Blustery. A wonderful, quintessentially English adjective, for quintessentially English weather. “Blustery conditions will continue along the coast for the next few days.” Weeks? Months?
Well, it was November when we ventured to the Lake District at the kind invitation of the Cumberland Geological Society, and so we should hardly have been surprised by the weather – downpours in the hills, blustery on the coast. But blustery does make for drama – breaks in the fast-moving clouds, bursts of sun as well as rain. A walk along the beach, to use another quintessentially English term, “bracing.”
The goal was to have a look at the only cliffs of any significance between Wales and Scotland, the headland at St. Bees. The headland is underpinned by the St. Bees Sandstone, a gloriously red sequence of river sands and gravels, together with the occasional dune, recording the time 250 million years ago when Europe and North America no longer saw eye-to-eye and began rifting apart. The dynamics and vigour of these rivers is recorded in the swirling cross-bedding and intervening floods of pebbles in the cliffs.
The St. Bees Sandstones have been much prized for building, not only locally, but, as ballast in transatlantic ships, found their way into U.S. buildings – coals to Newcastle, really, since the iconic brownstones are of the same age and origin. And there’s another transatlantic connection – just up the coast from St. Bees is the old port of Whitehaven, scene of the U.S. invasion in 1778.
The sand grains of the St. Bees are fine-grained, angular and abrasive, their iron oxide coatings distinguishing them dramatically from the beach sands that reflect the rivers working away at the rocks of the Lake district and Southern Scotland. Where a small gully washed the local ingredients from the cliffs down on to the beach, the contrast was striking, a comparison amplified under the microscope:
One of the positives of arenophilia is that it provides destinations, often off the beaten track, small, oddball journeys through geography and history that would otherwise remain untaken. Our blustery afternoon stroll on the Cumbrian coast is a great example – and was further inspired by the wonderful contemplation of the St. Bees Sandstone by my writer/weaver friend, Ann Lingard, on her Solway Shore Stories website. And enjoy again her guest post from a couple of years ago.
Finally, a note: this will complete posting for 2012, and I wish my readers the very best for the holiday season and 2013. And, in the New Year, posting may well become more sporadic – I have another book to write, and am already on the verge of panic. However, we’ll see how things work out – this is my 400th post, and perhaps time to wander off in quest of a few laurels to rest on.