Britain's Coastline

Great Britain & IrelandPlaces to visitFlamborough Head - North Yorkshire

The Coastline around the UK stretches for some 6,000 miles - a coast of contrasts as the scenery changes from Estuaries, Shingle beaches, Salt Marshes, Sand Dunes, Rugged Cliffs, Sandy Beaches and Rocky Shores to Industrial Harbours and Oil Refineries.
The Flat Green pastures of the Severn Estuary do not inspire the awe of the rocky Cornish coast or the majestic Scottish Islands or indeed the feelings of Englishness at seeing the White Cliffs of Dover but has much beauty nevertheless. The British coastline offers some of the best places in the country to visit - care must be taken on cliffs and on the shoreline - rocks and rock pools are often very slippy and in places it's very easy to get cut off by fast approaching tides. The rnli2.jpg (5398 bytes)Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Coastguard patrol the coast but common sense should always be used.

The  classic atlas 'picture' of the British Isles is etched upon the mind from early schooldays but is not as it would have appeared a few million years ago. Much erosion has taken place, indeed the British Isles were once connected to the European mainland.

Wave Action in CornwallThe erosion of the land by the constant battering of the sea's waves, primarily by the processes of hydraulic action, corrasion, attrition and corrosion. Hydraulic action, occurs when the force of the waves compresses air pockets in coastal rocks and cliffs. The air expands explosively, breaking the rocks apart.
Rocks and pebbles flung by waves against the cliff face wear it away by the process of corrasion. Chalk and limestone coasts are often broken down by solution (also called corrosion). Attrition is the process by which the eroded rock particles themselves are worn down, becoming smaller and more rounded.

Frost shattering (or freeze-thaw), caused by the expansion of frozen sea water in cavities, and biological weathering, caused by the burrowing of rock-boring molluscs, also result in the breakdown of the coastal rock.

erosion.gif (11286 bytes)Where resistant rocks form headlands, the sea erodes the coast in successive stages. First it exploits weaknesses, such as faults and cracks, in cave openings and then gradually wears away the interior of the caves until their roofs are pierced through to form blowholes. In time, caves at either side of a headland may unite to form a natural arch. When the roof of the arch collapses, a stack is formed. This may be worn down further to produce a stump and a wave-cut platform.

The Needles - Isle of WightWith larger areas of land such as that around the Isle of Wight, the course of the old Solent River ran through what is now Poole Harbour and entered the English Channel to the East of what is now the Island. Constant battering of the waves between the Isle of Purbeck and the Isle of Wight has eroded the coastline where the rock is younger and softer. A band of white chalk running between younger and older rock formations can clearly be seen showing where Old Harry Rocks on the mainland were joined to the Needles on the Isle of Wight.

Beach erosion occurs when more sand is eroded and carried away from the beach than is deposited by longshore drift. Beach erosion can occur due to the construction of artificial barriers, such as groynes, or due to the natural periodicity of the beach cycle, whereby high tides and the high waves of winter storms tend to carry sand away from the beach and deposit it offshore in the form of bars. During the calmer summer season some of this sand is redeposited on the beach.

In Britain, the southern half of the coastline is slowly sinking (on the east coast, at the rate of half a centimetre a year) whilst the northern half is
rising, as a result of rebounding of the land mass (responding to the removal of ice from the last Ice Age). Some areas may be eroding at a rate of 6 m / 20 ft per year. Current opinion is to surrender the land to the sea, rather than build costly sea defences in rural areas. In 1996, it was reported that 29 villages had disappeared from the Yorkshire coast since 1926 as a result of tidal battering.

Many stretches of coastline are so severely affected by erosion that beaches are swept away, threatening the livelihood of seaside resorts, and buildings become unsafe.

