In Part One and Two of the new series of posts on the British landscape, we have made brief visits to two-thirds of the National Parks so as promised I thought we would have a change and take a look at some of the Heritage Coasts. The scheme was started in 1972 to protect coastlines of special scenic and environmental value from undesirable development. Heritage Coasts are only in England and Wales with Scotland having a different system which we will take a look at in due course. Some 33% of the coast in England and 42% in Wales is protected under the heritage coast scheme. Many of these coasts are part of larger National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which we will take a look at in the next post. The first Heritage Coast to be defined was the famous chalk cliffs of Beachy Head in Sussex.
In this brief visit, we will take a look at three in England and two in Wales. Firstly, Purbeck on the south coast in Dorset which ranges from the creeks and flats of Poole Harbour to Studland’s superb white sands, climbing to a spectacular series of chalk and limestone cliffs, including the iconic location of Durdle Door.
Durdle Door is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast. This rock arch in the #sea was formed as a result of the softer rocks being eroded away behind the hard limestones, allowing the sea to punch through them. Eventually, the arch will collapse to leave a sea stack. Below the cliffs lies a sweeping beach that was once three separate coves.
Our second Heritage Coast is in Wales, Holyhead Mountain on the Isle of Anglesey. Holyhead developed around the 4th-century naval fort used by the Romans as a base for their patrols of the Irish Sea. The Welsh name for Holyhead, “Caergybi”, meaning “Cybi’s fort”, refers to a 6th-century saint, who later established a church and a settlement within the walls of the abandoned Roman fort. The South Stack lighthouse on one of the headlands is visible for 28 miles and has warned passing ships of the treacherous rocks below to allow safe passage on the Dublin – Holyhead – Liverpool sea route.
Back now to England and the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast, an area visited on a photo trip to the North York Moors National Park. A coast of high cliffs, cut by bays and wooded ‘wykes’ and crowned by dramatic headlands. This is one of Britain’s richest mineral and fossil coasts. Jet and coiled ammonites lie on the beaches. Steep-sided clefts in the coast shelter fishing harbours such as alley-riddled Staithes. This is the coast of Captain Cook, whose Endeavour was built at Whitby; wherein proud tradition the fishing fleet still put to sea.
Robin Hood’s Bay is a small fishing village located five miles south of Whitby. The origin of the name is uncertain, and it is doubtful if Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin Hood encountering French pirates who came to pillage the fisherman’s boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the poor people in the village that is now called Robin Hood’s Bay.
Our final visit to Wales for this post takes us to Ceredigion in the west. The Cardigan Bay coast between the Dyfi and Teifi estuaries contains a rich variety of coastline – dunes at Ynyslas, storm beaches, sandy bays and high cliffs. 2007 marked the 25th year of the Ceredigion Heritage Coast and it covers 22 miles in four sections of the Cardigan Bay Coast.
The Church of the Holy Cross is an example of a medieval sailor’s chapel of ease. The site is said to have been used since the Age of the Saints, but the present building is probably the 14th century. It has an example of a 12th or 13th-century font made of Preseli stone.
Our final Heritage Coast visit this time takes us back to England and North Cornwall. The Atlantic-battered North Cornish Coast is for most of us a classic sea coast. Cliffs, inlets, coves, stacks, reefs … a different face as the rock changes. Dramatic folding and faults create spectacular designs in the cliff faces around Crackington Haven and cliffs of dark volcanic rock give a brooding setting to Tintagel, ‘birthplace of King Arthur’ on the Pentire Point – Widemouth coast but the last image features Willapark headland south of Boscastle with coastguard lookout on top. The name Willapark is made from two ancient Celtic words meaning ‘Lookout’ and ‘Enclosed’ and is therefore still highly apt. The modern lookout sits within the site of an Iron Age promontory fort, parts of which are still visible on the headland as a bank and ditch. The bay is known as Western Blackapit.
Well, that’s all for now from Britain’s Heritage Coasts. Please join me next time when we will visit another area of the British Isles diverse landscapes.
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