Exploring the quiet corner of Yorkshire, with unspoilt coasts and England’s most beautiful Georgian town

Flamborough Head – Chris McLoughlin

Yorkshire is rightly proud of its many and varied glories: York, the Dales and the Moors, the delights of Whitby and Scarborough.

But there’s a part of God’s Own Country that Yorkshire likes to keep to itself, where you can stroll the quiet streets of England’s finest Georgian town, admire some of our finest churches in peace, explore sleepy villages and wander lonely like a cloud along 50 miles of beautiful, untouched coastline.

There are no highways that bring the masses to the East Riding, just the slender Humber Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1981, from where it descends to Kingston-upon-Hull.

It has a breezy maritime air and despite heavy wartime bombing the core of the Old Town survives, clustered around what claims to be the largest parish church in England, Hull Minster, dating from 1285 and the first large building to be built of brick in Britain from Roman times.

Humber Bridge

Humber Bridge

Nearby is the cobbled main street, narrow and winding, swept by the sea breeze and lined with elegant red brick merchant houses overlooking warehouses overlooking the River Hull. This is the birthplace of Hull’s most precious son, William Wilberforce, who dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery. His beautiful Georgian house is now a museum in his memory.

Housed in a futuristic waterfront structure is the world’s only submarium, the Deep, an underground aquarium boasting thousands of varieties of sea creatures viewed from Europe’s deepest viewing tunnel.

Six miles north of Hull is Beverley, the county seat of the East Riding, described by John Betjemen as ‘one of the loveliest towns in England’. Its ancient streets, lined with black and white gabled buildings and fine Georgian houses, follow old waterways where beavers once lived: Beverley means ‘beaver meadows’.

Beverly Cathedral

Beverly Cathedral

The present Beverley Minster was built over 200 years, from 1221 to 1425, and incorporates all three phases of English Gothic architecture, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular, resulting in what is probably the Gothic building finest in Britain. Inside, Percy’s tomb is considered the finest surviving example of ornate stone carving in the country, while at the high altar is a rare stool, or shrine chair, given to the original minister by the Saxon king Athelstan in 937.

The parish church of St Mary’s, begun in 1120 by the town’s merchants, is famous for its intricately carved pillars, one of which has a sculpture of a rabbit dressed as a pilgrim, said to have inspired the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

North and west of Beverley are the Yorkshire Wolds, Britain’s most northerly chalk hills, a delightful rolling landscape dotted with small market towns and home to the oldest horse race in the world, the Kiplingcotes Derby, held for first mentioned in 1519 as an avenue for the local gentry to exercise their horses after the winter.

Flamborough Head - David Clapp

Flamborough Head – David Clapp

In the heart of the Wolds, set in parkland designed by Capability Brown, is Sledmere House, home to the Sykes family. The glories of this eccentric late Georgian house, renovated in the Edwardian style after a fire in 1911, include the top-floor Library with an ornate vaulted ceiling inspired by the Roman baths, and a Turkish Room lined with dazzling blue Damascus tiles.

To the east, the Wolds come to a dramatic end at Flamborough Head where chalk cliffs plunge 430 feet into the sea. On the northern side of the headland, Bempton Cliffs are the largest breeding ground for birds on the English mainland and are a great place to observe puffins.

There are two lighthouses on the headland, one from 1806, still in operation, and an 80ft high plaster tower, built in 1674 and the oldest complete lighthouse still standing in England.

RSPB Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

RSPB Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

In the Norman church of St Oswald in the village of Flamborough can be found the gruesome grave of Sir Marmaduke Constable who fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 at the age of 70 and died, so the story goes, after swallowing a toad while drinking a glass of water. The toad is said to have gnawed its way out by eating Sir Marmaduke’s heart, a cautionary tale graphically illustrated on the tomb.

North of Flamborough Head, six miles of golden sand lead to the Victorian resort of Filey; to the south is Bridlington, Old and New. Old Bridlington, two miles inland, clusters around the Priory, Yorkshire’s grandest church after York Minster until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. All that survives is the nave and Norman gatehouse, now a museum. New Bridlington’s liveliest seaside resort gathers around the harbor and is renowned as the largest lobster port in Europe.

Inland from Bridlington is Boynton Hall, former home of William Strickland, who introduced the turkey to England after a trip to the New World. Just west in Rudston Cemetery is Britain’s tallest standing stone: 27 feet high with the same length still below the surface, while to the south is the Elizabethan Burton Agnes Hall, the many people’s idea of ​​the perfect country house. Highlights include a Jacobean oak staircase, ornate great hall and long barrel-vaulted gallery.

Burton Agnes Hall - Looped images

Burton Agnes Hall – Looped images

South of Bridlington is Holderness, an area of ​​low-lying marshland drained in the Middle Ages to form rich farmland dotted with small villages. From the open fields emerges another fine Elizabethan house, Burton Constable Hall. It houses the skeleton of a whale, washed ashore on the nearby coast in 1830 and described by Herman Melville in his book Moby Dick.

The Holderness coast, Britain’s fastest eroding stretch of coast, consists mainly of low cliffs and miles of wide sandy beach dotted with the small resort towns of Withernsea and Hornsea. Further south is Spurn Head, a thin spit of shingle and sand jutting three and a half miles into the mouth of the Humber.

You can walk or take the Spurn Safari, a specially adapted military vehicle, to Spurn Point Lighthouse, which now serves as a visitor center for the surrounding nature reserve, managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The view from the top of the lighthouse of ships entering and leaving the estuary is, like the East Riding itself, glorious.

Where to stay

White Lodge Hotel, Filey: Elegant family-run hotel on the Victorian crescent on the cliff top of Filey, with spectacular sea views from most rooms. Doubles from £159.

King’s Head, Beverley: Georgian pub with elegant accommodation overlooking Beverley’s historic Saturday market square, doubles from £80.

Have you been lucky enough to visit the East Riding? Share your experiences in the comments section below

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