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Whitby in times gone by, ads from the past here
The Whitby Fault
The two headlands of the East and West Cliffs not only help to make Whitby Harbour a safe little haven from the power of the North Sea, but they also caused much consternation amongst early geologists, from the mid-1700s, attempting to unravel the secrets of the area's deep history from clues left behind within the local rocks.
Standing at the seaward end of either pier, and looking landward toward the town, it is immediately apparent that the cliffs on either side of the River Esk differ markedly. On the east, below the ruined Abbey, are dark shaley beds, whereas on the west can be seen much lighter coloured, yellow, beds.
This apparent anomaly was immediately suggestive, to Whitby's pioneering scientists, of a dislocation of the strata (fault) in the bed of the river. At some time in the past, a build up of pressure in these beds exceeded the rock's ability to contain it and the rocks fractured shifting one side of the harbour downward relative to the other.
About this fact, all contenders agreed. But as for the question of which side was which and, more importantly, by how far the beds had been dislocated remained disputed. The first part of the problem was quickly solved when it was pointed out that the Dogger bed, so prominent in the face of the East Cliff, was apparently missing from the west side. Moreover, beds of yellow sandstone occur close to the top of the East Cliff which seemed to resemble those found at beach level on the west. On this evidence it was proposed that the west side had been down-thrown.
The second part of the problem however proved far more resistant to the attentions of geologists. First estimates put the throw of the fault as the height of the East Cliff (c.57 metres). This was later revised upward, though the actual proof that any of these guesses could be relied upon was scant. Eventually, the problem was solved in the 1950s, when Prof. J.E. Hemingway, a local geologist, located the Dogger Formation on the west side within the harbour just below the bandstand, and again on the beach where it forms a low reef at low-tide. Prof. Hemingway's findings finally pinned down the throw of the Whitby Fault as being a far more modest 12 metres when height of the Dogger bed in the East Cliff face is taken into account.
Photograph of East Cliff
Found via Creative Commons. Photograph is labelled “Photograph Courtesy of OATSY (Picasa Web)”
Photograph of Fossil Ginkgo Leaves
Photograph free to use.
Diagram of Cliff Section between Whitby and Saltwick Bay
Created by Author.
NOTE: SAFTEY WARNING
This part of the Yorkshire can be a very dangerous place. High unstable cliffs and the fact that the sea reaches the base of the cliffs long before high tide mean the each year several people lose their lives here. Don't become one of them.
The walk along the scar below the cliffs between Whitby and Saltwick Bay is not difficult to complete but YOU MUST ONLY DEPART ON A FALLING TIDE. Remain aware of the state of the tide at all times whilst on the scar and take no longer than 2 HOURS to complete the walk returning via the cliff-top path. Tide times are posted daily at the town's swing-bridge and tide tables are available at the Information Centre on the harbour-side. These sources should be consulted prior to any foreshore activities.
This area is also part of the world renowned Yorkshire Dinosaur Coast and as such the rocks are protected. By all means collect fossils, jet, etc. washed-up on beaches but the rocks should not be hammered. Please leave any interesting geological specimens and features for the enjoyment and edification of others.The scar can be slippery and care should be taken. If the cliff foot is to be approached then the danger of falling debris makes it essential that one wears suitable protective headgear.
This article was kindly written for The Whitby Seagull by Andy Cooper dated Mar 2010 of the Tees Valley RIGS Group.
Link to the TVRIGS Web site here.
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