Hull - 2017 UK City of Culture..?
Geographically at the end of the line, confusion exists to outsiders about whether Hull is part of Yorkshire or Humberside and the city is often featured on lists that compound the negativity such as its infamous number one spot in the 2003 book 'Crap Towns' by The Idler.
Over a decade later, there is a real sea change in the air that has made the city of Kingston-upon-Hull become one of the 'Top 10 places to visit in the world' according to the 2016 Rough Guide and is the UK's City of Culture 2017. I have cycled over the Humber Suspension Bridge before and remains a memorable cycling experience, however, I have really explored this part of the country by bike and decided to return to Hull, see a bit of the city and continue down to Spurn Point with my friend from previous adventures - Scott.
On a Northern Rail Ranger...
I had a Northern Rail Ranger pass that gives me unlimited train travel on Northern for one day. These tickets are great value, but mean that we could only travel on the slower regional routes instead of the quick TransPennine Trains. We had to go on the Hope Valley Line from Manchester to Sheffield and then catch the connecting fast train to Hull. We had a great discussion about the merits of EU Membership and Scott flicked through his saved collection of Monday to Friday Metro newspapers to pass the time!
Heading towards the coast...
Upon arriving into Hull, we took note of the 2017 City of Culture posters and left the Paragon transport interchange. Hull has many examples of 1960's and 70's architecture that are both loathed and loved (I am a fan), but heading east of out of the city we passed through the docks and heavy industry that the city is more famous for.
There is a fairly well-maintained cycle path available that was parallel to the busy dual carriageway connecting to the P&O Ferry Terminal for onward tours to Belgium and Holland.
Following the old railway line...
We decided to ride mountain bikes and hybrid bikes instead of road bikes which on reflection was a poor choice as we spend much of the ride on tarmac. Many of the former rail routes to places such as Withernsea and Hornsea have been converted into traffic-free cycle paths and we planned to ride on these. The Route 62 to Hornsea is part of the Trans-Pennine Trail and well surfaced, however, the Hull to Withernsea route is essentially a lifted track bed, muddy and more of a horse bridleway than a cycle route.
After making slow progress to Keyingham along the Rail Trail, we picked up the A road to Patrington and quickly made up the time lost by cycling on the badly surfaced former line. This part of the country is very remote and geographically isolated. There are very few roads and reasons to continue heading south-east unless you live in the area or work at the Easington North Sea Gas Terminal. Beyond Patrington, there were hardly any cars on the road and we rode down to Spurn Point and the Heritage Coast.
Spurn Point Heritage Coast...
The spit is a narrow bank of sand that extends 3 miles into the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. At high tide, the sandbank is cut off and becomes Yorkshire's only island. The road is also closed to vehicles and it is still possible to cycle along the private road making this one of the most unique rides in the country. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to Spurn Point to cycle to the lighthouse and had to turn back to avoid riding through the rural roads in the dark. The spit is deceptively far from Hull and is a 30-mile ride from the city centre pretty much parallel to Grimsby on the other side of the river.
We left Spurn Point and rode back along the same way we came instead of heading north to Withernsea to explore the seaside town. This area is home to heavy industry including chemical works and a gas plant, yet many of the villages are rather nice in a traditional English kind of way with a landscape that is very Dutch in nature.
Each village church had a high church steeple that acted as a marker in the distance and we even saw a sign for a closed underground Cold War bunker. We even passed through the Greenwich Meridian Line (GMT) that caused Scott's GPS watch to become strangely confused and forwarded itself an hour (or he just misread it!)
We cycled back into Hull as the light started to fade over industrial smoke towers, cooling units and the Humber Estuary highlighting a real beauty in the ugly. As we crossed the various shipping quays and basins back into the city centre, it was clear that there is much going on to redevelop Hull and the Old Town.
Why visit Hull..?
The distinctive 'The Deep' aquarium is certainly worth a visit for its modern architectural merit and uniqueness. The well preserved Old Town is an excellent reminder of Hull's historical contribution to Britain. Hull was also the place where the slave trade ended due to the campaigning by local resident William Wilberforce and his determined fight to end slavery. Many buildings in this area are named after him and led to Hull becoming twinned with Freetown in Sierra Leone.
The aim of the day was to discover a part of Yorkshire that was hidden and I think we found it. Hull might be an odd choice to many as a must-see place to visit or even as a city of culture.
I was sceptical, but after reading many of the articles about the 2017 culture award, I felt it was the right time to go back. After cycling around the city and exploring some of the parts of 'Hidden Humberside' that I had never been to, you can really see a city on the up and a part of the East Riding of Yorkshire that is literally off the beaten track by bike.