Phil’s Forty, 23: Long walks in Holderness

It’s 40 years this year since Phil Ascough, our most prolific freelance contributor, arrived in Hull to begin a new episode in his journalistic career. Having spent two years on the weekly Doncaster Gazette, Phil headed east to the Hull Daily Mail. Apart from three years on the Royal Gazette in Bermuda and a short spell at the Teesside Gazette, he’s been here ever since. He worked for the Yorkshire Post and the BBC before returning to the Mail and becoming business editor. He moved into sports media with the Press Association in Leeds and then Howden, and set up his own PR consultancy in 2010. To mark the anniversary he has set out to write 40 essays looking at his career, our city and its people.

Beach at Spurn
The beach at Spurn Point.

Part Two

Crabs crossed off the list, the next destination on our Holderness holiday trail was south to see what was left of Spurn Point and whether a favourite pub had escaped the grim fate experienced by so many others in the area.

In truth, on a drive through the remote villages of Holderness it’s not easy to detect which pubs are open or closed at the best of times, and we’re a long way from those.

Opening days and hours can be erratic. Some of the hostelries which are permanently closed actually look in better shape than others which are open. An online search isn’t particularly reliable because the information is rarely up to date.

Another twist in the story is the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which has been welcomed by many licensees, criticised as being too early by others who would rather see the benefits in the autumn, and is definitely persuading some outlets to open earlier in the week and maybe pinch a day off later. 

Certainly an online statement saying a pub is open brings no guarantees, so we were delighted and a little relieved to find that the Crown & Anchor in Kilnsea is absolutely up and running, not least because you soon run out of options if it isn’t.

Crown and Anchor pub
The Crown and Anchor pub, Kilnsea.

Whether you consider the Crown & Anchor to be the last pub in Yorkshire or the first basically depends on whether you are arriving by car or by boat. 

The first time I went there was back in the 1980s on a job for the Yorkshire Post, probably something to do with the lighthouse, the lifeboat or attempts to ensure the road retained its perilous position between the North Sea and the Humber. Whatever the story, we observed the sensible routine of checking the local facilities. 

It was vital in those days to check the pubs, the landlords and landladies and the quality of the hospitality because with no such thing as mobile phones you had to know the best way to contact the office. And the best way to remain incommunicado. As we assert to this day, time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted.

We didn’t go to Spurn to cover the dock strike which was happening at the time, but we did come across the interesting angle of seeing a queue of ships stretching along the Humber and into the North Sea as they waited to get into Hull. That is to say we found it interesting but the landlady was just frustrated. Ma Robinson told us she couldn’t find anybody who would loan her a boat so she could transport some beer out to the stranded seafarers.

More recently on a family visit we walked all the way round the Point. Regular visitors will be aware it’s not so easy to do that these days. The car park is so far inland that the trek there and back on foot takes several hours, and the shuttle service set up to handle the tricky terrain is suspended at the moment.

But it’s still well worth a visit, spending as much time as you can spare exploring a beach which changes almost daily. Our first recent visit was at low tide, exposing the tank defences of the Second World War, some huge slabs of reinforced concrete which once formed part of the road, and a set of concrete steps from who knows where?

concrete steps
Concrete steps at Spurn Point.

The next time the tide was high and many of the sights were submerged but the beach was still a blaze of rocks and pebbles which are gaining recognition as an art form and which can leave you with a stiff neck from walking for too long with your head down.

It’s essential to keep an eye on the water levels, because you don’t want to get stranded or worse, and on the time, because last orders for lunch at the Crown & Anchor are 1.45pm. 

The food is fantastic, with haddock and chips even better than at Seasiders and the sort of varied menu which caters for all weathers, which sometimes you experience on the same day in that part of the world. 

A glass of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker beer was so good it prompted me to look online for overnight accommodation with a view to planning a weekend trip. The website told me the nearest hotel was in… Grimsby!

Heading home through Patrington we found the sweet treats emporium Cakey Bakey Yum had relocated across the road since our last visit. The Hildyard pub is closed and the Holderness Inn is now the Wolf Pack and one of those places that doesn’t reveal much about what it’s doing. On the edge of the town The Station seems as busy as ever with all-day opening and a busy food trade subsidised by the Chancellor.

St Patrick's, Patrington.
St Patrick’s, Patrington.

We stopped for a walk round the churchyard at St Patrick’s, a magnificent building known as the Queen of Holderness which was the subject of a fundraising campaign supported by the Yorkshire Post in the mid-1980s.

Somewhere nearby – I couldn’t work out where – there was a marquee erected to house a splendid lunch held to launch the campaign. The guest speaker was John Edwards, highly respected Editor of the Yorkshire Post and an old school journalist. As his duty reporter covering the event I felt a great sense of privilege, and I think of John whenever I drive past St Patrick’s or catch sight of the spire from miles away.

He was one of the more sociable editors I’ve worked for, and he was a stickler for accuracy, grammar and other values which are no longer as essential as they were. On seeing that one reporter had written a piece referring to a “price hike”, John wrote a memo to all editorial staff. He reminded them that a hike is a long walk, and he advised: “Anybody who cannot accept that should take one.”

Phil Ascough