The Headland Way
The Headland Way is a stunning walk along chalk cliffs with a beach walk at each end. The route connects the seaside towns of Bridlington and Filey and passes close to the villages of Sewerby, Flamborough, Bempton, Buckton and Speeton. The total distance walked is about 32 km (20 miles). If you fancy a couple of shorter days, the route easily splits into two at Flamborough, which has a regular bus service to Bridlington.
The route is easy to navigate and the walking is mostly moderate throughout. The clifftop section is fairly flat with a couple of drops to sea level at Danes Dyke and South Landing. As well as lots of spectacular views and scenery, there is plenty of wildlife along the route. The section along the clifftops on the northern side of the headland passes through two nature reserves, Flamborough Cliffs Nature Reserve managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the RSPB reserve at Bempton.
Along the Way, a number of gates, styles and steps need negotiating and the route passes through farmland – both arable and livestock.
Start and Finish
The official starting point for the walk is at the Priory Church of St Mary in Bridlington. Free car parking is available here on the surrounding streets. If you are arriving in Bridlington on a train, Priory Church is a short walk from the rail station. It’s a little bit further from the bus station. Personally, I’d head straight down to the harbour and seafront and join the Headland Way at North Marine Drive. The first mile of the walk is through the housing of the town and there is little of interest.
The walk finishes at the Coble Landing in Filey, which is a short walk from the railway and bus stations. Filey has a regular train and bus service to Bridlington. If you have any energy at the end of the walk, it’s worth adding an extra mile at the end to finish up on top of Filey Brigg instead.
The final section from Speeton to Filey is along the sands of Filey Bay. This is best walked on a falling or low tide. Parts of the bay are inaccessible at high tide or only have a thin strip of loose stones at the top of the beach which is not pleasant or easy to walk on. When the tide is out there’s plenty of nice firm sand to walk along. Check tide times here.
This article describes the walk from Bridlington to Filey, but it can be walked just as easily in the opposite direction.
The walk starts along the North Sands in Bridlington and it finishes along the sands of Filey Bay. Additionally, the route passes a number of beaches around the Flamborough headland at clifftop level. The beaches are, in the order visited, Danes Dyke, South Landing, Selwicks Bay, North Landing, Thornwick Bay, Little Thornwick Bay and Chatterthrow. These beaches are described in detail in my post The Beaches of Flamborough Head. The largest part of the Headland Way is a clifftop walk around the Flamborough Headland except at Danes Dyke and South Landing where the path does actually drop down to the beach.
The Ordnance Survey Map of Scarborough, Bridlington & Flamborough Head. covers this part of the coast. The OS Explorer Map 301 covers the east coast of Yorkshire around Scarborough, Bridlington and Flamborough Head. With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The explorer map is available in both the standard paper version and the weatherproof ‘Active’ version.
Headland Way – Walk from Bridlington to South Landing
If you are facing Priory Church, start the walk by following the lane running along the righthand side of the church. Walk past the graveyard in the church and the allotments on the righthand side to reach Church Walk. Turn right to follow Church Walk, at the end cross Jubilee Avenue, and walk past East Riding College down St Mary’s Walk. At the end of St Mary’s Walk turn left onto Queensgate. Towards the end of Queensgate you’ll see Queen’s Park on the right, walk diagonally across the park.
After crossing the park, turn right, pass under the railway bridge. Cross the road and head along First Avenue towards the sea. At the end of First Avenue cross North Marine Drive and find the promenade. I promise the walk gets much better now, after a fairly dreary start through the housing of Bridlington.
Turn left onto the promenade and you should be able to see the white cliffs at Sewerby and South Cliff on Flamborough Head. At the end of the promenade, leave the beachside and follow the path upwards to the clifftop footpath. This part of the walk seems a popular place with people out for a stroll and the many benches are often occupied by people admiring the views.
The path climbs steadily along the clifftop towards Sewerby Hall, an elegant Georgian House built in 1714 and sitting in 50 acres of parkland. You can visit the park which includes ornamental gardens, an adventure playground, a nine-hole golf course and a zoo if you are looking for something to do another day.
The Headland Way continues past the Hall and cricket club, then along the side of a golf course towards Danes Dyke.
