Filey, Yorkshire

Beyond the ghost of a 1939 Butlin’s Holiday Camp, where only the huge, empty swimming pool and its tiered fountain survive among the scrubland, Filey retains an air of quiet, solid respectability. Past a roundabout packed with scarlet roses, pale apricot brick terraces and white stucco bay-windowed pubs and inns, only the sea is visible – the beach is hidden far below the cliff-like hill. There was a high spring tide running down on the front when I went, and the sand was completely covered.

Filey‘The sea is very grand,’ Charlotte Bronte wrote to her father from a lodging house in Filey in 1852. ‘Yesterday was a somewhat unusually high tide, and I stood about an hour on the cliffs yesterday afternoon watching the tumbling in of great tawny, turbid waves, that made the whole shore white with foam and filled the air with a sound hollower and deeper than thunder.’ The retaining wall which fortifies the Beach Road is built with enormous blocks of grim grey stone, bulging into a curved secure bastion above the Coble – a slipway for the crab, lobster and ‘Filey salmon’ fishing boats.

Yorkshire’s middle classes have long chosen to holiday here rather than in more colourful Scarborough. There isn’t the breath of an amusement arcade on the front. ‘The Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind, the composer Frederick Delius, the pianist Myra Hess and the Mountbatten family all spent summers here, perhaps in the proud stucco terraces facing out to sea from the top of the cliff or down the steep loop of cobbled road in the handsome row of biscuit-coloured stone houses and stucco hotels set back behind the greensward on Beach Road.

Back from the Brigg, a natural rock promontory, rise the great boulder clay cliffs of CarrNaze. On low spring tides an ancient black rock breakwater, known as the Spittals, is revealed – thought by some locals to be Roman. (In consequence a cave at the back of the Brigg is called the ‘Emperor’s Bath’.) Fathoms below, there are wrecks lurking off the point, including – it is thought – that of the American Bonhomme Richard, which sank here in a sea battle in 1779 under the captaincy of John Paul Jones.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons /John Phillips

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