To reduce erosion, several different forms of coastal protection may be employed. Structures such as sea walls attempt to prevent waves
reaching the cliffs by deflecting them back to sea. Such structures are expensive and of limited success. Adding sediment (beach
nourishment) to make a beach wider causes waves to break early so that they have less power when they reach the cliffs. Wooden or concrete
barriers called groynes may also be constructed at right angles to the beach in order to block the movement of sand along the beach (
longshore drift).

Longshore Drift is the movement of material along a beach. When a wave breaks obliquely, pebbles are carried up the beach in the direction of the wave (swash). The wave draws back at right angles to the beach (backwash), carrying some pebbles with it.

In this way, material moves in a zigzag fashion along a beach.

Longshore drift is responsible for the erosion of beaches and the formation of spits (ridges of sand or shingle projecting into the water). Attempts
are often made to halt longshore drift by erecting barriers, or groynes, at right angles to the shore.

Places to visit on Britain's Coastline
There are many places worth visiting along Britain's coast. You should always take care and look out for any warnings issued by the Coastguard
Aberaeron - Aldeburgh - Bass Rock - Beachy Head - Crail - Dover - Hastings - Whitby

AberaeronCoastal resort and administrative headquarters of Ceredigion (Cardiganshire), central Wales, 20 km / 13 miles south of Aberystwyth. It has a harbour surrounded by brightly painted Georgian houses, and facilities for sailing and sea angling. There are cliff-top walks.

AldeburghSmall town and coastal resort in Suffolk, eastern England, 33 km / 20 miles from Ipswich. It maintains a small fishing fleet, serving the local market. The Aldeburgh Festival, founded in 1948 by the English composer Benjamin Britten, is held annually at the Snape Maltings, 8 km / 5 miles west of the town. It is the home of the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies.
An important and prosperous port in the 16th century, Aldeburgh retains some Tudor buildings, including the timber-framed Moot Hall, built in about 1520-40, which is now a museum. Once near the centre of the town, the hall presently stands only a short distance from the sea because the shoreline has gradually been eroded.
Alde House was home to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English woman to qualify in medicine. She was elected mayor of Aldeburgh in 1908, becoming the first woman mayor in Britain.

Bass Rock
Bass RockVolcanic islet in the Firth of Forth, Scotland, 5 km / 3 miles from North Berwick. It is about 107 m / 350 ft high, and has a ruined castle, a chapel, and a lighthouse. It is a seabird sanctuary, home to the third largest gannetry in the world and the largest in Britain.
Bass Rock's castle, which dates from the 16th century, was converted by the English government after 1671 into a state prison in which several eminent Covenanters were confined. The rock was captured in 1691 and held until 1694 for James II by 16 Jacobites against a small army of William III. St Baldred's chapel dates from the 15th century. The rock can be visited on summer excursions from North Berwick.

Baggy Point
Baggy Point at Morte near Woolacombe stands proudly on the spectacular, rugged and accessible Atlantic coast of North Devon with its rocky headlands, isolated coves and large sandy beaches. Picnickers are welcome in the grassy fields surrounding the car park. A path leads to the Point with amazing views on both sides and, on a clear day, as far as the Welsh coast.

The South West Coast Path passes through the entire property, and there is an extensive network of paths covering the surrounding area. A slipway leads down to the beach where swimming and surfing are popular all year round. On Wednesdays in July and August, tractor rides give the young and old alike a different perspective on this long stretch of sandy beach.

Beachy Head
Seven SistersBeachy Head LighthouseChalk headland on the south coast of England, between Seaford and Eastbourne in East Sussex. Rising to 163 m / 535 ft, it is the eastern end of the South Downs. The lighthouse at the foot of the cliff is 38 m / 125 ft high.
France and the Isle of Wight can be seen across the English Channel from the headland. Belle Tout lighthouse, erected in 1828, was replaced in 1902 by the present cliff-base lighthouse.
In June 1690 allied English and Dutch fleets were defeated by the French at the Battle of Beachy Head.
To the West of Beachy Head, the 500 ft high chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters indicate the end of the South Downs. Seven Sisters Country Park covers almost 700 acres of the Cuckmere Valley and forms part of the Sussex Heritage Coast and the South Downs Way, Long Distance Path. 