Danes Dyke and South Landing
Danes Dyke is an ancient structure believed to date back to the Iron Age. It is a very impressive earthwork that runs the entire width of the headland, two and a half miles at this point. It was probably some sort of boundary or fortification. It’s quite amazing when you consider that this massive structure was built with primitive tools. The southern part of Danes Dyke is now a nature reserve with trails leading around the earthwork and through the woodland area above the beach.
This is somewhere else you could spend a day exploring. For today though, descend the steps to the beach and regain the clifftop on the other side and continue along the path to South Landing.
In summer, there are toilets and a small refreshments kiosk in the Danes Dyke car park, a short detour up the slope from the beach.
The route continues up to Beacon Hill passing a second world war pillbox which is now perched perilously on the edge of the cliff and looking like it’s about to fall into the sea at any moment. From the top of Beacon Hill, there are your first views of the two lighthouses at Flamborough Head. For the second time, the path drops to sea level past the lifeboat station and onto the South Landing.
Headland Way – Walk from South Landing to Thornwick Bay
From the South Landing beach path follow the path leading upwards onto South Cliff. South Landing has a nature and sculpture trail. One of the sculptures from this sits at the top of the cliff, a celebration of traditional sword dancing. This an excellent place to have a look back and admire the views of the now distant Bridlington Bay.
It’s a nice flat walk now for a few miles. The path follows the field edges with the two lighthouses getting ever nearer. As you get to the end of the headland you see High Stacks which is now almost an island, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. Look back after you’ve walked past and you’ll see why it’s sometimes called the Drinking Dinosaur.
If you are lucky you might see a seal or two swimming about. At the end of Flamborough Head, you are a good six miles out in the North Sea. This is a place popular with bird watchers as it is often the first landfall for migrating birds.
Follow the path around the headland, walk past the coastguard and foghorn station and then the modern lighthouse. This has been called Britain’s most handsome lighthouse. The cream-coloured structure dates back to 1806 and its light can be seen from Scarborough 27 miles away. The old lighthouse is a short distance inland if you want to take a detour. The view from the lighthouse of Selwicks Bay and across to Stottle Bank Nook is worth stopping to enjoy for a few moments.
The area around the lighthouse is quite popular and there is a cafe, toilets and a shop. There’s also a bus service from here back to Bridlington or onto the village of Flamborough.
The walk continues along the cliff top section between Stottle Bank Nook and North Landing. These cliffs are home to a number of large seabird colonies. This particular section is a nature reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The main path through the reserve is very close to the cliff face and offers some incredible views of the seabird colonies.
Flamborough Cliffs Nature Reserve
This is one of Europe’s most important seabird colonies. In spring and summer, the cliffs are packed with thousands of breeding auks, gulls, gannets and puffins. In summer the chalk grassland in Holmes Gut is full of wildflowers that attract butterflies and moths.
There are stunning sea views from the reserve. From the clifftops, you can see nesting puffins from May through to July. Other birds that you might see include fulmar, guillemots, kittiwake and razorbills. Also during the spring and autumn migrations, it’s a great place for bird watching. Please keep dogs on a lead.
North Landing and Thornwick Bay
After leaving the nature reserve the route arrives in the beautiful small cove of North Landing. The Landing has a bar, cafe, toilets and a shop.
The headland way continues around High Holme and Thornwick Bay past Thornwick Nab onto North Cliff. The cliffs around Thornwick Bay stretch in and out creating a number of small coves. Erosion here has created a number of caves, blow holes and sea stacks.
Headland Way – Walk from Thornwick Bay to Speeton
Beyond North Cliff, the path climbs steadily upwards towards Noon Nook. There are spectacular views here back towards Flamborough Head. If you plan on splitting the walk into two lookout for a signed footpath leading off to the left. This goes to Flamborough village about a mile and a half away. You can catch a bus to Bridlington from Flamborough.
The path climbs slowly upwards along the clifftop to Dykes End, the other end of Danes Dyke which you passed earlier in the day.
The scale of the earthworks can be better appreciated at this end, the amount of effort required to build this thousands of years ago must have been substantial. You can scramble up to the top of the dyke. From this vantage point, imagine yourself back in time when this may have protected some ancient kingdom. From the top of the dyke you’d be able to see the whole of your kingdom stretching away to Flamborough Head.
