Flamborough Head, in what is now known as Humberside or East Yorkshire, is the most north-easterly point in England; situated a mile north of Bridlington, but south of Scarborough. For the non-British (or just those people who have shaky geographic knowledge), Flamborough is separated from Scotland by the North Yorkshire moors, Durham, Newcastle, Tyneside and a whole bunch of Geordies who are a completely different species of Northerner to those found in Flamborough. In theory, you should not meet with a Scotsman until you reach the River Tweed, but if you pop into any of Flamborough's pubs you will find that they all take Scottish £1 notes and, come Easter time, serve drinks to an uncanny number of Scots visitors.
Who are Yorkshiremen?
There is a certain amount of confusion among foreign visitors about how English a Yorkshireman is, considering that Yorkshiremen supported Eric Bloodaxe, the last Viking monarch in England, and have Norse words peppering their dialect. However, it should also be remembered that this region saw the first Saxon kings in England and that these early 'English' settlements were surrounded by a sea of Celts who stayed, and intermingled, creating a hybrid population related to what has now become known as Scottish Lowlanders. In Yorkshire they then absorbed a relatively small number of politically dominant Viking settlers and separated themselves from the English-speaking Scot in language! The area became the Scottish Kingdom, which was run by a mix of English-speaking, Gaelic-speaking and Norman French-speaking aristocrats and tribal leaders. The clarity of these influences, however, is somewhat obscured by the mass slaughter that the Normans wreaked upon the diehard Norse/Saxon mix of the region, whose language base had already begun to melt into a form of English that, some people claim, came to dominate all of England. Even so, a Yorkshireman is different from both the Englishman and the Scotsman. Considering the naturally bolshy anti-establishment nature of the Yorkshireman, York inexplicably supported Charles 1st against the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, probably laying the political foundations for the economic, cultural and political dominance of the south despite the many natural resources of the northern region.
Flamborough Head, a stunning part of the coastline, is surrounded by the sea on three sides and hosts a lighthouse and a number of small villages, the largest of which is Flamborough, written on local road signs as 'Flamboro''. There is some dispute as to whether this is the correct spelling or the signwriter ran out of paint, or some horrible Americanism has crept in since the Second World War. Still, the original Saxon name was Flamburg, so there has been a long tradition of misspelling.
The Meaning of The Name
The meaning is as disputed as the spelling, but 'Flamburg' does not mean 'Flame Town' despite the fact that Flamborough has the oldest surviving lighthouse in England, built in 1674, and - oddly - a mile inland and never used. Flam is a Norse word for a spit or tongue of land jutting into the sea, so essentially the name means, rather mundanely, the town on the bit of sticking-out land.
Flamborough is separated from the rest of England by Danes' Dyke, an artificial earthwork supposedly thrown up by the Danes to protect their settlement. However, the earthwork dates back at least 200 years before the Vikings arrived and some believe that the Saxon King Ida built the earth work and used Flamborough Head as a base camp before moving north to found the kingdom of Bernicia.
The Viking influence might be assumed evident from the number of fair-haired people in the village, but Vikings, contrary to the usual image, were just as likely to be dark-haired. Similarly, local names like Emmersons and Gilson have Scandinavian connections, but also have strong Celtic links. So, despite being sometimes referred to as 'Little Denmark,’ the direct links with the Vikings are perhaps less found in the gene pool, than in some of the technology used in fishing. The local cobles are supposedly based upon the design of the Viking Longboat - and in the names of local coastal features, no doubt mapped out by Norsemen.
Whether the locals are direct descendents or not, they like to think that they are or are at least heirs to Viking virtues and traditions, and so every year, around Easter, they dress as Vikings and re-enact a bit of rape and pillage, purely for charitable purposes of course.
Fishing has long been the main industry in Flamborough, as can be seen from the monument in the village centre commemorating the many drowned in various storms off the dangerous coastline. Drinking and playing three-card brag are probably still the main hobbies, as can be discovered by a visit to the large number of pubs in the village. Fish and chips are the staple diet, and rightly so because they are very good, though if one really wants to eat a Flamborough speciality it is the crabs and lobsters brought in at the North Landing by the local fleet of cobles.
