And what will late July 2022 bring I wonder? – heatwaves and a difficult journey north….

The first set of train tickets I purchased from Andover to Bridlington were for 19 July; I planned to visit my sister and Hugh was revisiting the RSPB site at Bempton Cliffs in the hope of spotting an albatross…. Strange, but true.

The day when the ‘A1 corridor’ experienced 40 degrees celsius was not the day to travel… and LNER made sure of that be cancelling all north-bound trains. So I rebooked for 20 July, and persuaded Air BnB to shift our two night stay accordingly. (Not an easy negotiation, made more complicated by the Air BnB person taking her lunch break during it – when I was on the point of going to bed – it was midnight in the UK… so where was she? Australia? The Philippines??)

At 06.10 on 20 July another text informed me that my northbound train was cancelled – but I should ‘just hop on the next one’ as my ticket would still be valid… Really? But would there be any seats I wondered? Hugh and I decided to travel anyway; who dares wins sort of thing…

We arrived at Kings Cross by 10.15 and studied the boards… plenty of trains, it would seem; but as time passed they faded away… cancelled, cancelled, cancelled… and as the morning wore on, the numbers of disappointed travellers grew. We retired to the Black Sheep cafe whose wifi was great and whose staff turned a blind (or was it a bored?) eye to our 3 hour stay for only a cup of coffee.

The only train we saw was heading for Inverness, first stop Edinburgh…and it was two hours late…

Meanwhile I was trying to fathom how working people got in and out of London from towns to the north… eventually I found a stopping train from St Pancras to Sheffield which clearly avoided the main lines to the north by going via Leicester, Nottingham, Loughborough, and even Chesterfield.

So I bought my third set of tickets on line at 13.50 and headed from the Kings Cross concourse to St Pancras, where we boarded the 14.05, somehow avoiding the crowds of that morning

The only problem in nearly three hours on a very civilised train was dealing with a spilled container of anchovies which – of course – went everywhere… we arrived at Sheffield with five minutes to catch the trans-pennine train to Doncaster (our original destination) which fortuitously went on to Hull, Beverley, Driffield and…. Bridlington. (We could have stayed on and reached Scarborough!)

My sister Hilary and her husband Declan met us at Bridlington and ferried us to our B and B in Flamborough; Puffin Cottage, part of the Grange complex, on the road to Bempton. Well, well..

Hugh and I enjoyed a pint or two of Black Sheep at the Ship Inn (one of at least three excellent pubs in Flamborough) before heading for bed grateful to have made it after such long odds…

Next morning we were out of the cottage by 08.00 and walking on footpaths through fields to the Bempton Cliff coastal path, keen to catch a glimpse of the Black-browed Albatross which bizarrely has been hanging out around Flamborough Head since getting (seriously) lost in 2020. This is a bird from the Southern Hemisphere; the Antarctic to be precise…

We spent the morning around Staple Newk close by Scale Nab, scanning the sea for this elusive bird. En route we had followed the permissive path close by Wandale Farm to view a Red-tailed Shrike which has been resting up in the neighbourhood for some weeks. A small bird – a very rare visitor to british shores – but attracting massive interest from birders. The photos which follow were taken by Brian Martin, and posted on the Flamborough Bird Observatory twitter feed… and certainly not by me! I did see it – but not this clearly!

It was a long morning – although sitting on a bench on top of these extraordinary cliffs was infinitely preferable to our sojourn outside Kings Cross yesterday, as I watched the gannets glide and dive from dizzying heights, and the kittiwakes and auks – including puffins – hunker down on cliff ledges.

After several hours I left Hugh with the birding faithful gathered in respectful silence at the viewing point and wandered along the cliff path, stopping to gaze at the vast cliffs, and awestruck at the sight of Danesdyke, a prehistoric man made ridge and dyke which travels three miles N to S bisecting the headland. Despite its name, it predates Danish raiders by a millennium. I spotted a barn owl hunting across the fields, ‘quartering’ as its sweeping, systematic movement is called, looking for food – for its three chicks, we later learned.

I returned to the silent congregation, ready to suggest we move on, and stood for a few minutes between two of the faithful fortunately close enough to hear a whispered “got it!!” from the person on my right..

No need to ask what it was! When on the water they are incredibly difficult to see or to distinguish from immature gannets – perhaps closest in size. The albatross took to the air, and Hugh just managed a tantalisingly brief sighting before it disappeared from view into the next bay. Would this be enough ??

We headed back along the cliff walk, returned to the cottage to re-group before trying out a second pub, the Royal Dog and Duck, which was serving Timothy Taylor, and then meeting Hilary and Declan at the Seabirds restaurant for an exceptionally good value supper of assorted seafood and smoked salmon.

One fleeting glimpse was never going to be enough for Hugh! He left the cottage at 06.00 the next morning, arriving at Staple Newk by 07.00 to join a select and unusually sociable group of birders. En route he had seen a marsh harrier, the barn owl, and another this time long-tailed shrike, reported by text. And at 08.35 – the albatross ! Hurray!

After I’d cleared up, Declan and Hilary collected me and our luggage from the cottage and delivered me to the RSPB shop’s cafe to meet Hugh, and to walk from there to the North Landing along the magnificent cliffs. We even managed to track down an eye piece from Hugh’s binoculars which had dropped off in all the excitement!

The short bus ride (every hour from the Morning Star hotel) to Flamborough village gave us the chance of a celebratory pint at the Royal Dog and Duck (and a second look at its coastal map with its many local names for the bays and coves of Bempton – note Staple Newk) before heading to the South Landing for a rendezvous with Hilary, Declan and our luggage. From there we were driven to Scarborough (via Filey) for tea and a cake on Oliver’s Mount and on to the Park Manor Hotel. Thank you Hilary and Declan !

Simply Red were performing at the Open Air Theatre nearby (Westlife on Saturday!) but Friday night passed me by, and I headed to bed after a quick walk to the cricket ground and back, while Hugh found a convenient bar by the sea front and then company at the hotel. Scarborough is a very friendly place!

The next day I met up with an old school friend, Anita, whom I had not seen for 55 years! We had cycled to school in the 60s (and to Whitby in a gale force 9), hiked and swam and mucked out stables together.

It was an extraordinary experience – for both of us. We each could remember so much about the other’s family and daily life despite all the many years between. Anita kindly dropped us off at the station, and after a two hour break in York heaving with tourists, we managed a quick circuit of the Minster and a riverside drink before a straight forward journey south. We were home in Andover by 20.00!

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