More than just sea views

Chris Gomersall, Whitehaven Coast Ranger Chris Gomersall Whitehaven Coast Ranger
A daisy in front of Haig Pit, Whitehaven

Hi, my name is Chris, I look after the Whitehaven Coast and these are some of my favourite things to look out for when you come out to the coast for a wander.

Wildflowers flourish at the old Haig Colliery site

You may be surprised and delighted by just how pretty a show of wildflowers there is to enjoy in the clifftop meadows at the old Haig Colliery site - park up for free at Haig Pit car park (CA28 9BG) and an easy stroll on the grassy paths will have you peering down at some proper little jewels.

Yellow primroses, cowslips and coltsfoot come early in the year from February and March, heralding the coming of spring. In April the fritillaries are out, amazing us with their chequer board pattern flowers; by June kidney vetch and bee orchid are my favourite flowers to spot. August brings red bartsia and heather to look out for along with many other fine blooms such as grass vetchling which is a local rarity. Can you find the elusive scarlet pimpernel?

Billowing layers of wildflower colour on the clifftops
Wildflowers and sea at Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria
Billowing layers of wildflower colour on the clifftops

Once an industrial waste land, the Haig Colliery site is actually a haven for wildflowers. Since 2008 the National Trust work has been actively managing the post-industrial landscape, already being claimed by wildflowers due to its thin nutrient poor soils, by cutting the grasslands annually. This means all the goodness stored in the plant material is taken away every year as a crop of hay thereby further stripping the nutrients and providing less favourable conditions for dominating grasses.

The wildflowers flourish and every year the meadow develops with more species encouraging more insects and more birds making for a much richer biodiversity on the clifftops.

Whitehaven's mining heritage

Take a triangular trip through time!

Beginning at Haig pit car park head south to the remains of Saltom Pit, the first undersea coal mine in England in 1729; although currently closed to public access by the landowner you can find out more about the pit from an information board at the top of the track.

Turn north, with the sea on your left and stroll the level and easy path to King Pit. In 1750 this was the deepest manmade pit in the world showcasing the power of steam winding technology that allowed mines to become deeper and more profitable.

Further on and you will come to the Candlestick part of Wellington Pit built in 1840 and designed to impress with its chimney made to look like a candleholder.

The first undersea coal mine in England, 1729
Saltom Pit form the cliffs at Whitehaven, Cumbria
The first undersea coal mine in England, 1729

Take in the views of the harbour from here. I like to think that Whitehaven Coast represents the industrial development of the UK very well with its built structures dating from before the common use of steam power. The old Quay at the Harbour is from 1630 and was crucial for Whitehaven’s key role in global maritime trading.

Return to Haig Pit, a 1916 icon to the industrial development of coal mining, now just a shadow of its former self you can see the winding engines are still in situ and you can get at least a feel for the landscape that once was.


The most reliable animals to spot when you’re taking a walk at Whitehaven Coast, whatever time of the year are the seabirds that can be spotted from the Harbour to the cliffs.

In the harbour see Barney the barnacle goose and the swans that over-winter here. You will 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.

At the Candlestick I like to train the available telescope onto South Shore and try to spot the red shank, oystercatcher and cormorants resting on Tom Hurd’s rock and if you head up to the meadow areas on the clifftops you can see starlings and herring gulls regularly feeding and if you are lucky you may see grey partridge or gold finch.

The old mine buildings provide homes for kestrel 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.

Migrating swans visit the Solway Firth, visible from the Whitehaven Coast
Whooper Swans
Migrating swans visit the Solway Firth, visible from the Whitehaven Coast

As for other creatures, I have seen 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 as well as many other animals such as peacock butterflies and aphids hanging out.

I have witnessed weasels crossing my path before as well - let me know if you do to! We’re always delighted to see your pictures or hear about your wildlife sightings via our social media channels.