Yorkshire Coast - Hornsea to Flamborough Head

As the sea strips the coastline, some hardy souls strip beside the sea. John Woodcock reports (with his clothes on) PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

The sea inspires some people to throw caution to the wind. For the sake of living on the coast, would you spend more than �250,000 on a home near a cliff edge that's coming ever closer? Or risk prosecution for stripping off on the beach? Both are happening between Hornsea and Bridlington. Call it a form of naked ambition.

The sales pitch for a bungalow in Cliff Road, Atwick, included the fact that it's a couple of minutes' walk from a sea view - a view of the onetime village of Attenwick beneath the waves, lost to coastal erosion. The bungalow is far enough from the clifftop to be safe for many years to come, but further north at Barmston, the North Sea has been swallowing homes at an alarming rate.

A couple of miles beyond they're contending with a different but equally emotive issue. Fraisthorpe sands have been a favourite refuge of naturists for decades, until 1994 when the beach's designated status was revoked. Now the atmosphere is chillier than an onshore nor'easter. East Riding of Yorkshire Council has erected signs warning that anyone committing acts of indecency are liable to prosecution. Can a genuine naturist break the law? Lawyers on both sides are watching.

Fraisthorpe United Naturists (FUN!) cite the economic benefits they bring to the area through the so-called 'nude pound', and claim they are victims of injustice. They say the council has confused their legitimate activities with those of undesirables who exploit the situation, and which has led one outraged visitor to liken scenes on the beach to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Maybe one day the conflict will earn a line or two among the poetic snapshots of the life and times of Bridlington Bay, good and bad, imprinted into the paving on South Marine Drive. There are references to shipwrecks, wildlife and the weather, and if you don't look down you miss gems like this: 'East from seaward blow brilliant Bridlington's bracing summer breezes.'

The restored promenade, with its slender lighting and mixture of old and new chalets, won design awards, and the authorities are going for more. They are spending �6.7m on reviving an area around The Spa entertainment and conference venue which reopened last year after a �19.5m renovation.

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After years of argument there are also plans for a 320-berth marina and new fishing port following an agreement between the council, the development agency Yorkshire Forward and Bridlington Harbour commissioners. It will radically alter a view that was familiar to Lawrence of Arabia, no less. After his exploits in the Middle East during the First World War, Lawrence joined the RAF's flying boat squadron and was often posted to Bridlington. He stayed at the Ozone Hotel, which is now the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club across the road from Southcliff Gardens where a sundial commemorates his visits.

The harbour's revamp will in turn be linked to an overhaul of the town centre - all part of a grand project to win back visitors to a resort whose virtues can be overshadowed by the brash and shabby. Those who recall it through rose-tinted glasses find nostalgia confirmed in the Beside the Seaside Museum, where imagery describes more refined days and old posters suggest that the summer sun always shone.

Many others love Brid for the way it is now: gulls squealing over the fish and chip scoffers on the pier, cafes proclaiming themselves 'The Sole Plaice to Eat', the funfairs, genteel guest houses striving to maintain standards, the rejuvenated Old Town, and a 'fisherman's breakfast' by the harbour.

Where the North Promenade becomes the clifftop path to Sewerby there are numerous benches dedicated to people for whom the bay was a special place. They came from Leeds, Hull, Barnsley, Wakefield, Castleford, Batley, Nottingham, Scunthorpe and Rutland, and maybe much further afield in the case of Jan and Pela Wasilewski. Inscriptions like 'Happy times in Bridlington' are more eloquent than any holiday guide. 'In Memory of Brian Sayles' it says on one bench. 'Lived in Sheffield but his heart was in Bridlington'. Another recalls 'Our dear Mum, Norah Coventry, who loved this view'.

In Norah's case it was a lifelong love. She was 89 when she died last year and came from Bempton, a couple of miles away on the other side of Flamborough's chalky headland. She would have known Sewerby Hall and its 50 acres when it belonged to the Greame family.

They'd owned the estate for more than two centuries but in 1934 sold it to the then Bridlington Corporation. It was opened to the public two years later by Amy Johnson, Hull's world-famous aviator, and a room dedicated to her exploits has its 50th anniversary this year.

Sunday August 23rd is another important date for the hall and gardens as Sewerby is hosting Coast, Sea and Sky, a celebration of the East Riding's coastal environment. It aims to show how people live, work and relax, and a competition is being held for amateur photographers to support the event.

There is no lack of inspiration. Flamborough Heritage Coast is camera-friendly whatever the weather, with its spectacular cliffs and seabird colonies, Danes Dyke Nature Reserve, the coves of North and South Landing, a sculpture trail and two lighthouses. The octagonal tower dating from 1669 is probably the oldest surviving lighthouse in England and was erected by Sir John Clayton as a money-making venture. He was given permission to build it by Charles II and intended to charge vessels passing the headland. Perhaps deservedly, he went bankrupt before he could apply his cunning plan and his light was never lit.

The current structure was built in 1806, extended in 1925 and fully automated in 1996. As to its service to mariners, the promenade scribe back in Brid puts it best, describing how for 203 years 'the light from Flamborough has swept its great arc over dark and dangerous seas, and seen in visibility good for 29 nautical miles'.

As a tourist attraction it shines on East Yorkshire too.