Spectacular Speeton!

St Leonard's Church, Speeton, one of the smallest and complete parish churches in Yorkshire, which dates back to the early Norman period.
St Leonard's Church, Speeton, one of the smallest and complete parish churches in Yorkshire, which dates back to the early Norman period.

Written by Maureen Robinson

With the entire east coast of Yorkshire to explore, it’s difficult to find a more idyllic place than Speeton. Following the A165 Scarborough to Bridlington road, one should turn off at The Dotterel Inn along the B1229 as signed to Flamborough and Speeton. [Don’t miss the most realistic sculptures of a shepherd and his sheep on the traffic island!] Whilst in spring and summer thousands flock to Bempton Cliffs to view the remarkable sea-bird colonies, we seek seclusion a little further north, at Speeton, just south of Reighton. From The Honeypot Inn, a road sign indicates ‘Speeton only’, but to us it indicates ‘Paradise’!

Wide Lane leads into Main Street – a sleepy village or hamlet with a small farming community which appears to have blissfully escaped the passing of time. Tucked away to the lea of white chalk cliffs, it manages to retain a charm of its own.

Following Main Street towards the beach and cliffs, pause beside the attractive “mere” overlooked by Mere-side. Here once lived our dear friends Bob and Doreen Taylor, who devoted considerable time and energy to conserving their environment. Even the local birds seemed to regard their garden as a sanctuary.

A “moongate”, seen from the lane, constructed with 86 horseshoes, is just one of Bob’s creations. The millstone set in their front garden, was probably their pride and joy, being the last remnant of the old mill. Most of the seats you discover were lovingly created by Bob.

Wandering down the footpath towards a car park and church, one’s attention wanders to an adjacent field where a rare breed of sheep graze. Here is part of the Speeton flock of English Leicester Longwools. Read the nearby notice about this flock.

The stile to your left beside a copse leads on to a footpath across a field. The Coleman’s Farm is adjacent to the church, and they kindly provided the post and rail fence and trees around the church drive and car park. The Speeton Cliff walk is wonderful. It takes you from the picturesque village of Speeton over the cliff tops on North Flamborough Headland, to the beach below. However, you must wear sensible footwear, and take great care as you get nearer to the beach. The last 10 metres or so can prove difficult, especially following bad weather. In winter, I’d suggest you enjoy the hidden delights of this area instead.

One may park in the car park of St Leonard’s Church, which is one of the smallest and complete parish churches in Yorkshire. It dates back to the early Norman period, and was restored in 1965 and 1976/77 when the roof was replaced. It’s believed to have been used as a secret hide-out for smuggled goods brought from the shore along donkey-tracks up the cliff.

The church was probably built on the site of an earlier Saxon church dating from the first days of Christianity in Yorkshire. It is dedicated to St Leonard, who lived in the sixth century and became the patron saint of prisoners and captives.

A metal gate in the stone walling leads to the church. In the 19th century a visit by the Rev Prickett reported, in 1831, that “Speeton Chapel is only an oblong room”. The east end of the church was being used as a school. Between 1865-70 the chancel was used once again as a school. The average daily attendance in 1865 was 12.

You’ll notice there is no burial ground. Coffins were often carried by the pall bearers to Bridlington Priory, or St Peter’s Church, Reighton, following ancient tracks. It was customary for the bearers to refresh themselves at the Nag’s Head near the priory. The old track gradually fell into disuse.

Around 1911, the tiled floor was replaced by bricks, and two lancet windows were made on either side of the tower. The font was moved from the chancel to the west end. Many Saxon fonts were solid, firm and circular. They were quite deep, as babies were fully 
immersed during baptism.

In the 1965 restoration, an “Agnus Dei” (ie Lamb of God) was found over the south door and reset inside the church near the font. It dates from c1120-25. Also let into the north wall is a stone bearing a circular cross. This was discovered in 1910 and is most likely the original consecration cross of the church.

There are two trefoil-headed recesses on the north wall near the altar. On the east wall there are the 
remains of a niche and canopy. These may have supported a statue of the saint before the 1530s. Look next to it for a projecting stone box which may have been used for the offerings of early pilgrims, or as a tabernacle.

With so much to discover in the church, please don’t forget to turn off the lights as you leave. Then allow time to explore the village itself, and possibly the start of the afore-mentioned walk.

Follow the arrowed footpath over meadows to the edge of the cliff. This reveals spectacular views across Reighton Sands, and the sweeping bay to Filey Brigg. A glorious walk of 2.75 miles takes you over Speeton Cliffs and Buckton Cliffs, but save that for another day.

Just recline on one of Bob Taylor’s handsome seats and observe the tranquil scenery.

It’s time to go, with happy memories to remain throughout the year. There’s one site left to visit on your return journey. Look out for The Honey Pot public house to your left on the B1229. This used to be a school! It was not until 1892 that Speeton joined Reighton pupils in a dedicated school. Times have changed again, but whenever we pass The Honey Pot, I recall its days as a happy, country school.

Access: Private or public transport on the 121 East Yorkshire bus.

Refreshment: The Honey Pot Inn and The Dotterel Inn.