On one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline between Southampton and Hastings, the Seven Sisters are a striking feature of the landscape. From Crowlink and Birling Gap, visitors have open access to both the downs and the beach and can enjoy spectacular, unspoilt views out to sea. Crowlink extends for a mile along the cliffs from Birling Gap. As well as offering a viewing point, it is also a point of entry to delightful walks where families can stroll and picnic.

The chalk cliffs at Birling Gap rise up on either side to frame the beach to the east and west. As well as the open grassland that is rich with butterflies and wild flora, Birling Gap features a delightful beach that is ideal for seaside picnics. With its rock pools and areas of pebbles and sand, Birling Gap is also a marine nature reserve. Nearby sites of archæological interest have much to tempt families further along the coast.

Boulby Head
The Cleveland Way footpath runs close to the wall of cliffs, above rocky coves and fishing villages, linking the National Trust's coastal properties. Walkers can enjoy spectacular views, and the cliff tops also provide stunning stop-off points for picnics, Boulby Head, north of Staithes, is Eastern England's highest sea cliff, 650 ft (200 metres) high.

The cliffs, woodland and farmland provide a variety of habitats for flora and fauna. Roe deer enjoy the woodland cover, while kittiwakes and cormorants choose precarious nesting sites on the cliff face. Primroses, orchids, adders, winkles, crabs and anemones are some of the species to be found.

There are many fascinating industrial archæological sites including, at Ravenscar, the renowned Peak Alum Works. Huge quantities of shale were removed from the cliffs in order to extract alum, an important chemical in the tanning and dyeing industries. The Trust's Coastal Centre at Ravenscar, explaining how the process worked, also houses ammonites and other fossils for which the area is renowned.

Three miles up the coast, at Robin Hood's Bay the Old Coastguard Station is open to visitors, housing information, education facilities and a holiday apartment.

bourne.jpg (8527 bytes)Seven miles of sandy beaches, first class attractions and excellent accommodation ranging from the finest four star hotels to guest houses and self catering, make Bournemouth one of Britain's most popular holiday destinations.

Clean and green with over 2000 acres of parks and gardens and a year round climate that ranks amongst Britain's best, it's no surprise the resort attracts over 5.5 million visitors per year.

At the heart of your holiday, there's seven golden miles of dream coastline, known as Britain's Baywatch. 

Wide beaches of deep, soft sand are just so enticing - whether you love to swim, dance about in the surf, build sand castles to die for or just lie back and soak up some sun.

The Old Bakery is a stone-built and partially rendered building beneath thatch, which until 1987 was the last traditional working bakery in Devon. The old baking equipment has been preserved in the baking room and the rest of the building now serves as a tea-room. Manor Mill, still in working order and recently restored, is a water-powered mill which probably supplied the flour for the bakery. The forge is open daily and the blacksmith sells the ironwork he produces

Brownsea Island
A wonderfully atmospheric island of heath and woodland, privately owned until acquired by the Trust in 1962, and now a haven for a rich variety of wildlife, including red squirrels and many species of bird. Part of the island is leased as a nature reserve to the Dorset Wildlife Trust. There are many fine walks and spectacular views of Poole Harbour

Note: Boats run from Poole Quay and Sandbanks. Visitors may land from own boats at Pottery Pier at west end of island, accessible at all stages of the tide. Please note that the island’s paths are uneven in places.

CrailAncient seaport and summer resort in Fife unitary authority, Scotland, 15 km / 9 miles southeast of St Andrews. Crabs and lobster are the principal catch of the local fishing industry. The town's harbour district has been designated a conservation area.
In June 1559 the Scottish Protestant reformer John Knox preached in Crail on his return from exile on the continent.

