Everyone knows there are just two kinds of weather in Yorkshire; it’s either ‘a grand day’ or, more likely, ‘a rum day’. The British love to talk about the weather because we’re all in it together, but if you live out in the countryside you’re often in it more than you want to be. This winter seems to be particularly wet – no major floods but the fields are all fairly sodden, with pasture and arable land severely in need of a good dry spell.
When I give talks about local rocks and landscapes, and how they work together, I usually end up talking about water. All that rain has to go somewhere and the presence of becks, rivers and springs has dictated where we put our houses, villages and towns throughout human history. And watercourses depend, to a large degree, on the underlying geology. That’s true along the Yorkshire coast but with an added twist.
Regular readers will know that the last ice age brought massive ice sheets across the North Sea and over the strip of low-lying land along the coast. When the ice melted around 11,500 years ago it left a thick layer of mud stretching from Saltburn down to Filey Bay, and from Bridlington to Spurn Point. This mud effectively blocked the local rivers from draining to the sea, and sent them on new courses inland.
But over the last few thousand years streams have started to carve routes out of the soft glacial mud making new ways to the sea. Because they are so new the gullies they cut tend to be steep and narrow. Villages along the coast were built where there is access to the sea, plus shelter and fresh water, so these steep wet gulleys were ideal. Runswick, Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay and even Whitby are all tucked into recent river valleys. People flock to experience the atmosphere of these picturesque villages – it’s yet another way in which geology has contributed to the beauty of the Yorkshire coast.