We spent the next three months sorting out house and garden – the latter which had been sadly neglected over the better part of the last two springs and summers and was looking very unloved. Everything had grown magnificently however, almost as if it preferred being left to its own devices:-( But we did at least need to be able to get into the shed and hang out the washing, so serious hacking back was called for.
We had a great day out to Barton on Humber with Corine to walk the southern banks of the estuary (in the blazing hot sunshine with no shade).
We ended up at Alkborough, birthplace of my father, where we trod the grassy outlines of the ancient labyrinth at Julian’s Bower.
This led to our next outing in Portia: to Spurn Head at the end of June with both Corine and Juha to experience the Yorkshire Wildlife Unimog Safari. This runs all the way down the peninsula to the lighthouse and beyond where the Humber joins the North Sea.
We have been a couple of times before when you could still drive the three miles down the sandy, shingly, scrubby spit of land on a rather questionable road. That question was finally settled in 2013 when a tidal surge raging down the North Sea broke through the neck of the peninsula and washed the road away. There is still a stretch of dry land linking to what is officially now classed as an island, except when the tides are particularly high, but you must either walk or take the Unimog. And be sure to get your timings right!
We stayed at the Blue Bell Pond Campsite close to the old Blue Bell café at the start of the peninsula. It is a nice site but the facilities are housed in some kind of old metal container and kept locked. You are given a key but it is so stiff I can only just manage to get into the toilet and not at all into the shower room. The shower costs a pound on top of the £18.00 per night, which is a bit steep, and the machine only takes old pound coins! The site owner has a stash of these apparently – if you can find him. But – it is a great location in this out-of-the-way place that feels like stepping back in time 50 years.
Corine and Juha are staying in a B&B up the road and we arrive a day earlier. This gives us a chance to cycle electronically around the area to see what there is to see. There is plenty! This whole area has a complex history for somewhere so isolated. Being at the mouth of a main river inlet to the country has made it an important strategic site at various points in history. Henry Bolingbroke landed here in 1399 when he returned to dethrone Richard II and, a mere hundred years later, Edward IV made landfall after his exile. Napoleon threatened as well. The most interesting history is in the 20th century when the whole area was pressed into military service for the world wars – it was again seen as a potential entry point to England. Forts were built at either side of the river mouth for the first world war and refurbished for the second. Barracks were built at the point, a light railway serviced both them and the coastguard station.
In fact there was a whole community with a school down there for a large part of the century. All long gone now – partly claimed by the sea as the North Sea tears the sand off all the way down the east coast side and deposits it at the southern tip. A few old wartime buildings remain and, of course, the coastguard station – one of only two paid coastguard services in the UK. There has been a lighthouse here since time immemorial although the first one is now some way into the sea. Now even the second one is disused as a lighthouse but available to climb for a modest fee. (Included if you are on the Unimog Safari.)
An unusual monument stands in a field a short walk from the road. It is one of the last extant sound mirrors built during the first World War as an early warning system to detect for approaching Zeppelins and other early German aircraft. This bizarre concrete dish construction would focus the noise of aircraft engines onto a microphone thereby amplifying the sound. The relatively slow aircraft of the time could be heard and located before they came into view. This one is reputed to have been manned by J R Tolkein in 1917 when he was convalescing from Trench Fever.
Other than that we spent time enjoying all the activities York has to offer the lucky retiree – and they are many. A programme of Free lunchtime organ recitals at different local churches for a start. The beautiful Central Methodist Church has a truly magnificent old organ with 2,500 pipes (!) suspended on the wall and the organist sits in a console sunk in the middle of the room as if accompanying a silent movie. St Martin Le Grand is not so lucky: having been bombed out in the war only half the ancient building remains and it now has only a small modern organ “..with only 170 pipes and three stops”. The organ was the gift of the West German Government and Evangelical Church so you can’t get nasty at that. It definitely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, had a rather thinner sound.
I had no idea one could so quickly learn to differentiate one church organ from another! Or that we would spend some of our retirement time in several of York’s historic churches. It turns out there are concerts and not-especially-religious festivals in them all the time. A beautiful flower festival and choral performance in Holy Trinity on Micklegate and, later, a celebratory Norwegian event with a requiem by Iver Kleive in our local ancient church, St Olave’s. Our most amazing church experience however had to be the incredible light show at York Minster. Emptied of 1,400 seats, the whole length of the cavernous ceiling and great west wall were blasted with light and sound taking us from creation to both heaven and hell.
Then there was the wonderful Festival of Ideas run by the University offering dozens of talks and films and workshops at locations all over town on a huge variety of subjects – some very obscure (Gilgamesh anybody?) but nonetheless engaging. The launch was truly amazing – a performance of The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo live in the Minster. This and most of the talks were free and given by experts in their field. We went to some held in King’s Manor which is a short walk from chez nous and felt hugely privileged to be able to benefit from it. I could go on but this is turning into a bit of a personal reminisce – it is easy to forget though so I am glad to get it written down. There were many more summer activities coming up and I felt a bit sorry to be missing them. However, Europe was beckoning and Portia was getting restless.