Yorkshire and a Disappearing Coast

Skipsea Beach Steps

I mentioned previously that there was no direct access to the beach from the caravan park at Skipsea Sands because coastal erosion has washed away the cliffs and the road and the pathways so the only way to get to the sand and the water was down a set of muddy steps that local residents have helpfully cut into the clay.

It is unlikely that these will be there next year because the village of Skipsea sits precariously on Yorkshire’s East Riding coast which is said to be the fastest eroding coastline in Europe. Since the Doomsday Book was completed in 1086 twenty-six villages along this stretch of coast have been lost to the sea. Cutting new steps to the beach is an annual job.

The advance of the sea is relentless.  Every year along the Holderness coast nearly two metres of coastline is swept away, an estimated average of two million tonnes which is moved south on the tides towards the Humber estuary and builds land there whilst it takes it away here.

erosion 01

Local residents persistently call for the local authorities to erect and maintain sea defences but this is just not financially viable (after all, it isn’t in the south of England), the area is officially designated as a zone of ‘no active intervention’ and it is inevitable that another twenty houses and a fish and chip shop will soon be lost to the waves.  The Local Council is like King Canute and cannot control the sea.

These are houses that were built as recently as 1985 and at that time had long gardens and a road running the front but that seems rather foolish now. There were once houses on the other side of the road too but they had already gone which should perhaps have acted as a warning to the people who bought these properties as holiday homes.  An especially violent storm in the winter of 2008 took the road away and the waves have gnawed away at the soft clay cliffs every year since.

Erosion is a problem along the east coast of England.  When I was a boy we used to have family holidays in a chalet at a place called Walcott-on-Sea in the county of Norfolk. Every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence that it would still be there and they wouldn’t lose their deposit.

This is Walcott-on-Sea…

Walcott Norfolk

I came across an official looking man in a hard hat and a high visibility jacket who was taking photographs and making notes.  His name was Brian and I asked him about the erosion.  He explained to me that the problem is that this coastline really shouldn’t be here at all because it is made up of unconsolidated soft clay and small stones called glacial till that were scooped up from the sea bed by a glacier during the last ice age and dumped here as the ice eventually melted and receded north about ten thousand years ago.  It is just soft clay with the consistency and the look of a crumbly Christmas Cake that simply cannot resist the power of the waves.  In that that time an area of land twelve miles wide has been eroded away and returned to the sea bed where it came from.

He pointed north to Flamborough Head about fifteen miles away where there is an exposed coastline of white chalk cliffs and explained that that was the real coastline of East Yorkshire but where we were standing it was buried under several feet of the boulder clay.

At the bottom of the steps were the remains of Second-World-War coastal defences, concrete pill-boxes that seventy years ago were on top of the cliffs but are now on the shore-line.

As we walked along the beach we searched the base of the cliffs for any fossils and the children were delighted to discover a rock which easily split in two and revealed the remains of sea shells that had been left here by the glacier all of those years ago. I couldn’t help wondering what this beach might look like in another fifty years time and I suggested to the children that they remember to come back at that time to see how different it might be then. One thing for sure the caravan that was our temporary home this week is most unlikely to still be there.

Skipsea Fossils

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…



58 responses to “Yorkshire and a Disappearing Coast

  1. You’ll remember as well as I do, I’m sure, the sight of that hotel in Scarborough that went as a result of coastal erosion. I used to find the idea quite terrifying as a small child, though now I just wonder why anyone is mad enough to live there.


  2. There certainly isn’t much left of the Spurn Head where I used to birdwatch thirty years ago. Darn sarff, the locals at some place near Yarmouth (not sure about the location), paid a local “geezer” for a whole load of huge ten / twelve foot boulders to be dumped on their fast eroding beach just below the cliffs. It cost them a thousand pounds each and you can probably guess what effect it had….the problem was apparently solved!


    • I have been reading about coastal erosion. Very interesting. Apparently, erecting defences in one place just makes it worse for others. The sea is determined to take the land. I read an article that suggested that effective coastal defences in the Netherlands have contributed to problems on the England East Coast. I blame BREXIT!


  3. There’s coastal erosion all around the globe.


  4. It always intrigued me that there is a place named Bursea between Howden and Holme-on-Spalding-Moor in East Yorkshire. Why? What sea?


  5. Those photographs are heartbreaking.


  6. Pretty similar down here


  7. We’re doomed, doomed I say! Notes from a disappearing island I think!


  8. Imagine living in a house that you know one day will tumble down a cliff.. You can’t sell as no one wants to buy..


  9. Scenes that will be all too common around the globe, I think. If not the land returning to the sea, the sea coming up on the land, methinks.


  10. And then there is the California Coast that recently crumpled burying several people. Folks will continue to build on coastal terraces or be sold threatened homes by shady real estate salesmen. Let the buyer beware! And none of this takes into account the problems that will be caused, are already being caused by global warming and rising sea levels. As you noted, Andrew, all things must change! –Curt


  11. Those pictures of the road are quite scary! We kid ourselves if we think we can beat nature into submission.


  12. Less Yorkshire? Oh my goodness…and I write about how great it is…this is a big worry…


  13. Pingback: On This Day – The Disappearing Coast of Yorkshire | Have Bag, Will Travel

  14. I enjoyed the family photos, Andrew, especially the boogie board since I was playing in the waves on one last week off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Outer Banks are more secure than the cliffs of Yorkshire, but right in the path of major hurricanes. It’s always been a bit beyond me while people build homes on such risky sites! –Curt


  15. A great post, Andrew. Your likeness to Christmas cake really helps us understand why this is so fast. Everyone should be made to visit places like this to understand the power of nature. And how much worst it can get when we add our pollution into the equation


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