St Bees – Cliff and Coast

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St Bees – Cliff and Coast

Coastal Cliffs

St Bees Head is the largest rock cliff and only designated Heritage Coast between Wales and Scotland. There are two distinct types of cliff; to the south 12,000 year old soft glacial deposits and to the north the sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head which date from the Triassic Age (220 million years ago). Both the sandstone cliffs and coastal heath have significant environmental importance.

The north head sandstone is a distinctive red colour, and is a popular building material in the local area.

There has been a lighthouse on the North Head since 1718. The first coal fired lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1822. A new lighthouse, this time running on oil, was built in 1825 and still operates today.

The Spanish steamship SS Izaro however still managed to run aground in 1907 and was wrecked on Tomlin’s rock. The Izaro was on its way to Maryport with a cargo of iron ore when disaster struck. The crew scrambled to safety, but the ship split in two and could not be saved. The cargo was salvaged but the boilers and keel still remain and are revealed at low tide.

Seabird colony - St Bees Head has one of the largest seabird colonies in the north of
England. There are: kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbill, cormorant, puffin,
shag and herring gull. It is the only breeding place in England for black guillemots.

Common sea creatures found here include sea potatoes, sea gooseberry, Sabellaria worms, jellyfish and sand eels.
Interesting plants on the rock cliffs include: sea pink ,scurvygrass, sea campion, sea spleenwort, rock samphire, the rare rock sea lavender, bloody cranesbill, and wood vetch orpine.


Popularity as a resort was largely due to the arrival of the railway in the 1850. Whilst local population had always visited St Bees, the influx of tourists from further afield helped to develop St Bees into a beach resort. Records show the Lord Mayor of London holidayed at the Seacote Hotel in 1951.

An old bus was converted to a kiosk in the 1930s – the first beach café at St Bees.

Today, most people come to St Bees for the walking either along the beach, over the coast path to Whitehaven or to start the famous 192 mile Coast to Coast walk to Robin Hoods Bay on the East Coast.

The Tomlin Swimming Pool

The Great Depression of the 1930’s caused local mines to close and unemployment rose. Rather than sit idle, many of the men who had lost their jobs undertook a project to build an outdoor swimming pool in the rocks at the foot of Tomlin.

The project was led by Isaac Spedding, by now an unemployed marine engineer. Land was leased from Lowther Estates, and work started in 1933 to remove 600 tons of rock with the aid of explosives. A rectangular pool was constructed which could hold 80,000 gallons of sea water, was 31/2 feet deep at the shallow end and 7 feet at the deep end - it even had a diving board!

The pool was opened on a hot sunny day in July 1934 and was maintained by the St Bees Unemployed Mens' Club. Pensioners and the unemployed had free access, children paid a penny and adults two pence. Sadly, by the end of WW2 the pool had silted with shingle and rocks and was never used again.

The Promenade

The 1950s saw great changes on the shore. A contractor had for years extracted shingle off the beach for building material. However, the cliffs were starting to erode at an alarming rate. The District Council was powerless to stop the removal, but villagers and the Parish Council were becoming increasingly vociferous about the long-term damage. Matters came to a head when the contractor asked for increased extraction powers, whilst at the same time the District Council was considering a coastal protection scheme.
The problem was solved in 1956 when Ennerdale Rural District Council bought the Seacote foreshore from the Lowther estate and shingle removal ceased. The coastal protection could now go ahead and the present concrete "prom" was started in 1959. The area known as "The Green" disappeared, and a large car park was built. The shanty town of old buses and sheds which had sprung up on the field behind the foreshore was removed and a caravan site created.


There has been a religious site here for over 1,000 years. The present priory building dating from about 1120. St Bees takes it name from the legend of St Bega, an Irish Princess who fled Ireland in a coracle to avoid an enforced marriage to a Viking chieftain sometime after 850 AD to live a life of piety in St Bees.

‘St Bees Man’- the best preserved medieval body found in Europe was discovered buried in the grounds of the priory in 1981. More information about the discovery and history of the village can be found at The Priory along with several sculptures by Josefina de Vasconcellos’.


Photos courtesy of Donald Brownrigg.

CLICK HERE to visit St. Bees Parish website, which provides all the information you will need about this lovely cumbrian coastal village.


Click here to listen to the locally recorded audio files and learn about St Bees' rich history


Published: 17 June 2015 - 2:23pm