Why I moved to Withernsea on the Yorkshire coast

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 February 2020

Sunrise over the North Sea

Sunrise over the North Sea

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Andrea Burn had lived a land-locked life until she moved to Withernsea and a house with sea views from the front gate

Withernsea: gull on the sandWithernsea: gull on the sand

As a land-locked coast lover all my life, I was excited to move to East Yorkshire's South Holderness coast. It was in 2012 when my husband Richard retired and I could finally take a step back from my hectic teaching career. Richard spent his childhood holidays in the traditional seaside town of Withernsea - eighteen miles east from Hull - so we decided to put all our shells in one bucket and relocate for a tranquil life by the North Sea.

Withernsea and its close neighbouring village, Owthorne, were once three miles further out to sea; along with each of its 12th century churches, known as the 'Sisters Kirk'. The North Sea swept both away from their clay foundations three hundred years apart: Withernsea in the 15th century and Owthorne in 1816 after a particularly violent storm. Despite the coastal erosion so prevalent along this coast, Withernsea has long been a favourite holiday destination for the good folk of Yorkshire's West Riding; with Victorian and Edwardian mill workers eager to escape the soot and grime of the region's industry for the bracing clean, fresh air of the North Sea. The railway brought prosperity: holidaymakers could take the train from Hull straight into the heart of this charming seaside resort with its imposing seafront guest houses, splendid beaches and seaside amusements.

Old photos show families in their Sunday best strolling along the promenade in their hundreds; packed beaches with bathing machines; the bandstand and the pier with its castle gateway. The Queens hotel - opened in 1855 to the new swathe of visitors - offered genteel accommodation; while the imposing lighthouse, constructed in 1894, is only one of a few built inland to withstand the receding coastline.

Realising the potential of Withernsea as a holiday destination, Billy Butlin had an early travelling fair on the seafront and is believed to have considered building his first holiday camp here, before opting for Skegness in 1936.

By the 1950s, when my husband was a young boy, the pier had long gone due to the ravages of storms and shipwrecks, leaving only the Pier Towers as testament to its glory days. But the boating lake, helter skelter, big wheel, donkey rides, lido and amusements still offered children a haven of fun, while adults could indulge their leisure time in bingo, tennis, a stroll through the Italian Gardens and refreshments at the fashionably art deco Esplanade Plaza. My husband fondly remembers his family staking out their pitch on the beach with wind breaks and deck chairs at dawn to ensure a spot before the throng filled every square inch of sand; knotted handkerchiefs de rigueur. The march of time made its mark: the Beeching Report in 1964 saw the demise of the rail service and visitors, taking the town's fortunes with them.

My first experience of Withernsea was a camping trip in 1981, where Richard and I tempted fate, pitching a tent on the windy North cliffs. The overall feeling was of faded charm; a town that time forgot. Our children said as much on their first visit here after we had moved to our new seafront home some thirty years later, asking why we had moved to the 'edge of the world'.

Seven years on and the kids have come around; enjoying breaks here from their busy, city lives - and Withernsea is on the up! With competitive house prices; sandy, dog-friendly beaches and only a few miles from the wild beauty of Spurn Point National Nature Reserve, this unspoilt corner of the UK has much to offer the intrepid visitor; many of whom come back year after year or simply decide to stay.

Seal pupSeal pup

With renewed vigour, Withernsea is determined to both cherish and keep its traditional seaside town values, while looking to the future with its regeneration of the seafront and promenade. There is a scheme afoot to build a new pier and Yorkshire's largest free summer art's festival 'Withstock', which is traditionally held during the first weekend of August, continues to gather pace. Withernsea's crab and lobster fishing heritage is alive and well, ensuring the catch is sustainable by small crews who launch their boats from the beach. Families still enjoy the thrills of a traditional seaside holiday with seasonal free family events; including an annual Carnival and Steam Parade - while the town offers small, independent shops and cafes and my favourite micro pub - the Old Boatshed.

I feel lucky to live on this so-called 'Cappuccino Coast' with its clay washed spume beaches; to witness a spectacular sunrise ascend seemingly from the sea like a ball of fire; to stumble across a seal pup on the beach taking refuge from winter storms, the wind in my face below vast skies with their ever changing light. Mostly, I love the people: they talk to anybody, help anybody and have made us so welcome. If you like your beaches clean and unspoilt, fish and chips with mushy peas, and friendly locals, come discover Withernsea - Yorkshire's best kept secret. 

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