The Humber Estuary, Seaside Towns and Towering Chalk Cliffs – The East Riding of Yorkshire Coastline

This section of the British coastline stretches 85km (53 miles) around the East Riding of Yorkshire, from the head of the Humber estuary to Bempton, a village just north of Bridlington. With a coastline including flat marshlands on the Humber estuary, sandy beaches and low cliffs on the North Sea coastline and stunning chalk cliffs around Flamborough Head, the coastline around this county has a variety of different landscapes.

The coast along the Humber estuary starts at the confluence of the River Trent and the River Ouse. Between this confluence and the port city of Kingston-upon-Hull (which is commonly abbreviated to just ‘Hull’), the coast consists mainly of rural farmland and pockets of marshland that border the estuary, as well as a few light industrial units close to the small towns of Brough and North Ferriby. The Humber Bridge passes overhead, close to the Hull suburb of Hessle – the shoreline here is a popular location for visitors, not only for views of the Humber Bridge itself, but also for walks along the shingly shore of the estuary. A restaurant and a hotel are also located here.

The centre of the port city of Hull is situated around 8km (5 miles) to the east of Hessle. Renown for its port, the coast bordering Hull is characterised by some warehouses and docks, with the latter including Albert Dock, the larger Alexandra Dock, and a ferry port with routes linking the United Kingdom with Belgium and The Netherlands. However, much of the city’s coastline is characterised by attractions, the most important being The Deep – a large aquarium that is home to 5,000 animals, including many fish species, sharks and rays [1]. Various restaurants are also located along the modern promenade, which was constructed as part of a large regeneration project that began in the 1990s. The city itself has undergone an image change over the past 30 years, and has replaced much of its declining industrial heritage with hospitality and tourism-related services.

Eastwards of Hull, the coastline reverts back to a much more natural state. Like the Humber to the west of Hull, the coast is typified by large tidal flats and occasional marshland. This includes Welwick Saltmarsh, which is the largest saltmarsh on the northern bank of the Humber estuary. Numerous bird species are often spotted here, including marsh harriers, curlews and short-eared owls [2].

Moving eastwards, the Humber estuary is becoming closer to reaching the North Sea. However, unlike on the southern side of the estuary, there is one significant landscape feature that divides the northern side of the Humber estuary from the North Sea. Known as ‘Spurn Head’, this is a 5km (3 mile) long natural sandy spit that stretches southwards into the mouth of the Humber. Not only is this feature part of a large nature reserve, but it also contains a Lifeboat Station and a lighthouse at the tip of the spit. Due to its location, a great number of birds are observed at Spurn Head during the year, including vast numbers of wildfowl and wading birds [3].

As one travels northwards from Spurn Head, the North Sea coastline is bordered by an area of land known as Holderness, which is renowned for its fertile land, and is underlain by clays and glacial deposits. Therefore, this area is very rural, with only occasional villages providing a variation from the large expanses of farmland that border the coastline. This coast here is characterised by low cliffs which are often no more than 5m (15 feet) in height. However, due to the aforementioned rock types in this region (mainly clay and deposited glacial till), the coast here includes some of the fastest eroding cliffs in Europe – for example, between March and December 2019, some cliff sections saw 10m (30 feet) of erosion [4]. Although this was a particularly bad year, annual erosion rates of around 1.5m (5 feet) are the norm. This is a particular problem for people living in any of the few villages along this coastline, including the small town of Withernsea.

Moving north-westwards along the North Sea coastline, the landscape remains rather rural and remote, with low cliffs running alongside a narrow sandy beach. Access is fairly limited along the coastline – parking is rather scarce and there is a notable lack of safe footpaths down to the beach. This is due to the high erosivity of the cliffs – not long after any safe paths are installed, the cliffs on which they are built on are eroded away by the power of the waves. About 22km (15 miles) up the coast from Withernsea is the small town of Hornsea – with its quaint promenade, sandy beach, and various cafes and restaurants, Hornsea has the feel of a rather laid-back and traditional type of British seaside resort town [5].

North of Hornsea, the coastline is once again bordered by rural farmland, with the occasional intermittent seaside village or holiday caravan park. However, the cliffs become notably lower, and the sandy beaches grow notably wider, the further north one travels. For example, at Fraisthorpe Beach, the sand is wide enough to allow for kite surfing, and the cliffs are low enough to allow safe access onto the beach [6]. The beach carries on northwards to the town of Bridlington around 3km (2 miles) to the north. This quaint Yorkshire port town includes many independent shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a picturesque harbour that is used today for pleasure sailing [7]. There are also fun fair attractions and amusements, as well as Bridlington Spa, which today functions as a seaside entertainment venue and conference centre [8].

Bridlington also marks the boundary between Holderness to the south and Flamborough headland to the north. The latter feature is a chalk headland that sticks out 13km (8 miles) into the North Sea, between Filey Bay to the north and Bridlington Bay to the south. The cliffs on this headland are rather stunning, and are very rocky and rugged in appearance. Features include rock stacks, a few small natural arches, and coves at North Landing and Thornwick Bay. The cliffs just to the north of the village of Bempton are some of the highest on the headland, reaching over 100m (300 feet) high. Between March and October, around half a million seabirds use every single ledge or crack in these cliffs as a nesting ground – therefore, it comes as no surprise that the cliffs at Bempton have been designated as a nature reserve [10]. These cliffs also mark the northern extent of the East Riding of Yorkshire, and the southern extent of the county of North Yorkshire.




[1] https://www.thedeep.co.uk/plan-your-visit/about-the-deep

[2] https://www.ywt.org.uk/nature-reserves/welwick-saltmarsh-nature-reserve

[3] https://www.ywt.org.uk/nature-reserves/spurn-national-nature-reserve

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-53266352

[5] https://www.yorkshire.com/places/yorkshire-coast/hornsea

[6] https://www.thebeachguide.co.uk/north-east-england/yorkshire/fraisthorpe.htm

[7] https://www.yorkshire.com/places/yorkshire-coast/bridlington

[8] https://www.bridspa.com/

[9] https://www.thebeachguide.co.uk/north-east-england/yorkshire/north-landing-flamborough.htm#:~:text=This%20small%2C%20picturesque%20beach%20of,of%20soft%20sand%20and%20pebbles.

[10] https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/bempton-cliffs/




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