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You won't get better than Bempton
Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve (Bempton)
Member Name: silverbird44
Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve (Bempton)
Advantages: The birds! And the location, pricing, friendly atmosphere
Disadvantages: Toilets were a little bit basic - otherwise nothing!
As a long time nature lover and someone with a genuine enthusiasm for birdwatching, there is very little that I enjoy more than a day out on a nature reserve. But even in my slightly puzzling view of 'fun', sitting solo in a hide on a freezing cold day with only a thermos flask for company isn't the ultimate in winter entertainment, and I am therefore doing my very best to infect all of my housemates with my birding addiction. However, birdwatching is an activity that to your average student ranks somewhere between lawn bowls and doing the times crossword: so to try and keep everyone happy, we all piled into my friend's little green Fiat Panta and beetled off along the motorway for a combined day of birding and beach. Being close to such resorts as Filey, Whitby and Scarborough, our chosen reserve was RSPB Bempton Cliffs.
Bempton Cliffs is located on the 10km stretch of chalk cliffs that run from Flamborough Head to Filey in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The size of these cliffs is utterly staggering - they can reach over 100m at points, and looking over them down at the shivering sea will give even the steadiest stomached person butterflies. But geological grandeur is secondary on the priorities list of the RSPB. The reason behind the founding of the bird reserve is that during Spring and Summer Bempton Cliffs plays host to more than 200,000 breeding sea birds.
We had taken a look at the gloomy skies over Sheffield earlier that morning and optimistically predicted that the weather would clear towards the coast - and to a certain extent it did. However, just at the edge of the country where the farmland rapidly dropped into the North Sea, a thick sea mist had rolled in and blanketed the Bempton site. Not ideal for a birdwatcher, you might say, as the whole watching business is slightly impeded by an impenetrable curtain of white. But that discounts the ethereal, incredible feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff with mist swirling all around, being able to hear and (unfortunately!) smell the seabird colony below but only occasionally glimpsing a white shape gliding out of the fog. It was like standing at the very edge of the world, and beyond? Who could say.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This seems a good place to describe the practicalities of Bempton Cliffs. The easiest way to get to the reserve is definitely by car (for directions see the RSPB website) and there is a good car park, although I can imagine that it would get packed on sunny days at it was almost full when we were there. Those restricted to public transport can take the train as far as the village of Bempton and then face a 40 minute walk along country lanes to reach the reserve itself. It is not an easy trip - but then, I would argue that its position of splendid isolation is part of the appeal of Bempton Cliffs.
There is no actual entrance charge to the reserve, only the £3.50 per car parking ticket for non-members of the RSPB, which I would argue is a very reasonable price given all that the reserve has to offer. Members can leave a membership card on the dashboard and will not be charged. You then walk through the small visitor centre which has information about the site as well as a very friendly set of reception staff who will be happy to direct you, and out on to the main reserve. The visitor centre stocks souvenirs and is also where you will find the toilets (the only down point of the reserve - slightly limited in number and not the world's cleanest, but that's a small quibble) and a kiosk where you can get drinks and ice cream.
From the visitor centre you can take either the left or right fork in the path. We were sadly limited in time, having to be back in Sheffield by six o'clock, and so only had time to fully explore the left hand route, but we were told that the other direction had a similar layout of a path along the cliff's edge (fenced, obviously) with frequent view points where it was possible to see down to birds. These paths were a little lumpy, but would probably be just about accessible to those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs.
Practicalities done, it is time to talk about the birds. And dear lord, they were flipping brilliant.
My birdwatching experience is pretty good when it comes to inland, and I've seen birds in spectacular numbers before - overwintering waterfowl and waders at RSPB Arne is a sight in itself. But I had never seen a colony of seabirds before. It is something that no one should miss.
The first things were saw were the kittiwakes, which are one of the many birds often condemned as 'just a gull'. But when you take a closer look they are truly beautiful. They have a slightly cool, sardonic expression to their faces, almost as though irritated by the people staring at them through scopes and binoculars, but then they take flight and glide overhead flashing their black wingtips and giving their extraordinary mewing calls, and you know you'll never say anything is just a gull ever again. Then there are the huge, swooping gannets, which have heads of a gorgeous pale apricot colour and blue eyes thickly ringed in black like a burlesque dancer. Among all of these white birds you find comical black-and-white guillemots, which drop from the cliff and fly by flapping madly in an attempt to stay airborne, and brilliant razorbills, which have a call like running your finger along a comb. Interspersed between the adult birds are the babies, tiny speckled kittiwake chicks and giant white young gannets, screeching and flopping about like a understuffed cuddly toy. And of course, the poster species and the one that everyone comes looking for: the puffins, tiny, bright beaked and bright eyed birds which epitomise the idea of (I'm sorry, there's no other word) cute.
It was such a mess of sounds and smells and ornithological chaos: birds flying everywhere against the backdrop of precipitous cliffs and the open sea.
You may get the feeling that I enjoyed myself - and I have to say, the two hours I had to spend at Bempton Cliffs were two of my favourite hours of birding ever. The birds obviously made it, with such a staggering display a treat not just for dedicated birdwatchers but for all the families and day trippers who were sharing the cliffs with us. If you want to get children interested in wildlife, but you don't fancy a day at the zoo, then Bempton is a brilliant place to start. If our experience is anything to go by, you will also find both the staff and the other birdwatchers very friendly and always willing to give you a hand with what you are looking at.
And did I manage to convert my friends? To be fair to my two biology student housemates, they didn't take much persuasion - the sight of a cliff peppered with gannets is pretty hard to resist. My chemistry studying housemate was only vaguely curious to start with, but even a chemist cannot resist the charismatic little face of a puffin peeping at them around the edge of a cliff. Whether the interest will persist when the rain is pouring down or the temperature hits minus two - well, I suppose we'll wait and see. But a big 'thank you!' is owed to RSPB Bempton Cliffs, for a lovely few hours, a beautiful setting and some wonderfully spooky weather. The facilities are perhaps a little basic compared to some of the larger RSPB reserves, but for a pure wildlife experience I can't award Bempton Cliffs anything other than five big green Dooyoo stars.
Summary: Simply staggering