Landslip is monkey business

THE experts will eventually, I expect, tell us the precise reasons for the landslips which tragically led to clifftop homes at Knipe Point going to the very edge and having to be demolished.

I will be surprised, though, if some of the explanation doesn't go back to the last ice age, or previous ones, and the glaciers which laid down the ground on which much of Scarborough and district is built.

Our soft cliffs have a long history of being subject to landslips and coastal erosion.

If it were not for the Marine Drive having protected the foot of the Castle Hill for 100 years, I expect that by now the remains of its Roman signal station would be under the waves. As, indeed, are the remains of the neighbouring signal station which stood on the fast-eroding Carr Naze above Filey Brigg and those of the chain of other stations which must have stretched away to the south.

Not that you have to go as far back as 1,600 years for warnings about the stability of local cliffs.

Readers may remember that some weeks ago I told the tale of an acre of pasture towards the cliff edge above the Spa – complete with five cows – suddenly dropping some 50ft on a December afternoon in 1737, wrecking the Spa House and covering the springs. It was alleged at the time to have been the result of an earthquake. But the evidence for that was very slim indeed, and it was much more likely to have been an enormous landslip.

In more modern times, one of the reasons for building the South Bay Bathing Pool was to protect the cliff at that point. Not that such buttresses always work – the north side of the Castle Hill and the North Bay cliffs have seen a number of notable landslips within living memory.

For me, one of the direst warnings about the ability of local cliffs to resist erosion and landslip is afforded by the largely forgotten Monkey Island.

Some 50 years ago, it was a large hillock at Scalby Mills – around where the Sea Life Centre now is.

It wasn't really an island. There was beach-level sand between it and the cliff near the miniature railway terminus, but it was only during freak high tides that the sea managed to get all round it.

That was just as well for those for whom it was a favourite play area, for Monkey Island was composed of particularly soft clay and earth, and the rate of erosion and landslip was rapid.

My father, who was born in 1900, told me that in his boyhood Monkey Island had on its top a flat area big enough for him and his pals to play football on. And men alive then claimed that in their youth the top had been big enough for a game of cricket.

That indicates a huge rate of erosion. But Monkey Island just possibly gave evidence of an even greater loss of coastal land.

Years ago I came across a theory by a geologist to account for the existence of Monkey Island.

It was that long ago, when the shore was significantly further out to sea in this area, Scalby Beck had run behind Monkey Island on its way south to what is now Northstead Manor Gardens before flowing into the sea at Peasholm Gap.

His theory was that disappearance of coastal land had eventually given the beck new outlets to the sea until it arrived at the one we know.

Though that could well not be the final one – it wouldn't take much loss of land to give the beck a new outflow point some way upstream of the present one.

I don't know enough about geology to assess this theory. But it certainly accounts for the route from the seafront near the former site of The Corner through Peasholm Gap, Northstead Manor Gardens and the Open Air Theatre to the North Bay seafront looking very like a river valley.