Somewhere in the mist of time there was a boy with a love of holidays and adventures based on the world that Enid Blyton created. I know that her work was frowned upon in the 1970s onwards for being too middle class, too white and not quality writing. Prejudice was seen in the Golliwogs, the Tinkers and the Gypsies but, regardless of that, I loved her books, from The Magic Faraway Tree at Stainbeck Preparatory School, to my discovery of the Secret Seven and Famous Five at Harehills. Probably before ever getting to school I was captured by Noddy and Big Ears. I loved them all and who wouldn’t want to have an adventure on the coast with smugglers, secret caves, supported by well stocked packed lunches and homemade lemonade?
As a result, our family trips and holidays on the Yorkshire coast were the highlight of my childhood. In the early days the cars were the same as those in the stories, but then they became more modern, but the romance was just the same. Bags were packed and stowed in the car, and we would all get in with wild chatter. I have spoken about the journey before so I won’t dwell on that, apart to add that my older brother usually had his bout of car sickness and that was always a bit of a downer on the mood. He tells me that he doesn’t remember this being a problem, but I have absolutely no doubts of the veracity of my memory.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s life was very different and it was common until quite recent times for the older ladies of Staithes and other villages to still wear the black dresses and white bonnets. Even the names of the coastal villages told of ancient times and Viking invaders: Dane’s Dyke, Robin Hood’s Bay, Sewerby, Withernsea, Hornsea, North and South Landing, Hunmanby Gap and Wet Wang. These were names to capture the imagination in young lads and when we were staying in rented cottages at such spots, how could you not be excited?
Finding the places that we were staying at was always a challenge and the cottages could be quite remote or tucked away from the main roads. Eventually, with my mother and father falling out about directions, we would arrive. The key was located, often hidden under a stone or at a nearby house and we would enter our home for a few days.
There was a common smell about the cottages and that was usually cold and damp. They were often very old buildings and probably some would not have had damp-courses. They were rustic, often had large wild gardens and sometimes were on their own surrounded by fields. Mum and Dad would unpack the car and we were left to explore.
We had a dog at the time, ‘Sabot the Wonder Dog’, as someone referred to it. It was a toy poodle and there is still disagreement with my older brother regarding the spelling. Because we had the dog we were limited where we could stay, but wherever we were we had a great time. After settling in we would venture to the coast. Sometimes it was the larger towns of Bridlington or Scarborough, occasionally Filey, but often it was the quieter little spots that we loved to explore. Where we went, we boys didn’t care as long as we could get our buckets and spades. Mum and Dad were happy to get deck chairs, if they were available, or sit on a travel rug if not. They would get some sun, if the weather was good, which it rarely was, read the newspaper or a book and have cups of tea from either a local café or from the Thermos flask they had brought.
My older brother and I, later including my younger brother, would have the obligatory paddle in the sea. It was always bitingly cold and our legs and feet would turn blue and go numb in a very short time. I know that there were times when we even swam, but that must have been on a very hot day and I can assure you that nothing would get me in there now. After the paddle we would dig our castles. There was always competition and we would build our own, use the bucket to make sand-pie towers, dig a moat and sometimes fill them with water. The best times were when the tide was coming in and the waves encroached on the castle and we would frantically struggle to rebuild the walls as the lapping water washed the sand back into the sea. It was always a futile attempt but, like King Canute, we learnt that nothing can hold back the power of the waves for long.
Humnanby Gap had a large flat beach and there was also a small narrow lagoon of water where we could sometimes sail our wooden yachts. The beach, I seem to remember, had some land yachts racing along the beach. These were three wheeled bogies, about the size of a Robin Reliant, with a mast and sail attached. The riders would sit and race at tremendous speeds up and down the beach and were often blown over. I don’t know if anyone still does this at Humnanby, but it looked a very exciting, if somewhat dangerous sport. My older brother and I watched engrossed and the machine whizzed along the beach, the only sound the wind and the swish of the wheels on the sand.
