Excursion to Hummersea with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

Beached at Skinningrove. My ancestors fished from these cobles, out of Hartlepool, from 1570 to 1914. Skinningrove (valley of the skinners) would be a sail across Tees Bay for those men. The build of these craft is said to be unchanged since Viking times.

Skinningrove; homes of the fishers..

The coble men had these homes, facing the cold North Sea from which they drew their living.

Hummersea Cliff

Skinningrove sleeps beneath the great cliff of Hummersea, the highest on England’s east coast. When the Viking Danes settled this part of North Yorkshire they called it ‘Cliffland’. The name has become, ‘Cleveland’.

iron nodules

Later men tunnelled the cliffs for ironstone. There are nodules on the shore that are almost pure iron, laid down when this was a tropical Jurassic sea-bed.


In the 19th century iron miners and alum workers cut these tracks so that the horses and carts might reach the luggers beached and waiting for cargo. The Jurassic shale was burned here and slaked with urine (shipped by lugger from London pubs) to reduce it to alum – a valuable mordant.

Hummersea alum works

Most of the alum works has been destroyed by the North Sea – but this still hangs on.


All is quiet, except for the hiss of the sea. The barnacles sleep and wait.

Limpets huddle, clinging tight, fearing the dog-whelk and his rasping tongue.


Can the sleepers understand these geologists, historians and naturalists, pronouncing Latin names upon them?

Hummersea shore

But like the Danes and the iron miners, the scientists will soon go away and leave Hummersea to its dreams.
Perhaps Tom Fleck came this way, and certainly Peter Tindall on his way home from Flodden Field

About Harry Nicholson

I once bred Beveren rabbits in all colours. Today, I'm an enameller who works with a kiln, fusing pictures in glass onto copper. On Amazon is my novel, 'Tom Fleck', set in the North of England of 1513 - the year of Flodden. A sequel to 'Tom Fleck' is 'The Black Caravel' published in 2016. My anthology of poems came out in 2015: 'Wandering About.' Recently I published memoirs of my time in the Merchant Navy: 'The Best of Days' and 'You'll See Wonders" I've a blog of poems, stories and art at:
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16 Responses to Hummersea

  1. phillip smith says:

    the last ime i walked that way the steps where inbits

  2. Wow! Impressive post Harry! Makes me think twice before posting next time 🙂 Will have to make mine better after seeing this!

  3. Mike Patrick says:

    An enjoyable read, which again expanded my horizon. Good stuff, Harry.

  4. 1sojournal says:

    Love the sound of the place name Hummersea, it makes me think of a sea of memory. Especially like the photos of the barnacles, what wonderful shapes and patterns. Thank you for sharing yet another place I would not have heard of is not for your posts.


  5. jabblog uk says:

    Very interesting. What a hard life for fishermen.
    Have you read ‘Life of Pee’ by Sally Magnusson? It’s fascinating.

    • I had to look it up as I thought it was a typo for ‘Life of Pi’. ‘Life of Pee’ looks a diuretic and otherwise stimulating read – and I see there are two other titles on the same subject; well I never!

  6. jinksy says:

    Barnacles, limpets and whelks? Now those are words you don’t see in Blogland very often! I love the picture of them, too! ♥

  7. Susannah says:

    Really interesting Harry, and I find it fascinating that your ancestors fished from Hartlepool, from 1570 to 1914. Do you feel the pull of the place and the sea? is it in your genes?

    I enjoyed your photos especially the iron nodules and I loved the poetic turn of phrase of. . .
    “All is quiet, except for the hiss of the sea. The banacles sleep and wait.
    Limpets huddle, clinging tight, fearing the dog-whelk and his rasping tongue.”

    Only ‘still’ water in my I Saw Sunday post this week! (I really miss being near the sea and your poem about Kelp is one of my favourite poems! I have read it aloud to numerous people.)

    Thanks for linking to I Saw Sunday, it is always good to have you on board.

    • Ah, Susannah, you give such encouragement. How good it feels to know that the kelpies are still swaying.

      Yes, the sea will be in my veins after those centuries of fisher-folk before me. I went into the merchant navy at 17 and shipped deep-sea for several years; I still dream about it on good nights – on bad nights I dream about TV studios.

  8. umeshikad says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing Harry.

  9. earlybird says:

    A delight, as always, Harry. I loved reading this. All new to me (particularly enjoyed the knowing that urine from London pubs was put to good use so far north!). Good photos too.

  10. I bet those snails? whelks? aren’t anaemic. A very interesting post. I didn’t know that alum was ever produced in Britain. Have you read Dorothy Dunnett’s Nicolo series of books – a wonderful historical read about a ?14thC dyer in Bruges. Well at least that’s where he started, but like Tom Fleck, he went a long way! There were trade wars about alum!

    • I have read one Dunnett, but not that title. The alum making secret was brought to Yorkshire from Italy where the Vatican controlled and profited from the trade. Two Yorkshire gents persuaded some Italians alum workers to flee to this area with them and start the trade here. The Pope was a bit upset and excommunicated the lot of them – so I have read in a book called ‘The Floating Egg’. (When an egg would float, the brew was ready).

  11. Tilly Bud says:

    I’m glad your pictures are bigger!

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