Plain sailing

A tank wall, cow’s ghost and railway carriage used by Elvis are among the many quirky features of this varied ride in the Holderness region near Hull.


Lighthouses at Paull Holme

To describe this terrain as a plain is to misrepresent it. Throughout the entire route I didn’t cross a single contour line. If you aspire to be king of the mountains then you should not be heading to Hedon. Fittingly I rode such a flat route in the same week as pancake day. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny but the wet winter hadn’t long past as I was reminded at the start of my journey by puddles on the track. I swerved from side to side to miss them, accumulating clods of mud under my mudguards which made a repetitive steam engine-like sound as my wheels turned.

IMG_4511There’s nothing new about that rhythm here as I was cycling along the former trackbed of the Hull to Withernsea rail line. It was built in 1854 by an entrepreneur with ambitions of making what was then a village at the terminus into a northern Brighton and closed in 1965 courtesy of Dr Beeching, of course. The flatness of the land next to the Humber meant that construction only took 11 months and, for the same reason, today’s cyclists make similarly swift progress. The only relic of the railway is the former Ryehill & Burstwick station now a private dwelling. On the old platform there was an unsettling mannequin torso wearing a t-shirt which made my head turn every time it caught the breeze while I was taking a picture.

Ryton & Birstwick station

Ryehill & Burstwick station

A problem with rail trails is that it’s hard to know exactly where you are because there’s no signage. Church towers were my landmarks as they were for mariners of old navigating the Humber. I mistook the church in Ottringham for one which I’d already past in Keyingham. Fortuitously, I came across a notice with map showing my location and explaining that the next stretch of the old trackbed is the subject of an application for conversion from footpath into bridleway. This was where I wanted to alight anyway.

Old tank wall in Ottringham

Old tank wall in Ottringham

Ottringham has two unlikely Second World War connections. To the side of 2 Station Road you can see the ruins of an anti-tank wall about two yards thick. I don’t expect this homeowner gets any issues with property boundaries. Such walls were built in staggered fashion on either side of and encroaching onto the road so that vehicles had to slow almost to a stop in order to weave through the gap. Large concrete cylinders were kept nearby to be rolled into the gaps in the event of an invasion. A mile to the east of the village is the site of the once top secret BBC Otteringham from which medium and long wave services as well as propaganda were transmitted as far as the heart of occupied Europe. Today it’s the premises of a modular buildings company.

I began my westward return along the A1033, the modern day link between Hull and the far east and a route which carries far more traffic than the old railway can ever have dreamt of. It’s not too busy, though, and a couple of windmills in Keyingham maintained the interest with their modern counterparts in the distance to the north. There was enough breeze to turn the turbines but not to impair a bike ride. Spring was in the air and the lawnmowers of Holderness were humming.

Flat as a pancake!

Flat as a pancake!

At Thorngumbald I left the main road and took a quiet lane. To my right were the distant cooling towers of a chemical works in Hull and ever further away to my left was the hazy outline of similar industry in Immingham with, in front of it, the slightest sliver of silver denoting the Humber. The more immediate outlook, though, was much more scenic and this part of the route proved to be my favourite.

Nearing the river I passed Boreas Hill Farm. A hill? Here? Well, yes, relatively speaking. Courtesy of a bank of glacial moraine the relief hits the giddy heights of 14 metres above sea level. I slipped into the big cog to mark the occasion. Through the trees to my left I spotted a curious square stone tower. Grade I listed and dating back to the 15th century, Paull Holme Tower was originally the great hall of a house and is all that remains of the structure. It’s reputedly haunted by the ghost of a cow which, in 1840, somehow climbed up the narrow staircase to the battlements and, unable to get back down, fell to its death. Mooooh!


Old lighthouse at Paull

Round the corner two more towers next to one another – lighthouses, actually – beckoned. On my woefully out of date Ordnance Survey map (which shows a ferry as the means of crossing the Humber) there is terra firma between the lighthouses and the road but when the Paull Holme Strays were created as a flood prevention measure in 2003 the land was scooped out and the coast realigned to form a lagoon and nature reserve in the shape of a dock. The lighthouses are now perched on the end of a spit, the red one looking like a giant firework. By lining up this lighthouse directly above the white one mariners could guide themselves along the deep water channel from Hull. Where does an estuary end and the sea start? The poser is no better considered than when standing on the banks of the Humber. The smoothness of the water belies the strength of the currents. The path led around Fort Paull, a Napoleonic fortress that is now a local history museum. I’d earlier spotted the giant camouflaged tail of its Blackburn Beverley aircraft protruding above the fort’s walls. Other exhibits include a railway carriage once used by Elvis in Cold War Germany.

IMG_4611The old lighthouse in Paull – superceded by the pair I’d seen earlier – with adjoining coastguard’s cottages could’ve belonged in Cornwall. Only the white telephone boxes told me that I was actually only seven miles from Hull. Also in the village the Humber Tavern is the sort of place where you imagine many yards of ale have been downed and salty sea shanties sung. I half-expected Captain Pugwash to emerge from the bar.

Back in Hedon with a little time to spare I had a quick zip around the town and was glad I did. The trim green with a beacon brazier is surrounded by lovely old houses and the huge St Augustine’s Church (so that was the mini-minster I spotted earlier) It was the perfect place for a final swig and to reflect on the journey. My cycling season started in style.

Fact file

Distance: 17.5 miles.

Time: 2 hours.


Park at the free rail trail car park on the northern edge of Hedon to the left of the road. Cross the road and proceed eastwards along the rail trail. At Keyingham the trail diverts to the left (signed) to avoid Station House and then continues immediately right (signed only as a dead end) and left to rejoin the old railway line. (For a shorter route leave the trail at Keyingham and turn right to the A1033 then right again). Leave the rail trail in Ottringham (by The Coach House) and turn right. Turn right again at the t-junction onto the A1033. Pass through Keyingham and Camerton then, just before Thorngumbald, fork left down Hooks Lane signed to Fort Paull and a bird reserve. Enter the reserve car park then push your bike towards an embankment and lift it up steps to the top. Turn right along the embankment. The first 500m or so is a footpath only but after that you reach a “multi-user” gravel path towards the church. Bear sharp left and left again to visit the lighthouses then back to continue beside the Humber to Paull. Pass through the village, bear right and continue over the A1033 to Hedon. At an offset crossroads in the village continue ahead along the main street back to the car park.

Map: here


The Watts Arms, Ottringham. 01964 622034.
The White Horse and Ottringham Tandoori, Ottringham. 01964 625883.
The Ship, Keyingham. 01964 603132.
The Blue Bell, Keyingham. 01964 622286.
The Crooked Billet, Ryhill. 01964 622303.
The Humber Tavern, Paull. 014828 99347
The Royal Oak, Paull. 01482 897678.
Lots of choice in Hedon including the Chatty Couch Coffee House, 01482 891311.


Hull bound – from Paull


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