The best spots for us were the ones that most resembled the bays and coves of Enid Blyton’s world, and North and South Landing were favourites. These are part of the Flamborough Headland and they have sheer chalk cliffs that have access to the small coves. There are caves, stacks and arches and a myriad rock pools. My brothers and I loved to explore and we would gain access to the caves when the tide was out and clamber across the rock strewn waterline. It could be difficult walking as there was seaweed that provided only slippery footings. There was a distinct smell of weed and salt and the sounds of gulls circling overhead and nesting on the cliff sides.
We would scour the rock pools for life. Small crabs would be scooped up by nets on bamboo poles or just by our buckets. The small creatures must have wondered what fate awaited them, but we always returned them to their homes after close and excited scrutiny. If you were lucky, you might find a sea urchin and their little secret worlds amongst the rocks seemed so magical.
North Landing had the lifeboat house at that time, I think, and I remember walking around the small house with the steep slip ramp. We always wanted to see an emergency take place and the boat fly down the ramp and into the furious waves, but alas it never happened when we were there. The RNLI used to have collection boxes and most of the stations would have gifts for sale. I always held the lifeboat men and women in great regard. The volunteers used to risk their lives to save those in difficulty out at sea.
Another activity we loved when we were on the coast was hunting for fossils. There are parts of the coast where there were stretches where fossils of ancient sea creatures were plentiful. Often you could find them by just scouring the pebbles as you walked along the beaches. Whilst doing this you would often find some very interesting shells. We used to collect them and take them home. I know we didn’t think we were doing any harm, but this practice is frowned upon nowadays.
The lighthouse at Flamborough was, and still is, a favourite spot. The white tower is still a functioning lighthouse and there are also the remains of an old tower on the edge of the golf course, built in 1669, but never lit. We toured the lighthouse on more than one occasion and the climb to the lantern was always exciting and it had a wonderful view. I can still clearly remember the mournful moan of the foghorn when the fog and sea fret were in. At night the lightbeam made the lighthouse seem like a giant windmill. The walk from the carpark and cafe at the top down to the head was rough gravel and it was where my younger brother Stuart had a nasty accident. The road runs down a hill and, despite being told not to run, he did, and of course he fell. A hard chip of stone sliced his knee and spoilt his older brothers’ day trip. There was a lot of blood, a lot of tears and he was given first aid at the lighthouse. My parents took him to the local hospital, would it be Bridlington? There they stitched his knee, bandaged him up and we returned to our cottage. He spent the rest of the time limping and complaining. Andrew and I didn’t give him a lot of sympathy as he was spoiling our hols. When we returned back to Leeds, Mum thought she should get him looked at and he was taken to St James’ at Harehills. The doctor who looked at his knee was scathing of the treatment and said they should never have put the stitches in his knee, as clearly they would tear open. The stitches were removed and he was placed in a full length, thick bandage/wrapping, from ankle to groin. This totally prevented the leg bending and he limped around for several weeks before it finally healed. I think he still has quite an impressive scar.
Another wonderful and quite regular treat was a trip on what we called The Bridlington Belle, but it was actually called The Yorkshire Belle. The current boat replaced the original in 1947 and is still sailing (not during the pandemic). She could hold 207 passengers and the short boat trips out from Bridlington Harbour were fantastic. We would sit on the wooden benches or stand at the rails and watch the waves and the wake as the boat headed out to sea. It would sail along the cliffs and the view was one we loved. There was no other way of seeing what the coast looked like from the water and there were many tiny coves and caves that captured our imaginations. Stories of smugglers and wreckers, Treasure Island, Moonfleet and the like were real to us as we sailed along the coast. The weather was often blowy and we would be bathed in sea spray, but that was all part of the magic. If you were very lucky you might catch a glimpse of a grey seal in the pewter grey waves. At the end, when leaving the boat, you would be hit by the stability of the land, after the constantly rolling deck.
I could re-live these days forever, they were wonderful for me. All I can hope is that current children get the opportunity to experience such simple joys. We didn’t have much, but you didn’t need much to explore the imagination, wildness and beauty of, in particular, the Yorkshire coast.
The Moonchild audiobook can be listened to free of charge on the Soundcloud player below. The are nine thirty minute parts.