Written Articles

Coast to Coast


Coast to Coast - The Flow of Tides

Starting from St. Bees, the Coast to Coast footpath is one of Britain’s foremost long distant trails. The brainchild of Alfred Wainwright, the route is over 190 miles in length and crosses three National Parks, which include some of England's finest scenery. However, it is also possible to complete this journey by boat. Using two of the country’s great rivers, the Mersey and Humber, as well as a mixture of smaller waterways, including canals, the west and east coasts can be linked together. This cross country route however, will not take full advantage of the tide that flows around the UK coast that can provide a free ride for those who use it correctly, taking you from one side of the country to the other. These photographs follow this coastal route, looking at the history and transitions that are happening to the very edge of the UK. The photographs follow the flood tide, as it sweeps up the west coast through the North Channel, accelerated by the relative close proximity of the east coast of Ireland. Starting at the mouth of the Mersey, the tide flows around the northern half of the UK to the mouth of the Humber. Both these great rivers have been central to the development of the UK as a trading nation and are still vital to is economy. The journey starts on the expansive sands of Lancashire, which are continually shifting as the tide rises and falls, creating a fluid and undefined coastline.

As Lancashire starts to turn into Cumbria, signs of industry can be found, initially at Heysham and then the dockyards in Barrow, where once could be found the largest steel works in the world. Cumbria may now be known for its beauty spots, lakes and fells, but its former glory lies on its western edge, which is now known as the Energy Coast. The sight of wind farms are common place but it’s link with energy production lies with the former Seascale nuclear power station that has now been redeveloped into the Sellafield reprocessing plant. The skyline at this point on the Cumbria coast is dominated by its presence. Further north the cliffs found between Harrington and Moss Bay are totally man-made from the waste of the former Workington steel works, which closed in 1982. This industrial heritage can be followed past the harbours at Maryport and Silloth, until it reaches the disused canal at Port Carlisle, which during the 1800’s linked the Solway Firth to the market town of Carlisle. Across the Solway Firth lies Scotland’s west coast which comprises a myriad of islands. Their total coastal length is over 6,000 miles, which actually accounts for 69 % of the UK’s coastline. Included in their vast number are the islands of Coll and Tiree, which are formed from the oldest rocks in Europe, dating back over 3,000 million years. Along with the Outer Hebrides, their interwoven line forces the flood tide to ever increasing speeds, which can reach over 8.5 knots in the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Despite these massive forces, the scottish coast has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

In contrast, as the tide runs south along the Yorkshire coast, considerable change takes place. The cliffs between Saltburn and Flamborough are continually revealing new layers of geological history, where fossil hunters hope for a new find after each tide and change in the weather. But it is South of Flamborough Head where the greatest and most rapid changes are occurring. The Holderness coast that runs south from Bridlington forms the fastest eroding land mass in Europe. At places such as Hornsea and Witherness, extensive efforts have been made to maintain a coastline through the construction of sea defenses that aims to protect homes and businesses. But this can in turn just cause greater erosion at other points further along the coast. The previous government’s policy of “Hold the Line” has now moved to one of “No intervention”, which is outlined in Environment Agency’s Shoreline Management Plans. This change will clearly have drastic longer term consequences for many coastal communities as the actions of nature are allowed to take their course. The eroded material from the Yorkshire coast is swept further south to form the headland at Spurn, which guards the mouth of the Humber. Every six hours the flood tide will fill the Humber estuary before it turns and the ebb tide runs north, starting the whole cycle again, forming a relentless abrasive action on the coastline. Even a map from a few years ago shows a very different coastline and at various points along the coast there are references to villages that have been already lost to this continual erosion. Regular visitors to the area will experience this through a slow retreat at holiday venues, as caravans are moved away from a crumbling cliff line to prevent them being lost to the advancing sea. Nature can be a relentless enemy and water is its greatest weapon