Skipsea beach is getting bigger. Every winter the storms gnaw away at the soft boulder clay cliffs and take away a few more feet and inches. It is the fastest eroding coastline in England. The savage North Sea is like a giant excavator.
Sometimes it is possible to visit and not really notice a great deal of change but not so this year. The Winter storms of 2023 have been especially fierce and the sea has taken away more than usual.
Today we walked along the beach from Skipsea to Barmston, a distance of about four miles. The tide was out, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing a gale. The sand was damp but firm and we made steady progress towards our destination.
We were last here just nine months ago but we detected huge change.
The advance of the sea is relentless. This is an unfortunate stretch of coastline and I say unfortunate because in the local Coastal Management Plan it is identified as a place not worth defending against the advancing sea and one day it will be gone. Every year six foot of land 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. It is called ‘managed retreat’.
A holiday chalet waiting for the day of destiny…
There used to be an attempt to stop the inevitable and these are the remains of some wooden groynes that the sea just laughed at…
On a previous visit I once came across an official looking man in a hard hat and a yellow 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 as it advanced south 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 time an area of land twelve miles wide has been eroded away and returned to the sea bed where it came from. Not really an ideal sort of place to build houses and construct roads. Once, not so long ago, there was a row of houses here with long stretched gardens enjoying glorious sea views. All gone.
Along the way we came across a fisherman tending his nets, nets stretching out to sea and full of fish, he told us that he came down every day to get his catch but it was becoming a chore because a great deal of the eroding cliffs was getting caught in the net and it took him a long time every day to clear them. He said that he was packing them up now and moving on, aggravation from the recently arrived gypsies hadn’t helped especially as one day recently they had stolen his quad bike and left him stranded on the beach. Luckily for him he got it back later.
Further along was a great deal of concrete debris, the remains of Second World War coastal defences called pill boxes, because they looked like pill boxes. It is not known for sure but it is estimated that there were once twenty-eight thousand of them both around the coast and further inland as well. There were different types and designs based on the type of invasion that might be encountered. Bigger and stronger if there was the possibility of tanks and heavy artillery, not so strong if the threat was from parachuting invaders and hostile infantry. As it happened none of them were needed for their intended purpose. Today it is estimated that there are roughly six thousand of them left.
I can’t imagine that it was very pleasant being on duty in a pill box. Cold and austere, long hours of nothing to do but scan the water, no toilet facilities and no internet for entertainment.
These ruined specimens once sat high above the cliffs, half a mile or so inland but now they have given way not to an army of soldiers but the invasion of the relentless sea.
Someone clearly has a sense of humour about the situation…