Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yorkshire Holiday, Part 2: Cayton and Scarborough

Easter morning, St. John the Baptist, Cayton.

Our Easter holiday began on Saturday, as we drove from Kenilworth to Cayton, on the North Yorkshire coast, with a stop for lunch in Lincoln. These days, Cayton is known primarily for its crowded caravan parks, where vacationers set up their campers within easy walking distance of the broad beach on Cayton Bay. But Cayton also has the distinction of being one of England's 32 "thankful villages"—that is, one of only thirty-two villages in England that lost no young men in World War I. Cayton sent 43 men off to World War I, and all 43 returned home safely—more than any of the other 31 thankful villages. No young men from Cayton died in World War II either, making it one of the rarest places in England—a village without a war memorial. The church of St. John the Baptist is a simple Norman church, with a low roof and squat tower. The High Church service, complete with bells after the blessing of each of the communion elements, was led by a humorously grumpy old vicar whose sermon was mostly an extemporized venting of the irritations faced by a priest during Holy Week, including cleaning up vandalism of the vestry, leading daily services that no one attends, and putting in the potatoes on Good Friday (the traditional day).

Will and Peter on the Scarborough beach (South Bay), with the castle headland in the distance.

From Cayton, it's a short (about four mile) walk along the coast to Scarborough, England's first seaside resort. In the seventeenth century, a natural spring was discovered in the town, and a popular spa quickly grew up on the site. A busy street now separates the crowded beach, where traditional English seaside donkey rides are offered, from the rows of tacky amusement arcades and fish and chip shops. Further along the beach, fresh seafood stalls offer treats like cockles, mussels, and whelks; across the busy street, the Golden Grid offers "the world's best fish and chips."

A steep climb up from the beach brings the curious tourist to St. Mary's church and, in the churchyard across the street, the grave of Anne Brontë, author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and the least famous of the three Brontë sisters. She came to Scarborough to teach, but died there after only a few days. On a bench next to the grave, a large shirtless man was sunning his massive white belly and reading a Sunday newspaper. A few tourists walked past and wondered aloud who Anne Brontë was.

From Brontë's grave, it's a short climb to Scarborough Castle, on a dramatic headland wedged between Scarborough's north and south bays. The ruined castle stands on a site occupied for 3000 years. A Bronze Age settlement once stood on the promontory, as did a much later Roman signal station, established in the fourth century to warn of Anglo-Saxon coastal raids. In the thirteenth-century, the castle belonged to Edward II's favorite, Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was captured in a siege of the castle, and taken to Warwick, where he was executed (on a hill outside of the village of Leek Wootton, within easy walking distance of Kenilworth). The castle was "slighted" during the Civil War—as was the case at Kenilworth Castle, a wall of the keep was blown up to prevent the castle from being retaken and used against the Parliamentarians.

John Paul Jones.

In 1779, Scarborough witnessed one of the greatest sea battles of all time. It was in the waters off Scarborough that the American John Paul Jones, in the leaky old Bonhomme Richard, rejected a call for surrender from the British commander of the vastly superior Serapis with these famous words: "I have not yet begun to fight." Although the Bonhomme Richard was lost (sunk off Flamborough Head, south of Scarborough), Jones won the day, and became one of the iconic figures of the American Revolutionary War.

The Humber Bridge, seen through the windshield of our car (click to enlarge for a clearer view).

Incidentally, our trip to Yorkshire took us across the Humber Bridge, at 7,283 feet the fourth-longest single span suspension bridge in the world. The bridge between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire at Hull was begun in 1972 and completed in 1981, and spanned the last unbridged estuary (of the Humber River) in England. Until 1997, the Humber Bridge was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. (The main span of the Mackinac Bridge is only 3,800 feet, making it the tenth-longest in the world.)

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