To Bridlington this month to give a talk to the venerable society of Augustinians. It always pays to do your research before you get up to address an audience, so I spent some time looking up the geology of Brid, in particular the effects of ice.
Around 3 million years ago the coastline south of Flamborough was quite different from today. The coast ran in a line west from Flamborough past Sewerby – as it does now – but went inland for 30 to 40 kilometres before running south to meet the Humber west of Hull. The line of the old coast shows up in an escarpment that runs in a long arc along the edge the Wolds.
In the last 3 million years 4 successive glaciations have brought huge quantities of boulder clay onto the Yorkshire coast. The bay south of Flamborough was filled with till, pushing the coastline out into the North Sea. By the time the last ice sheet melted away, around 12,000 years ago, the land of Holderness was at its furthest extent. Since then the sea has rapidly eaten away at the glacial mud, bringing the coast further and further west.
The earliest records date from Roman times when the coast was around 20 kilometres further east than today. More recently villages established along the coast have been eaten up by the sea. More than 30 named villages have disappeared from Wilsthorpe in the north to Ravenspurn in the south.
While this is worrying for coastal dwellers, it does mean that rocks and fossils are continually washed out of the mud onto the beaches of Bridlington Bay. Much of this material comes from Scandinavia and Scotland, but there are also remains of ice age animals buried in the till. Not only that, Jurassic material is washed down the coast by longshore drift, so Whitby ammonites can be picked up on the beach at Spurn head.
Coastal erosion is a fact of nature but remains a problem for some; as one Holderness local put it succinctly: ‘You rive all your life and your farm falls in the sea.’