Druridge Bay is well worth an investigation

Pillar at Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.
Pillar at Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

Druridge Bay is defined by Bondi Carr rocks to the north and Snab Point to the south.

The land between is largely boulder clay, which the sea has attacked steadily for thousands of years. The parts nearer the headlands get some protection by the waves exhausting their energy on the rocks. But the effect lessens with distance, and it is this that accounts for the elegant curve of the bay.

'Mesa' at Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

'Mesa' at Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

Snab Point and the Bondi Carrs are about six miles apart as the crow flies. Provided you watch the tide, you can easily walk the beach from end to end, but we shall take it slowly and stop now and then to look around.

The area round Snab Point includes the coastguard cottages, a disused quarry, a field and a small car park.

The point itself is not obvious from the landward side, but if you start from the car park and walk due east, you come to it.

On its seaward side, the point is surrounded by rocks. They extend about 300 yards out (though it seemed more to me when I was there), about half a mile southwards, and more than a mile northwards, going well past Cresswell Village.

Sandstone, siltstone and boulder clay at Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

Sandstone, siltstone and boulder clay at Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

We start with a view looking south.

In January 1876, the Swedish steamer Gustav went aground at Cresswell. The lifeboat couldn’t reach her so three girls, Margaret Brown, Mary Brown, and Isabella Dawson Armstrong, walked barefoot along the rocky shore, in the dark and on a wild night, to call out the Newbiggin rocket apparatus to the stricken boat.

A broad ledge of sandstone surrounds the point, standing well above the rocks. That particular sandstone is exceptionally strong, but above it is a more jointed one, which the waves find easy to break up. Above this is a layer of siltstone with slightly more resistant bands in it, and above that, boulder clay.

The sandstones and siltstone were laid down about 310 million years ago during the Carboniferous period, and belong to the Middle Coal Measures.

View south from Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

View south from Snab Point, Druridge Bay. Picture by Roger Hawkins.

During the Carboniferous, an area extending from the Tyne to just north of the Coquet was covered by a shallow sea of lagoons, sandbanks and river channels. There, forests of giant horsetails grew, forming peat that was then buried beneath other sediments and eventually turned into coal.

In the classic case, this process produces a regular sequence of coal overlain by shale, then sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, seat-earth (representing the soil of the horsetails) and then coal again.

But the coal measures outcropping at Snab Point are barren. They contain little or no coal, so what we see is a partial sequence, the strong sandstone overlain by weaker, and that in turn by siltstone with wispy bedding.

But the conditions were never quite right for forests.

The join between the siltstone and the boulder clay represents a gap of over 300 million years. The boulder clay itself was dumped at the end of the last Ice Age, a mere 10,000 years ago.

Next is a curious feature that looks exactly like a mesa in Colorado or Arizona. It isn’t a mesa, of course. The sides are boulder clay, and the projecting top the overlying soil, which, being strengthened by roots and plants, is more resistant to erosion.

Our last picture is of the grass field, where a family have pitched their caravan in the car park. The post in the foreground has iron footholds, like a telegraph pole. I can find no record of a volunteer life brigade at Cresswell, but this post, which is similar to one at Craster, suggests that there was one.