White Cliffs of DoverMarket town and seaport in Kent, southeast England, on the coast of the English Channel. It is Britain's nearest point to mainland Europe, 34 km / 21 miles from Calais, France. Dover is the world's busiest passenger port and England's principal cross-channel port, with ferry, hovercraft, and cross-channel train services.
As Roman Dubris, the port was an important naval base and the starting point of Watling Street. The Roman beacon or `lighthouse´, dating from about 50 AD, in the grounds of the Norman castle, is one of the oldest Roman buildings in the country. Dover was the largest of the original Cinque Ports.
Dover is known for its white cliffs, and views from the castle keep, 116 m / 380 ft above sea level, can include the French coast from Boulogne to Gravelines, the shoreline from Folkestone to Ramsgate, and many of the fortifications honeycombing the Dover cliffs. The White Cliffs Experience Museum illustrates the history of Dover from Roman times to World War II. Dover Castle was built on the cliffs
overlooking the town, on the site of earlier fortifications.
The harbour is divided into three main areas incorporating the outer harbour, the seaward boundary of which is the south breakwater, the west docks, and the east docks. The west docks include the Hoverport; Admiralty Pier, the main operating point for cross-channel services; the Prince of Wales' Pier; the train ferry dock; and the tidal basin with the Granville and Wellington Docks. The east docks comprise berths, the industrial land area, and the east docks' car ferry terminal, opened in 1953.

The White Cliffs of Dover are internationally famous. The ‘Gateway to the White Cliffs’ visitor centre has spectacular views and introduces the visitor to five miles of coast and countryside through imaginative displays and interpretation. Much of the chalk downland along the clifftops is an SSSI, AONB and Heritage Coast with interesting flora and fauna, and the visitor centre is an excellent place to watch the world’s busiest shipping lanes

The White Cliffs of Dover mark the point where the chalk ridge of hills known as the North Downs meet the English Channel. Perched above the Straits of Dover, the National Trust Saga Gateway to the White Cliffs introduces the visitor to this breathtaking landscape. Containing a fascinating photographic display telling the story of the cliffs from prehistory to the present and assisted by computer interactive and audio sculptures, there is nowhere better to discover the coast and countryside of South East Kent.

To take a gentle walk along the cliffs and pause for a picnic on the chalk downland that looks down over the sea is to experience the expansive and refreshing landscape at its best. A walk along the cliff tops leads to South Foreland Lighthouse, quite literally, the 'highlight' of the White Cliffs. A 30-minute tour of the lighthouse reveals how it has protected ships and sailors off the coast of Dover. From here on Christmas Eve 1897 Guglielmo Marconi made the world's first ship-to-shore radio transmission, to which we owe the safety of countless ships in waters all over the world

East Head
At the mouth of Chichester Harbour, East Head is a remote, narrow spit of sand and shingle beach punctuated with dunes and mudflats. Families can get away from it all in the wilderness area near the mouth of the harbour, where the sensational coastline becomes increasingly dramatic and exposed. Like the harbour itself, East Head if one of the most exciting places in Western Europe to see a diverse population of overwintering birds. The promontory is a great viewing platform onto the busy harbour, which East Head plays an important part in sheltering.

The bay at Godrevy offers less mobile visitors a superb site for a coastal picnic. High cliffs support some of the best maritime heathland in the country, with many species of plant, animal and insect life. The coast is edged by National Trust land that is open to the public and gives access to Godrevy Head, the highest point on this coast which boasts magnificent views inland and towards St Ives. The earthwork at Godrevy Head is believed to have been constructed against the threat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and Godrevy Lighthouse (which can be seen from the headland) was the inspiration for Virginia's Woolf's novel 'To the Lighthouse'.

Families can walk along the cliffs and get active down on the sand too. The long, wide beach between Godrevy Head and Gwithian is ideal for surfing and swimming, and there is a multitude of craggy rocks and coves to explore.

