The Leas

Stretching north from Souter Lighthouse are two and a half miles of magnesian limestone cliffs, wave-cut foreshore and coastal grassland, now known as The Leas. The whole of this coastline forms part of The Trow Point to Whitburn Steel Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Leas have escaped development because until the 1930s the pasture land was farmed by its owners, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who handed them on to the Borough Council to become open park for the local people. The Council in turn gave the Leas to the National Trust in 1987 as part of the Trust’s Enterprise Neptune campaign. Seabirds come in increasing numbers to nest on the cliff edges and stack tops. Holiday makers enjoy bracing cliff-top walks. The finishing line for the Great North Run is at the end of the Leas.

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At the northern end of The Leas are Trow Rocks, which rise to 30 feet at Trow Point. They were once much more extensive, until quarrying began for limestone hardcore to construct the Tyne Piers. An experimental ‘disappearing gun’ was set up on the cliff top here in 1887, when the Army was testing possible mountings for its new breech-loading coastal defence gun. A hydro-pneumatic system enabled the gun to be lowered into a concrete pit within the rock. The experiment was not a success, and the gun was removed, but has been replaced by a replica on the original foundations. South of the rock lies a small beach known as Graham’s Sands, or Ladies’ Haven, after the women of Westoe Village who used to bathe here.

Frenchman’s Bay takes its name from a French sailing ship which ran aground here many years ago. It was once also a favourite haunt for smugglers. The next inlet is the sheltered Manhaven Bay, from which local pilots would set out when the weather in the Tyne was too rough. Here, three boathouses were set into the cliffs.

Around the headland is the broad sweep of Marsden Bay. At the north end is the small island known as Velvet Bed, which was a popular spot for picnics and bathing in the nineteenth century. Locals also call it Camel Island, because of its distinctive twin humps. Lot’s Wife stands in the middle of the bay. This pillar of rock rather than salt has been created by wind and waves eroding the softer limestone strata that once encased it. Her companions, known as Jack Rock and Pompey’s Pillar, were formed in the same way, as were Marsden’s rock arches, caves and blow-holes, and the largest and most famous stack in the bay, Marsden Rock.

Mike Ridley

Photo by Mike Ridley

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