Changing Yorkshire coastline yields up secrets

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TWO weeks ago, visitors were being warned to stay away from cliff tops on the East Coast after the North Sea took another large bite out of one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe.

In less than a month about 12ft of crumbling clay had fallen away at Withow Gap, just south of the East Riding village of Skipsea, and council officials were soon scrambling to assess the damage after pictures were posted on the internet by Judith Foreman, whose land backs on to the site.

Mrs Foreman, who runs Mr Moo’s dairy farm and ice cream parlour with her husband Stephen and son Henry on this windswept part of the coast, is as well placed as anyone to monitor the scale of erosion, enjoying a daily walk along the cliffs with her dogs.

But while others may react with alarm and seek pastures new, Mrs Foreman takes it in her stride and believes it is folly to try to defend the area by standing anything in nature’s path.

“I would rather my taxpayer’s money went on hospitals and roads, this is raw nature,” she said. “Hornsea and Bridlington and have got sea defences but this is just farmland and it’s not cost-effective.

“It’s been going on for thousands of years and nothing’s going to stop it.”

She does, however, describe the latest landfall as “quite dramatic” and has noticed how quickly the coastline is changing.

She said the sea seems to lift the peat up before washing away the clay underneath, and that the process was particularly noticeable over winter.

Two years ago, the shanty town next to her land was used in the filming of Winifred Holtby’s South Riding, and already the part of the cliff along which horse and rider galloped during the series are gone.

Mrs Foreman acknowledges that in spite of the havoc the erosion is causing to those directly in its path, it can also be of great interest to others as the cliffs yield up their secrets.

She said: “There is wood in there that is 10,000 years old – you never know if you are going to find a Celtic sword.

“English Heritage did a dig here because some horizontal timbers were exposed. They didn’t know if it was an Iron Age walkway. It turned out to be a beaver dam but there were arrow heads in it.”

She also finds the unspoilt nature of the Holderness coast to be part of its attraction, despite the dangers of living too close to the edge.

“I grew up in Gloucestershire and I absolutely love living by the seaside,” she said. “It’s like a holiday every day, even when it’s minus 14. On a nice day you can see Flamborough. We are really fortunate to live here.”

However, although thoughts of moving away may be left to future generations – on current predictions, the farmhouse is likely to be safe for another 200 to 250 years – Mrs Foreman knows that eventually the sea will claim that too.

“I don’t want to be buried on the farm,” she said.