Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Coastal Erosion, Seaton, Devon

Having taken photos of erosion at other nearby coastal areas...the dramatic landslips of the Undercliff walk between Seaton and Lyme Regis, and more recently a landslip at Charmouth...I decided to see how my own town cliffs were faring.

This particular stretch of the mile long beach at Seaton is between the Chine and Seaton Hole; the photo above taken from the Chine at the end of the promenade known as West Walk. The cliff formation jutting out from Seaton Hole is called White Cliff, beyond which is the village of Beer. The cliff to the west of Beer (to the left and out of the photo) is called Beer Head, consisting of chalk cliffs, and is at the western end of Lyme Bay. 

This wonderful piece of cliff has become almost an island through erosion, standing proud of the mainland. I've always called it 'the pyramid' because of its elongated pyramidal shape, but it's become less so over the years and is now almost a vertical wall, albeit still vaguely triangular.

The major part of Seaton, from the west of the Marshes Nature Reserve up to Seaton Hole, is situated upon Triassic Mercia Mudstone, hence the red clay consistency of the cliffs along this stretch. There is a major fault at Seaton Hole, the other side of which is chiefly Upper Greensand and chalk. Interestingly, the Middle Chalk found specifically in Beer head is now geologically referred to as Seaton Chalk.

Because this section of coastline is geologically important due to the subjection of complex and unpredictable landslides, and the landscape value is an integral part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, the local policy towards natural evolution is one of No Active Intervention. However, where habitation or historical landmarks are at risk, some management is used to minimise danger.

During my research I came across a photo on another website showing a vastly different view to the one I took above.  The cliff was more vertical with lower outcrops covered in plant life, and the top was covered with trees for almost the whole length along. Pretty much how it's been for many years; the photo was taken only a year before my photos, which highlights the extent of the erosion since then.

Some intervention has been made along this stretch, due to housing and a road situated above. The revetment placed at the base of the cliffs is known as Rock Armour. The large boulders absorb and dissipate the energy of the waves at high tide, the gaps between them slowing the flow of water, thereby lessening erosion at the base.

The trees were once part of the coastal side of the road (below), which itself started to collapse in July 2012 after torrential rain caused floods and landslides.

I lived in Seaton Hole for many years and whilst there the road and pavement were moved inward and narrowed at least three times, and a very pretty walk beneath the trees near to the picnic area is no longer there. Talking to a steward at the local museum recently, he told me the story of a friend of his who was mowing his lawn when half of it suddenly disappeared over the cliff!

Since first writing this the road collapsed once again, taking out a huge chunk, leaving nowhere else for it to go as there are properties on the other side. Gas pipes for the houses were damaged when they were ripped out from the ground during the fall and had to be replaced and left above ground, as can be seen in the above photo.   

Access between the beach and the top of the cliff at Seaton Hole is made by a series of steps connecting to a wide steep pathway halfway up. The path once continued down to the beach but a landslide cut the lower half off some years ago.  A local builder Gordon Wellington, together with a team of volunteers, built the new steps to regain access, and in honour of his achievment, it has been named 'Gordon's Way'.

This was the first time I've been this way since the steps were built, and I was delighted to see how similar it is to parts of the Undercliff between Seaton and Lyme Regis. Seeing glimpses of White Cliff through the trees and undergrowth, and the mystery of hidden chasms, is totally magical.

A photo from the top at Seaton Hole (below). There's a picnic area and kiosk just behind where I stood to take the photo. When my son was little (some 35 years ago) we used to come here often, our house only a few yards away. I couldn't help thinking about how some aspects seem exactly the same but how others are so totally different. Something I reflected upon whilst enjoying a well-deserved ice cream from the kiosk. ;)

And finally, another view as shown in the very first photo at the top of the page; this time with a tree that fell from the cliffs. This and the road collapse, as well as some other damage along the coast, all happened after the torrential rains that Britian suffered in the first week of July, 2012. However, the erosion is a continual process and not always as dramatic as that week.

More photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery album along with these, where there are also other photos showing damage and the flooding of the River Axe.


Recent Photos