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Remember Scarborough!

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Geology of the Scarborough area


Geologically, this area of north-east Yorkshire is among the most interesting in the country. There are few areas in which the complete sequence of strata throughout a whole era can be studied so thoroughly. The entire Jurassic series from lower lias in the north to the cretaceous in the south is to be found around Scarborough.

The oldest rocks, the lias, form the base of the uplands and they outcrop on the sides of many of the dales and also along the coast from Ravenscar northwards. From North Cheek, the northern point of Robin Hood’s Bay, consisting of harder middle lias, to the Peak, at the south end of the Bay also of more resistant rock, the soft lower lias has been eroded to form the long curved bay.

Larger areas of estuarine sandstone form the moors to the east and also the tops of many ridges separating the dales. The ‘Bridestones’ are good examples of remnants of this cap. The Ellerbeck beds separate these from the later sandstones, which were removed from a large area of the uplands but remain to form the riggs between the dales on the south side of the Esk Valley. The moor grit, easily recognised by its compact whitish structure, forms the moors between Whitby and Scarborough.

The wide moorlands of Harwood Dale and Fylingdales show the shales and sandstone of the upper estuarine series. These rocks marked the close of the estuarine period and the encroachment of the sea, with the deposition of the oolites.

Of these the Kellaways and calcareous grits can be seen in the Tabular Hills. It is through these that the gorge of Newton Dale is cut. Along the North side of the Vale of Pickering the Corallian forms the hills overlooking the Vale.

The Vale of Pickering was once the bed of a huge glacial lake and has the typical features of undisturbed sedimentary deposits. South of the Vale lie the chalk wolds with many of the characteristics of such areas: rolling hills, dry valleys, and intermittent steams. The cliffs at Bempton and Flamborough have the familiar caves and stacks of chalk coasts.

The high cliffs from Ravenscar to Scalby Mills run roughly NNW to SSE and have been determined by a series of fault lines following the same direction. The oolites of this stretch of coast have a thick covering of boulder clay.


The headland, which separates the two bays at Scarborough, is due to the resistance of the sandstones of which it is composed. Estuarine sandstone and Scarborough limestone are responsible for the cliffs of the South Bay.


At Cornelian Bay the cliffs are largely of boulder clay, whilst from Cayton Bay the calcareous grits and Oxford clay form the greater part of the coastline until at Filey the calcareous grits capped by boulder clay run out to form the Brigg, a long reef forming the north side of the bay. The clay cliffs south of the Brigg are a fine example of weathering by rain action.

Adapted from the Wood End Guide (1969) by C I Massey

For further information, please contact the Scarborough Tourism Bureau on 01723 383636.

Scarborough Borough Council website
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