Spurn is a wonderful place, unique and fascinating. What makes it so special? It
has no hills, and virtually no trees, but what it does have is sky and water in abundance.
The sky’s reflections in the waters provides some wonderful vistas. Living at the
tip of South Holderness we can see the sun rise over the sea in the morning and set
over the Humber in the evening. And the plants of Spurn are quite distinctive — I
particularly love the Perennial Wall Rocket which fringes the sandy paths from late
summer through to autumn, the beautiful Sea Rocket which grows on sand all over
the peninsula and even on the beach itself, and the Sea Holly which grows on the
Narrows in June.
Spurn Head, or Spurn Point, is a three and a half mile peninsula, composed of sand
and shingle, stretching out between the North Sea and the River Humber in a south-westerly
direction. The first peninsula developed after the retreat of the last Ice Age, and
how it came into existence and how it develops and changes cannot be certainly proven.
Its course is not fixed, because it is attached to one of the fastest eroding coasts
in the world — the Holderness coast. One theory, supported by historical records,
postulates a cyclical history of about 250 years for each of the various peninsulas,
which have grown gradually as a result of long-shore drift of material washed out
of the clay cliffs to the north. The profile of each peninsula, which grows from
a stump, is low, allowing a certain amount of washover of sand, which helps to build
it up on the western side, whilst most of the material moves further south and forms
a spoon-shaped point. With the rapid erosion of the coast to which it is attached,
a breach is inevitable eventually, and once the sea gets through, the head becomes
isolated and gradually washes away. A new peninsula then forms a little to the west
and the cycle starts again. Another theory gives more emphasis to the washover of
the neck, and suggests that as the sand and other material is transported from east
to west, the neck gradually shifts westward, presumably moving the head with it.
It is not possible to test these theories thoroughly because since mid-Victorian
times Spurn has been kept in place by artificial coastal defences, begun after a
massive breach which took place in 1849, when the peninsula was composed of a string
of islets. The groynes and revetments to protect the peninsula were first erected
by the Board of Trade, but when military forts were established on the Point (see
Military History) the Army took over, with the Royal Engineers, and later civilians,
working upon the maintenance of the sea defences, until the late 1950s, when the
Because of these man-made sea defences, by the millennium the peninsula was the longest
it has ever been, and because after the 1850s it had been kept in the same alignment,
it was highly vulnerable to attacks from north-westerly tidal surges in the North
Sea. In 1960 Spurn had been bought by the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Trust (now the Yorkshire
Wildlife Trust), which could not afford to maintain the defences, and so they crumbled
away. Over the years sections of the road to the Point at the northern end had been
washed away. Despite many successful rebuildings of sections of the road by the YWT’s
tenants, ABP and the RNLI, the inevitable happened on December 5th 2013. On that
day a surge in the North Sea combined with a high tide, meant that the road at the
northern end of the peninsula washed away. Reluctantly the Trust and its tenants
were forced to accept that any rebuilding of a road at this point in time was impracticable.
There was nowhere for the road to go, because this section of the peninsula is too
narrow, and even had it been possible it would have been a very very expensive undertaking,
probably requiring raising the road above the beach. And so everything changed at
Spurn. It is still possible to walk down, but now only official vehicles can drive
across the washover.
This is the situation at present (early 2015). The pilots left the peninsula to work
from Grimsby, but the RNLI remains, albeit not with their families. The VTS tower
on the Point is still operational, but ABP is building a new facility at Grimsby
and planning withdrawal from Spurn in the next year or so.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust want to put a new Visitor Centre and coach and car park
in Kilnsea. Many people oppose this. See Keep Spurn Wild.