Place In History
Despite Flamborough being an important part of the medieval economy when the region was dominated by a number of large, immensely rich and intellectually powerful monasteries situated in Bridlington, Whitby, Fountains Abbey, and York, its sparse and isolated population has rendered it an historical footnote. Perhaps if the Venerable Bede has moved south a bit, it would have been Flamborough rather than Lindisfarne that achieved fame, but apparently the little swot never budged much further than Jarrow.
Given the ethnic cleansing of the Normans, the destruction of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and the fact that it was on the wrong side in the Civil War, one can perhaps see that whatever important political and cultural figures the region must have thrown up, their influence came to a sudden stop and were wiped from the record.
So when Flamborough strives to find significance in the world, at least in the tourist brochures, you will find merely two incidents mentioned, John Paul Jones's attack on British shipping and a visit by James I of Scotland.
John Paul Jones
Flamborough was witness to John Paul Jones1, the American pirate or naval officer, depending upon your viewpoint, attacking and taking the English man-of-war, The Serapis, during the American War of Independence. And if you look closely at the 13th Hole of Flamborough Golf Club -reputedly the windiest in the world - you'll find that it stands on the farmhouse where John Paul Jones spent the night. The English captain who was so decidedly defeated by Jones was knighted for his bravery and Jones was reputed to have said that if he met him again he would make him a lord.
James I of Scotland
Another claim to historical fame comes from the capture of James I, King of Scotland 1406 - 1408, when he was en route to France - his ship was blown ashore at Flamborough Head. After a spell in the Tower of London and Nottingham Castle he was eventually ransomed and it is highly unlikely that any of the money found its way to Flamborough.
There is a very strong tradition of smuggling around Flamborough, about which we shall say no more. But you can be very certain that 'Smuggler's Cave' has never had anything to do with smuggling and is merely a name given to add some romance to Mr Emmerson's boat tour of the various caves, arches, stacks and stumps that are typical geological features found associated with rapidly eroding headlands.
The area is a geographer's dream and gives provides many fine examples of what happens when a big lump of chalk is stuck in seawater. Covered in seabirds, it attracts many ornithologists from around the world and the area is now a world heritage site.
How Best To Visit
Flamborough has no railway station, but can be reached by walking along the beach at low tide from Bridlington, if you walk swiftly. You can also catch a bus from Bridlington or take a taxi. There are camping and caravanning facilities found near what used to be the village pump, just beyond Danes Dyke at the sign announcing that you are now within the limits of Flamboro'. And if you go into the village you will find bed and breakfast available in some people's homes, as well as a few hotels like the Flaneburg Hotel.More details about accommodation can be found by clicking here.
The Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit is, in typical Flamborian fashion, open to debate. Obviously summer is when most visitors turn up, but because of the peculiarities of Flamborough's geography, while the rest of England can be swooning in the heat and bemoaning a water shortage, Flamborough can be swathed in drizzly mist. So, the best time to be there is probably midwinter, in particular on Boxing Day.
Flamborough air is never less than bracing but in midwinter the skies clear, the rain is blown away, and the locals will actually venture to the beaches. On Boxing Day you will witness the locals gathering with pints and sausages in hand outside the front of the many pubs to witness the Sword Dancers in their traditional 'Ganseys' - ie, woolly jumpers - trying to keep the beat despite having drunk a pint at every pub on the way from The Dotteral, through Bempton and Speighton, to the finale in Flamborough.
After the fug of the snug, the average Flamborian will then walk down to The South Landing, The North Landing, or Thornwick Bay and stand upon the sands, throwing rocks at the sea. This is not so much a tradition as a behaviour pattern that nobody can resist. And somehow at this midwinter point, the sea appears calm, glacial, and strangely welcoming. There will always be one hardy soul ready to rush in and yell how great it is and so cold that you 'can't feel the cold no more!'
Sitting on a beach in the middle of winter eating fish and chips while the rest of the country appears snowbound and miserable, is a much under-rated pursuit. It appears that this happens only in Flamborough.
The night sky during winter is also spectacular and well worth the price of a pair of binoculars. During the day you can use them to watch the birds, and at night you can watch the International Space Station floating alarmingly low overhead.
And then just when you think Flamborough is all sunshine and sharp intakes of frosty breath, the skies darken and the sea turns evil. But then again, it is worth a visit to the coast to watch it and wonder what on earth possesses people to get up at four in the morning and go hauling in crab pots in such deadly conditions. The answer is: Because they have to.
So remember, no matter how friendly Flamborians may appear, they are hard fellows, and proud of it. So mind you behave.