Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Seaton to Lyme Regis and the Bindon Landslip

Howling gales and torrential rain here at the moment but on a sunny day in October I went to Seaton to walk into the middle of the woods between Axmouth and Lyme Regis. I usually miss out the photographs of the early part of the walk, but for a bit of a change I have put up some of these and I will be back soon to put up the photos of the woods proper and talk about the walk a bit more. In the meantime here is a little bit of the historical record of the event which began on a stark and dormy night just before Christmas in 1839...

The History of the study of Landforms Or the development of Geomorphology edited by T. P. Burt, R. J. Chorley, D. Bunsden and others.

One of the earliest examples was presented by William Cronybeare (1840) the vicar of Axminster and William Buckland, professor of geology at Oxford, reporting changes produced on the coast of east devon between Axmouth and Lyme Regis by the subsidence of a chasm 200 m wide, 30 m deep and 1.5 km long as a piece of land, known as Goat Island, moved seaward. Of its time, the Bindon event is the most widely documented mass movement in the British Isles. The fortuitous presence in the area of two of the leading catastrophist geologists of the day, Cronybeare and Buckland, meant that Bindon is the first landslide event ever recorded with a full scientific memoir of the Geological Survey.

From Cronybeare

A week or two before Christmas and on the 23rd of December, one of the cottages in the undercliff below began to show signs of subsidence, though not sufficient to create alarm.
At about 4.00 a.m. there came a 'wonderful crack' followed by movements in absolute silence and without vibration. The occupier of the house was only able to open the door with considerable difficulty and wagons brought to remove the household effects only just returned on the path. The journey was described as 'perilous'. Two coastgaurds saw the ground cracking and heard a sound like 'the rending of cloth'. There was a 'heaving and disturbance of the beach, the sea being violently agitated while a dark ridge rose in the water'. There was a 'deafening crashing of falling rocks', 'flashes of fire' and 'a strong smell of sulphur'. So much alarm was generated by the reports that many people were discouraged from visiting the slip. Those who did venture out were 'breathless and bewildered at the sight' and one person was 'led back to a sick bed at Honiton' from which ' he with difficulty recovered'.

From Wanderings in Devon by W. H. Hamilton Rogers MDCCCLXIX

The exact period of the descent, was on the night succeeding Christmas Day, 1839, and it continued gradually sinking or subsiding during the whole of the next day. There was no noise of any kind except from portions of the detached soil falling down. An eye witness who was present on the morning following the descent, and while the mass was still settling, describes the scene as being of a very awful description; to see the vast and apparently bottomless cracks extending, and the mass of land moving, while as if to shroud this vast convulsion in still further mystery, there was a dense fog setting in from the sea, enveloping everything.

About forty five acres of fields growing wheat and turnips were dislodged when a great chasm was formed more than 300 feet (91 m) across, 160 feet (49 m) deep and three quarters of a mile long. The crops remained intact on the top of what became known as "Goat Island" among the newly formed gullies. On February 3 1840, 5 weeks later, there was a second landslip nearby but much smaller than the former. This strange phenomenon attracted many visitors, and the canny farmers charged sixpence for entrance and held a grand reaping party when the wheat ripened.


nobody said...

Was any of that historical landslip thingy visible in your photos John? I'm thinking 'not'.

john said...

Cheers nobody
No you can't see any of it in the photos yet, its further along the coast and round the corner. I did take some of the view from underneath which I'll put up but I think the best view is from above, so I'll nip back and walk the topside again at some point soon.

There is also a slightly hidden and disused path that goes down from the top and back up again onto the goat islands which I might have to look out for, its supposed to be a hard walk but sounds a bit irresistible to me.

nina said...

Fascinating John! The Earth breathes and burps while we all go about the business of life.

Vword: eurth

john said...

Cheers and thanks nina

Yes and we are lucky enough around here to get to see it in action.

Penny said...

I liked that, what a good story/history.

I liked the part about the farmers charging for admission.

Industrious people, really.

The second and third picture, when I looked at that, I could see wheat there, when it turns all golden brown.....

As usual, all the pictures are great.

These pics are like the calm in the storm.

john said...

Cheers Penny and thanks

Yes the farmers are still canny and now charge people to view the crop circles when they turn up, they don't miss much of a trick really and good on them.

One of the reasons that I walk and explore is that I find it gets me well away from the madness of what goes on in the world. It doesn't seem to impinge on these places.

literarylyme said...

I have some fab undercliff photos (of ruined buildings etc) if anyone wants to see them I will gladly email u a link.