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Exploring the Whitehaven Coast

View looking down to the sea and a concrete structure with a lighthouse on it from the coast path at Whitehaven, Cumbria
View from the coast path at Whitehaven | © National Trust Images/Melvin Jefferson

Only 5½ miles from the border of the Lake District National Park, the Whitehaven Coast stretches south from the 18th-century harbour of Whitehaven towards the sandstone cliffs of St Bees Head. From carpets of colourful wildflowers to thousands of nesting seabirds, there's lots to discover when exploring this part of the world.

Spring highlights

With all the bulbs and plug plants having gone in as part of the Keep Cumbria Buzzing and Planting for Pollinators projects, the coast is bursting with various blossom all through the spring. As well as this carpet of colour, higher off the ground you will find apple, plum, damson and cherry blossoms adding their lovely fragrance to the air.

Top spots

Good places to see these spring displays are at the Candlestick, Basket Road, Haig Pit and the Ravenhill track. Other patches of colour can be found at Solway Road, North Row, South Shore and Wellington Terrace, with planted wild daffodils and ransoms around the trees near Haig Enterprise Park.

Purple irises growing on a grassy verge on the Whitehaven Coast
Purple irises on a sunny spring day on Whitehaven Coast | © Chris Gomersall

Wildflowers on the Whitehaven Coast

Every autumn, between 3,000 and 10,000 bulbs are lovingly tucked into the soil around the entry and exit points to the clifftop site, so that, come spring, there is a riot of early colour to greet you.

The show begins in January and February with snowdrops, followed by crocuses and dwarf irises. Then, from March through to June, you'll see daffodils, Chionodoxa, Ornithogalum, Ixia, Anemone, fritillaries, hyacinths, tulips, bluebells, alliums, chives and Eremurus.

‘My personal favourites are the snowdrops. They're the first flowers of the new year, signalling the season to come and lighting up the dark ground. But I also love the exotic patterning on the snake's head fritillary.’

- Chris, Whitehaven Coast Ranger

Alongside the planted bulbs, wildflowers flourish on the old mining sites. On the Haig Colliery site, there's a pretty show of wildflowers to enjoy. Yellow primroses, cowslips and coltsfoot come in February and March, heralding the arrival of spring.

In April, the fritillaries are out, amazing visitors with their chequerboard-pattern flowers. By June, kidney vetch and bee orchid are among favourites to spot. August brings red bartsia and heather, along with many other fine blooms such as grass vetchling, a delicate pink flower that's a local rarity.

If you look closely, you’ll see bird's foot trefoil, hairy tare, black medic, and red and white clover, all of which fix nitrogen from the air to enrich the ground. Can you find the elusive scarlet pimpernel?

Wildlife spotting


The most reliable animals to spot when you’re taking a walk along the Whitehaven Coast are the seabirds that can be spotted from the harbour to the cliffs.

In the harbour, see the barnacle geese and swans that over-winter here. You'll probably hear the colony of jackdaws on Wellington Terrace, especially in spring as they make nests in the drainage holes in Wellington Pit’s old walls.

The silhouettes of six cormorants can be seen with a backdrop the bright orange sky at sunrise behind.
Cormorant silhouettes at sunrise | © National Trust Images/Howard Stone

Thousands of nesting birds inhabit the Whitehaven Coast, including England’s only breeding colony of black guillemots.

At the Candlestick, train the available telescope onto South Shore and try to spot the red shanks, oystercatchers and cormorants resting on Tom Hurd’s Rock. If you head up to the meadow areas on the clifftops, you'll be able to see starlings and herring gulls regularly feeding. If you're lucky, you may even see a grey partridge or a goldfinch.

The old mine buildings provide homes for kestrels and barn owls, which you might just see hunting around the clifftops. And during the summer, watch the swallows swoop and skim the meadows for food.

Butterflies and amphibians

Look out for the common lizard on the Wagon Way walls, and slow-worms in the scrubby grassland next to Solway Road. Common blue butterflies can be found around Haig and on the cliff edges, wherever there are trefoils growing. And if you look out for creeping thistles, you can often spot orange soldier beetles hanging out, as well as creatures such as peacock butterflies and aphids.

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