Stormy seas and fiery skies on the Whitehaven Coast
Leaning into the wind and watching plumes of white spray as granite-grey seas pound into the sandstone harbour wall is one of the most exhilarating sights on the Whitehaven Coast in winter. It’s made even better by the chance to retire to a cosy cliff-top café and feel your skin tingle in the warmth.
Most Westerly Point in the North
St Bees head, just 3½ miles south of Whitehaven harbour, is the most westerly point in northern England, with the tallest sea cliffs in NW England, and views to the Isle of Man, the mountains of southern Scotland and even those of North Wales on a clear day.
Winter brings exceptional clarity to the air and when the Scottish mountains are capped with snow, they seem to stretch never-ending to the horizon.
Met Office records show that the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian coast are among the most exposed parts in England, because of their proximity to the Atlantic. From December to February, the frequency and ferocity of the storms is at its greatest. Wind speeds of over 70mph have been recorded on the coast, with the record being held by St Bees where 88mph gusts were recorded in 2005.
Last winter, Whitehaven’s West Pier felt the brunt of the storms, waves ripping off railings and stonework, eroding spoil from the Wellington pit and throwing it over the sea wall in great muddy splurges.
In contrast to all this ‘sturm und drang’ when we do get a still day, the early sunsets in the months around the midwinter solstice mean that you can spend time watching the light unfold in the clouds, and still get home in time for dinner.
In December, sunset is around 3:45pm, by the end of January its 4:45pm and by the end of February 5:45pm.
" And Sellafield sunsets are fiery and bright / The blaze across Scotland is flooding the night"
An easy sunset stroll
If you park at our free car park beside Haig Pit visitor centre, and walk along the level pathways towards the harbour, you’ll find plenty of benches where you can stop, break out the thermos flask and watch as the colours flood the clouds overhead and the sea below.
A wild and romantic sunset adventure
Parking at Tarn Flatt Hall farm on St Bees head (honesty box for the famer), is the start of a 1½ mile walk past the lighthouse and down to the hidden shingle beach of Fleswick Bay. It’s quite a scramble down to the beach from the clifftop path, so walking boots, a headtorch and warm clothes are definitely recommended, but it’s worth it for the depth of the colour as the sun sets fire to the red sandstone cliffs.
Our favourite part is this: if you leave the beach just after sunset, then just as you pass the lighthouse again on the way back to the car, you see the lighthouse lamp shine for the first time that night – for us it adds that extra touch of magic to a wonderful evening.