Rocks and patterns: Fleswick Bay

Whatever the weather or state of the tide, Fleswick Bay never disappoints. Sheltered within the two arms of the St Bees headlands, it is an anomaly on the Cumbrian Solway coast – tall cliffs, caves, rocky platforms pitted with deep Corallina-encrusted pools, and a shore of multi-coloured pebbles as smooth as ball-bearings.

The cliffs and platforms are a breath-taking mixture of art and of the visualisation of scientific processes, as well as the desires of humans to leave their mark. Even as you lean into a wind that whips clumps of foam from the incoming waves, it’s a bay that requires close study and contemplation.

I’ve written about the New Red Sandstone of Fleswick elsewhere [1]: about the 200 million year-old deposits of sand and sediment, lifted and dumped and swirled by ancient rivers and flash-floods, compressed, lithified and eroded; about the coal-miners who worked the nearby undersea pits and who swam with basking-sharks; about the names carved into the cliffs, and especially the story of ‘Judy McKay’; about the sculptors who love to work with the stone; about the small reefs of the tubes of the honeycomb worm Sabellaria

But here, instead, the pictures and the patterns speak for themselves.

Cliff and wave-sculpted pavement (photo by Peter Stanier)
Sculpted rock (photo by Peter Stanier)
Lithified ripples
Lines of reduction (where ferric iron is reduced to ferrous)

And the pebbles, so varied, so round and smooth: jasper, agates, quartz, granites and cornelian. A geographer friend, pointing out the scarcity of jetsam and sea-borne rubbish on the Bay’s tidelines, suggested that longshore drift had passed it by, and that the pebbles had stayed in situ, being rolled to and fro, to and fro, with every tide – perhaps for decades, perhaps for centuries, who knows?

There are, too, patterns made by human hands: pickmarks and names, of all which will tell their own stories; most of the stories now long-forgotten.

And nesting guillemots, cormorants and fulmars make their own patterns on the pitted shelves, their guano fertilising the ‘hanging gardens’.

[1] See, for example, Chapter 6, ‘Red’ in The Fresh and the Salt, the Story of the Solway (Birlinn 2020), and the post in this blog.

All photos are mine unless otherwise indicated.

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