts the history of shipwrecks in the area and celebrates the organisation’s work in rescuing those who are stranded at sea. The summit of its 144 steps provides magnificent sea views, and on a clear day the Humber Bridge can be seen to the West. The attraction also has a memorial dedicated to the 1950s film actress, Kay Kendall, who was born in the town and starred in several movies with Petula Clark and Dirk Bogarde. She died tragically young, aged just 32 of leukaemia in 1959.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been present in the town since 1862, due to the high amount of traffic in the Humber Estuary. However this was closed and moved to nearby Easington. It was not until 1974 that a lifeboat station was re-established along with two other boathouses in 1983 and 1998. It is one of the busiest lifeboat services on the East Coast.
The main feature of the seafront is the two towers, which once formed a grand entrance to its 365m long pier. This was so long that it had to be reduced in length due to several sea craft colliding with it and damaging the end. The pier was taken down altogether in the 1930s, when flood defences were developed, but the two entrance towers remained. There are also amusement arcades, known locally as “muggies,” opposite the Valley Gardens, which were built on the site of the old mere in 1910. The gardens are home to open air concerts and community events in the summer, including the annual Withernsea Carnival and the Pirate festival. The latter’s inaugural event in 2013 drew in people from all over the country, dressed as pirates and features live music and themed stalls. Just outside the town lies the Greenwich Meridian Line and also Fort Paull, which was built in 1542 and used to protect the port of Hull. One hundred years later it became the base for King Charles I’s troops during a siege near the city. As a tourist attraction it is now the home of the Beverly Blackburn bomber aircraft, as well as having tea rooms, gift shop, restaurant and corporate facilities.
Down the coastline from Withernsea lies Spurn Point, a significant landmark, not only in Yorkshire, but on the map of the United Kingdom. It is the point where the Humber estuary, a place where most of the water from Yorkshire’s rivers and streams finally end up, flows into the North Sea. The narrow spit of land which makes up the point is over 3 miles long and only 46m wide in places. The end point, Spurn Head, has a lifeboat station and disused lighthouse. The area has been owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since 1960 and is now a national nature reserve. Its strategic point is a haven for rare migratory birds, blown off course by the sea winds as well as wildfowl and waders. In December 2013 the point was flooded due to tidal surges on the East coast of England.
Withernsea’s remote location means there are no motorways in the area of Holderness making the town rather poorly linked to other places. Its access to Hull, the nearest major city, is down the meandering A1033, while the A1242 similarly winds its way towards Hornsea in the North and Spurn Point to the south, the longest dead-end in the county.
Unlike most other Yorkshire seaside towns much further north, Withernsea failed to keep hold of its railway station. It was opened in 1854 as part of the Hull & Holderness line, but became a victim of the Beeching cuts and delivered its last passengers in 1964. The site is now a well- known discount supermarket and most of the station buildings have been demolished, with only part of an overgrown platform three remaining. There are local campaigns to reinstate the lines from Hull to Withernsea and increase tourism to the town, but as yet no plans have been forthcoming.
Therefore the only public transport in the town is by bus. There is a half-hourly service to Hull via other surrounding villages.
Although very little professional sport is played in the town, Withernsea does boast the well-equipped Pavilion leisure centre, with swimming pool, sports hall, gym and function room.
Withernsea is a quiet and peaceful Yorkshire seaside resort, ideal for those looking to get away from it all and enjoy the coastal scenery.
Withernsea never used to be a seaside town and in fact when the first settlers landed on the East coast of Yorkshire, it was approximately three miles inland. The first mention of “Whitethornsea” was during the reign of Edward the Confessor in the 11th Century, but this only referred to its inland mere.
This is because The Holderness Coast, where Withernsea lies is heavily susceptible to coastal erosion. The cliffs, stretching from Bridlington in the North to Spurn in the south are made of boulder clay, which when wet from the sea turns into a butter-like form and over time causes the rock to break away very easily. Any evidence of early remains are largely washed away, just like the estimated 32 lost Yorkshire villages which would have lined the coast centuries ago.
The town’s neighbour, “Old Withernsea” submitted to the tide in the 15th Century while neighbouring Owthorne, hung on until 1891, with its remains part of the modern day settlement.
When the railways came to the town in 1854 it attracted holidaymakers from the dockyards of Hull and other places in the area. However once the station was closed in the 1960s, coupled with the trend for affordable foreign holidays the town declined significantly. The lighthouse became a museum in 1976 and it is now largely known for its lifeboats and Valley Gardens, built on the part of the mere that did not fall into the sea.
One of the best features of Withernsea is the beach and the sea front. The beach has a tower like entrance which once the entrance to the pier. The pier was damaged several time by collision with boats and had to be removed.
The Valley Gardens, which are situated near the seafront, are well worth a visit. The landscaped gardens feature a children’s playground and also a stage where open air concerts are performed.
Along the coast is the Spurn National reserve. This is a great place to visit. It is located on the Spurn Peninsula and is populated by rare plants, seals, migrating birds and butterflies.
At a 125 feet the lighthouse towers above the town. It is home to a museum and the RNLI lifeboat exhibition. The lighthouse is dedicated to the 1950’s actress Kay Kendal who was born in Withernsea in 1926.
Withernsea also has a nuclear bunker and if you are interested in Cold War history is a must to see. It is almost 100 feet below ground and offers guided tours.
Fort Paull is only a few miles away. Here you will find a Napoleonic fortress but the history of the place goes back 500 years. During the summer there are numerous events including a classic car rally.