As you reach Bempton Cliffs you enter the reserve managed by the RSPB, which runs along three miles of coastline. There is a visitor centre here with toilets and a cafe. Bempton Cliffs are home to the largest gannet colony on mainland Britain. These beautiful, large white birds with black and yellow heads can be seen all year round. The reserve is also home to guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, puffins, razorbills and gulls. About 250,000 seabirds nest on the cliffs between April and July.
There are a number of viewing platforms right on the edge of the cliffs at strategic locations and these offer great views. This is a wildlife spectacle that is second to none with thousands of birds whirling about, some flying by almost close enough to touch. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away to continue your walk. Whilst your eyes will have a treat, it’s a different story for your nose. The smell of guano can be a bit overpowering, especially above the gannet colony!
Leaving the reserve the path skirts the remains of an old RAF radar station which closed in 1972. The cliffs here have some interesting names. You’ll be walking along Mazey Shelves, Old Roll-Up, New Roll-Up, Crab Rocks, Barlett Nab, and Nettle Trip.
Buckton and Speeton
Bempton Cliffs merge into Buckton Cliffs and after following the field edge path for a while you reach the highest point on the walk. This is the trig point which is 135 metres above sea level. It’s worth stopping here as you can see much of the walk you’ve already done and most of what is left to walk. In front of you, the view of Filey Bay opens out. The path starts to descend now towards Speeton Cliffs where the chalk cliffs disappear altogether.
Headland Way – Walk from Speeton to Filey
The path from the clifftop down to the sands is clearly signposted. It can be a bit muddy if there has been recent rain and in places, it is quite steep. Hopefully, you’ve planned your walk so that the tide is going out or low.
Once you are down on the beach you have an easy four-mile walk across the sands to Filey to finish the walk. The route across Filey Bay passes Speeton Sands, Reighton Gap, Reighton Sands, Hunmanby Gap, Hunmanby Sands and Muston Sands.
If the tide is fully out you’ll pass the remains of the wreck of the Laura which ran aground in 1897. Along the beach, there are a number of tank traps and pillboxes, relics from the second world war. Some have tumbled from the clifftop vantage point they once occupied, as the cliffs have eroded.
Once you reach Filey walk the full length of the sea wall and the Coble Landing is the area in front of the lifeboat station and amusement arcades. If you want to finish on top of Filey Brigg, continue walking along the beach towards the sailing club. Then walk up the obvious path on the left which leads up to the clifftop. Look out for some steps on the right which join the Wolds Way for the last part of the walk along the clifftop to the stone sculpture and bench. This marks the end of the Wolds Way, Cleveland Way and Centenary Way.
The train and bus stations are in the centre of the town, about a mile away.
Headland Way – Walk from Filey to Bridlington
If you are walking in the opposite direction, from Filey to Bridlington, the path from the beach to the top of the cliffs at Speeton can be a little tricky to find. Even on the ordnance survey map, it’s hard to find, a thin black line running diagonally across the cliff. Look at the second photo below, walk to the end of the tank traps to the large concrete block at the end. From there look up at the top of the cliff and you can just make out the signposts. There is normally a small stream running down onto the beach. Cross this and look for the path running up the cliff. The path is steep and has a few steps cut into it. Once at the top of the first ridge it flattens out and then heads up a stepped path to the top of the cliff.
A Special Place
I have walked the Headland Way a number of times, and although it’s a short distance, compared to other long-distance trails, it has lots of stunning views and plenty of wildlife.
It boasts not one but two lighthouses, lots of interesting geographical features, including cliffs, caves, sea stacks, arches and a Drinking Dinosaur.
You’ll definitely see lots of sea birds, especially in spring and summer. You might see some seals, occasionally dolphins, and possibly deer. I have seen these roaming the undercliff at Speeton. On a sunny day, the white cliffs contrast with the turquoise sea and you’d believe you were in the Mediterranean.
Quite rightly the Flamborough Headland is one of 45 stretches of Heritage Coast around England and Wales. The Flamborough Heritage Coast covers 12 miles of coastline between Reighton in the north and Sewerby in the south.
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