The Northumberland Coast

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24th February 2019

So it’s February already….I’ve not been here since last September but lets not worry about that just now.  We’ve been ‘wandering’ as opposed to ‘rambling’ today on the beach at Cocklawburn in Northumberland.  We’ve not been here before, but the sun is shining and its positively springlike so we decided to take a trip to the beach.  Cocklawburn is part of the Northumberland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Lindisfarne Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  The Northumberland coast has the longest stretch of sand dunes in Britain – most being formed only 300-400 years ago, lovely sandy beaches, castles and pretty villages. There is evidence of human activity stretching back 7000 years.

The majority of the Northumberland coast is limestone, alternating with sandstone and shale.  These hard rocks form platforms which are moulded by the waves and extend out into the sea as reefs or headlands.  The most dramatic of these are formed of Whinsill – or whinstone – an igneous rock (of which our very own house is built).  The patterns formed from the various layers of rock are fascinating and its easy to find fossils among them.

(For some fascinating info about local geology have a look at http://www.markedbyteachers.com which has a page about Cocklawburn)

On top of one of the cliffs is a disused limekiln, one of many in the local area.  They were built in the 18th century, as industrialisation was taking off and they supplied the raw material for improving soil fertility – quicklime – which is formed when limestone is heated to 900-1000ºC.

Limekiln
                                                           Limekiln

This is a great place for rock pooling and an excited lady stops to show us a photograph of a couple of starfish she has seen.  We don’t see any of those – just limpets and barnacles with a lot of seaweed – which I thought was not going to prove very interesting but I’ve just spent an hour reading all about limpets and barnacles and found out some fascinating stuff!!  For example did you know that although limpets are firmly fixed to the rocks during the day, they graze on algae at night but always return to the same spot when the tide goes out?  This is because they need to protect themselves from drying out so their shells grow to fit the contours of their very own bit of rock ensuring the best seal between themselves and the surface.  Who knew limpets could be interesting?!

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                                                           Limpets

And barnacles too – these are crustaceans related to shrimp, crabs and lobsters and they secrete a fast acting cement – one of the most powerful glues known to man. In fact researchers are currently trying to find the best way to use this commercially – according to the National Ocean Service in the US – wouldn’t you just have guessed even barnacles are not safe? (www.oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/barnacles.html).  I’m sure extra-strong barnacle glue is going to be a very valuable resource eventually.  Anyway these tiny creatures don’t move around much – the adult ones just stay glued to the rock by the backs of their heads (ouch!) and feed via ‘cirri’ – feather like appendages which can retract through the top of the outer shell and are used to filter the water for microscopic organisms – when the tide goes out these ‘doors’ close to conserve moisture.

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Barnacles – the cement they secrete is what makes them such a problem for sailors who spend hours trying to scrape them off the bottom of their boats – isn’t that right Mr O?

So this is an important area for birds too – part of the reason for its status as an SSSI.  the mudflats are of international importance for several species including the redshank which we saw today – very close by:

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I was super-excited (I know – it doesn’t take much!) and was frantically waving to Mr RR who had wandered off to look at pretty rock patterns or search for driftwood or something when I suddenly realised that everyone except Mr RR was looking at me – probably wondering whether I was sinking into the mudflat (although no-one actually moved to save me!).  Of course by the time I’d finished waving my arms around and turned back, the bird had flown – not surprisingly!!

When Mr RR finally caught on and joined me, we spotted a flock of smaller birds which we think might have been dunlin – this is another important bird in the area – but sadly they were a bit far away to see properly.  We also spotted oyster catchers, a heron and could hear skylark on the sand dunes.

Anyway – I hope you enjoyed this little wander.  We aren’t actually managing to walk long distances at the moment but I’ll try and put some more wanderings up and also some links in case you feel like a ramble yourselves – so today have a look at http://www.northumberlandcoastpath.org – the coast path is 62 miles long and goes from Cresswell to Berwick-upon-Tweed and is on my list for when long rambles are back on the menu!

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Hopefully see you soon.

Julie xx

2 thoughts on “The Northumberland Coast

  1. L February 25, 2019 / 9:43 am

    I really enjoyed reading this! Lovely to hear about your wanderings again xx

    Like

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