HastingsResort in East Sussex, southeast England, on the English Channel. Fishing is an important activity; the town has Britain's largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats and a new wholesale fish market. William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey to the west and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Hastings flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries as the chief of the Cinque Ports. It has the ruins of a Norman castle. The annual Hastings Premier, England's leading international chess tournament, is held here in December/January.
The old town in the east part of Hastings is surrounded by high cliffs, and includes the 13th-century St Clement's Church; the old town hall, now housing a museum of local history; and the Perpendicular All Saints' Church. The castle ruins include a museum which gives an account of the invasion of 1066 and the history of the castle. The Fisherman's Museum, housed in a building which was once the fishing community's church, and the Shipwreck Heritage Centre depict the town's fishing and maritime history. The St Clement's Caves, a labyrinth of sandstone caves below the West Hill and East Hill cliff railways, include a museum which illustrates the importance of smuggling to the economy of the town in the 18th century. The wreck of the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam (1748) lies buried in mud on the beach near Hastings.

Holywell Bay
A stone's throw from the popular resort of Newquay, Holywell Bay is the largest bay on the National Trust's stretch of coast to the NE of St Ives. Convenient access points and link paths enable visitors to devise a variety of easy routes for wonderful walks around the cliffs and across the springy turf of the hinterland. Picnics can be enjoyed at points all along the South Coast Path. Holywell Beach below offers more sheltered spots to stop for a snack.

There are many natural delights to be explored with sand dunes that rise up to 60 metres behind the beach and the half-hidden, grotto-like interior of Holywell Cave. At low tide a 70-year-old shipwreck can be seen in the water just off the beach.

Studland Bay
Fine sandy beaches stretch continuously for 3ml from South Haven Point to the chalk cliffs of Handfast Point and Old Harry Rocks, and include Shell Bay and a designated naturist area. The heathland behind the beach is a National Nature Reserve and a haven for many rare birds and other forms of wildlife. There are several public paths and two nature trails here. Bird hides at Little Sea

WhitbyPort and resort in North Yorkshire, northern England, on the North Sea coast, at the mouth of the River Esk, 32 km / 20 miles northwest of Scarborough. Captain James Cook served his apprenticeship in Whitby and he sailed from here on his voyage to the Pacific Ocean in 1768.
Whitby was an important whaling centre and shipbuilding town in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mineral resources include jet, and Whitby also has potash reserves which run under the sea.
In 664 the Synod of Whitby, which affected the course of Christianity in England, was held here. The abbey was built on the site of a Saxon foundation established in 657 by St Hilda and destroyed by the Danes in 867. A Benedictine abbey was established in 1078, and the present ruins, reached from the town by 199 steps, date from 1220. Caedmon, the earliest-known English Christian poet, worked in the abbey in the 7th century. Near the abbey ruins stands the partly Norman parish church of St Mary. Captain Cook's ship Resolution was built in Whitby, and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum commemorates the life of the explorer. Other features include the Pannet Park Museum and Art Gallery and the Whitby Lifeboat Museum. The novelist Storm Jameson was born in Whitby in 1897. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) was set here.

Isle of Wight
Whether or not the great poet munched his way through a hamper on Tennyson Down, he certainly enjoyed strolling by the coast there. The white chalk cliffs on the SW of the Isle of Wight reach their highest point at Tennyson Down, 147 metres above sea level, and the spot is marked with the cross of the Tennyson Memorial. There are fantastic views along the island's SW coast and to Yarmouth and the mainland.

It is easy to get the most out of Tennyson Down, thanks to the network of waymarked paths, and most of the area is covered by spring downland turf, making it a comfortable place to stop, picnic and admire the landscape. It is also one of the most important downland sites in Britain with birds such as cormorants, guillemots and razorbills nesting along the chalk ridge which continues west over West High Down, ending at Needles Headland. Turning north, Alum Bay is known for its multi-coloured cliffs.

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