Last week, thinking it time to return to action, we took a ground-breaking trip to the Humber estuary. Almost immediately, the Prime Minister told us that the policy on breaking ground had been revised and we had better get back behind the barricades, or at least the facemasks.
We had been on a guided tour of Spurn Head, a narrow spit of land extending about three-and-a-half miles on the northern side of the Humber estuary. Both my partner Lynne and I share the belief that, as members of an island nation, we need regular trips to the seaside, where, as a bonus, fish and chips always taste better. It’s our heritage.
Not that Spurn Head has a chip shop. It has a cafe and visitor centre run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, a disused Victorian lighthouse, a working lifeboat station and lots of curious ruins from the First World War, when big gun emplacements, barracks and searchlights were installed to protect the vital Humber shipping lanes and then left to rot. What’s protecting Humber shipping now, I don’t know.
The ruins are now covered in low-growing scrub, the sandy land not being stable or fertile enough to support decent-sized trees. It’s an edgy, changeable place, suspended between the estuary and the North Sea and in 2013, when a tidal surge tore a huge gap in the spit, its southern tip became an island overnight, only accessible to walkers or specialist vehicles at low tide.
In our case, the specialist vehicle was a former Dutch army truck seating, according to current rules, nine on what the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust called a safari, although the largest wild beast we were likely to see was a rabbit.
Even when we climbed the many, many steps to the top of the Spurn Point lighthouse, where we might have seen many seabirds and marine creatures, the chief sight of interest turned out to be Grimsby.
And much as we admire the sea, we were in danger of overdosing on it. Estuary on one side, open sea on the other and both ready to engulf us during high tides. The flatlands of East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire don’t rise much above the sea level and the broad horizons and unconfined sea breezes all around us felt nothing at all like being locked down in Leeds, which, in retrospect, was the point of the outing.
Incidentally, among our safari group was an energetic boy, aged three or four, who charged around with great aplomb, occasionally barging into other people, as children must.
His mother, in apology, said that her boy had actually won a school merit award for his social-distancing abilities. This is how things have changed so suddenly and utterly; six months ago social distancing was an unfamiliar phrase to most grown-ups, now it’s an essential skill for children who have yet to master shoelace-tying.