North Landing

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Friday, 2nd May, 2008, East Yorkshire

OUR FAVOURITE ESCAPE; Barbara and I have come to Flamborough for the day to take the cliff-top walk from North Landing to the lighthouse.

yellowhammerreed buntingtree sparrowjackdawjackdawwood pigeons

We see only one puffin all day, just as we set off on our walk. After a cuppa soup and sandwiches lunch, it's too windy for me to settle to drawing from the dizzy heights of the cliff-top observation point at RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve - on which every ledge is filled with nesting seabirds - so I draw:

yellowhammer, reed bunting, tree sparrow, jackdaw (above)

at the bird feeding station, sheltered amongst the bushes, by the visitor centre. Wood pigeons (above, right) were around, even on the cliff tops, but I sketched them a day or two later from a hospital waiting room on a patch of turf closely surrounded by buildings. Wood pigeons seem to be all over the place these days; a number of people have commented that years ago they were never so conspicuous as garden birds.

Plains of Passage

The chalk cliffs at North Landing are plastered with a thick layer of boulder clay or till, dating from the Ice Age. Sea levels stayed low for thousands of years after the main retreat of the ice from Britain and palaeontologists suggest that the white cliffs of Flamborough Head would at that time have been a landmark to stone age hunters on the plains below - now the bed of the North Sea.

Richard, aged 3The Original Gumby

The Bell family at North Landing'I WAS ALWAYS KNITTING at that time,' my mum tells me, so the tank top that I'm wearing in the photograph of me*, aged 3 in 1954, on the beach at North Landing, was one she'd made. Knitters were able to use every last oddment of wool when by knitting in stripes. My mum remembers that the pattern involved mixing the colours of the adjoining stripes where they met so you got a line of stitches in alternate colours - for example, red, green, red, green - in between the bands.

Today I guess that I'd be rather fashionable but tank tops and rolled up trousers accompanied by a knotted hankerchief on the head as a makeshift sun-hat were such a cliche of 1950s beach-wear that this outfit became the costume of a dim-witted Monty Python character, sometimes called Professor D P Gumby. Gumby also wore wellington boots, as I did on a childhood visit to the seaside at nearby Filey one winter's day. A school-friend had tried paddling in wellies and it sounded a lot of fun but a sudden welly-full of chilly North Sea water wasn't a pleasant experience! I'd guess that Gumby originated from Michael Palin's memories of seaside holidays on the Yorkshire Coast (he lived in Sheffield in the 1950s so I guess he sometimes spent summer holidays here).

My dad had a pre-war box Brownie but he took this picture of the family (my mum with my brother Bill, then a baby of 5 or 6 months and Linda my elder sister) on the beach at North Landing, Flamborough Head, using my mum's Kodak camera from the immediate pre-war years, a camera which had fold-out bellows and, to judge by my blow-up of the 2 inch square contact print, a decent lens.


* My mum tells me that the photograph was taken in 1951 and that the chunky baby is me. The boy with the bucket, as I would have recognised had this been in colour, is our next-door neighbour, David who had red hair! But, a year or two later, I did indeed have a tank-top like that.