The erosion at Thurstaston

The cliffs at Thurstaston are a thing of great beauty. Made of eroding boulder clay, they are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and cannot be protected from erosion – it is the erosion that is important to their status. But the erosion is now proceeding faster than we’ve ever seen because of the extremely heavy rainfall that’s been happening much of the time since last Summer.

If you love Thurstaston cliffs and haven’t seen them for a while, I’d recommend you come for a visit fairly soon, or you might not recognise the cliffs as you remember them.

Last April, a dry cliff.

Last April, a dry cliff.

The yellow colour of the cliffs used to make me think they were sandstone. But I was wrong. And the boulder clay they are made of has got so wet now that they’ve all changed colour. These are photos from walking on the Shining Shore today, Saturday 12th January.

Now deep brown.

Now deep brown.

And like they're melting.

And like they’re melting.

Falling away.

Falling away.

These falls have happened since we last visited a month ago.

These falls have happened since we last visited a month ago.

Falling very quickly.

Falling very quickly.

The whole line of cliffs sodden with water.

The whole line of cliffs sodden with water.

Melting from the middle while we watched.

Melting from the middle while we watched.

Last month this bush was growing on the top of the cliff.

Last month this bush was growing on the top of the cliff.

Here you can see the 'erratics' in the boulder clay.

Here you can see the ‘erratics’ in the boulder clay.

These being rocks transported to Wirral from Scotland and the Lake District underneath  glaciers during the last Ice Age, ending between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago. (Much more about the geology of here can be learned from ‘A History of Wirral’ by Stephen J. Roberts, a reader of this blog, which I’ve just borrowed from the library.)

A detached drainage pipe.

A detached drainage pipe.

Sarah surveys the erosion. Just to give you a sense of scale.

Sarah surveys the erosion. Just to give you a sense of scale.

A pile of cliff.

A pile of cliff.

And I get that the cliffs are naturally eroding. The tide reaches them most days after all. But this rate of collapse is extraordinary and is explained by the amount of water the hillside is attempting to hold. The whole of our walk today would have to be described as ‘squelchy’ – and that’s been true of all the walks we’ve done here since last Spring. The weather has changed radically, and the rapid collapse of the cliffs would seem to be one result.

So if you love them, come and see them soon. We can’t save them, we can only bear witness.

And not everything has changed.

There are still Snowdrops coming out in the churchyard.

There are still Snowdrops coming out in the churchyard.

And the shore still shines at sunset.

And the shore still shines at sunset.

With a beauty beyond words.

With a beauty beyond words.

7 thoughts on “The erosion at Thurstaston

  1. stan cotter

    Oh Ronnie, how sad that all is. I first went camping on the top of those cliffs when I was about 13 years old with a friend. We were just above the Coastguard’s cottage. And went there to ask for water.

    An old guy came out and legged screaming and shouting at us. We didn’t hang about to find out why! But I have visited so many times in the past and taken many people there to enjoy it. And never realised that those “rocks” were clay. I must try and get back there before it all goes.

    I took photos there a long time ago and I thought even then how shiny it looked. And saw it was referred to as ‘The shining shore’ and thought ‘That is so appropriate.’

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Stan, thanks for your heartfelt response and memories here. The cliffs truly are looking very sorry for themselves at the moment. I wouldn’t be a 13 year old camping on the top of them anymore.

      Reply
  2. lindsay53

    Amazing, the rate of change in so short a time. Love the alluvial fans though as the wet matter oozes down. Interesting patterns. It sort of changes and then recreates the landscape.

    Reply
  3. cheethamlibMandy

    This looks like geological change in action. Hard to believe this has happened in such a short timespan or I wonder if the cliifs have been quietly erodingfor eons and the very wet summer has brought the natural process to a rapid climax. Interesting but sad. The snowdrops and sunset are reassuring thank goodness.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I think you’re right Mandy. The stones on the beach are all ‘erratics’ – from Scotland and the Lake District – and will all have been in the cliffs once. But this dramatic rate of erosion is new. I’d always thought of ‘geological time’ as something you’d take centuries to recognise. Not so here. In one month the changes have been dramatic.

      Reply
  4. Stephen Roberts

    Certainly very dramatic images. I have noticed them changing over all the years I have been alive. They are, I believe, relatively recent creations from the end of the ice age about 10,000 years ago. I assume that they were never going to stay the same, but that the recent heavy rainfall has hastened their retreat. Have you seen Thor’s Stone on the common? That has been greatly eroded by people climbing over it. Isn’t it strange how we all have childhood memories of being chased away from local beauty spots by irate or crazed farmers and land-owners, sometimes wielding shotguns, especially if we had dared to pitch tents or light fires. It makes me think about Ronnie’s earlier observations about the evils of enclosure.

    Reply

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