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Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Erratics at Baggy Point, Croyde and Saunton (1)

The "high level" epidiorite erratic on Ramson Cliff (photo: Paul Madgett).  In the background we can see Woolacombe Sands.

 The "fifty tonner" at Freshwater Gut (photo: Paul Madgett).

I have just been in correspondence with Paul Madgett, a geologist who has a great knowledge of the erratics in the area around Baggy Point, Croyde and Saunton. This work is given contemporary relevance by the recent discoveries on Lundy Island (which lies straight out to sea, less than 25 km to the west.)

The information he has sent me is so fascinating that it's worth reproducing here in slightly edited form. This is the first of two posts -- and who knows? There may be more, once we get going......



The "erratic high on Baggy" was actually first noted by my wife Rosemary. She was doing her degree geological mapping exercise in the Croyde-Braunton area, and I accompanied her, back in 1969. She already knew of the 50-tonner, the Saunton Red Granite, and one known to her mother as "The White Rabbit" on the Down End foreshore, but this one seemed to be "new to science". Its location was such that it wasn't visible from the coast path, and a stone wall along the southern side of the field meant it wasn't visible from the south either. Prior to the building of that wall it would probably have been visible from a distance, though not particularly prominent. In 1969 this boulder was in the middle of a pasture field, right on the crest-line of Baggy Point above Ramson Cliff, though in a low-point of that crest-line. It was standing upright, part-buried in the thin soil. It was patently being used as a rubbing post by the local sheep and cattle at the time - you will see in that article a speculation about a "bull-stone" - that was pure guesswork! - and based on having heard my grandmother, daughter of a South Norfolk farmer, talking about such things in my youth. My mother-in-law, whose 19th century ancestors had farmed part of Baggy, talked with the relevant farmer, and when asked why he hadn't moved the boulder, he said it had "always been there, and he didn't like to tamper with things", or words to that effect. However, in the early 1970s this same farmer decided to plough those fields, initially simply resulting in the boulder being dislodged and lying prone; then shortly afterwards he dragged it to the edge of the field, where it has been ever since, adjacent to the Coast Path, though often obscured by gorse bushes. Subsequently the National Trust acquired these fields and cliffs, and after my early retirement from a lecturing post in London we moved permanently to Braunton, and did seasonal work for the NT, based at the Baggy car-park. Thus I had permission to every now and then go along with secateurs to remove excess gorse - it's probably time for me to do this again! - and as Ro said yesterday that she hadn't been for a walk around the "Back of Baggy" for years, perhaps we should do that tomorrow!

Some have suggested that this erratic (in its 1969 context) represents a prehistoric Standing Stone - quite feasible, and there is another standing stone nearer to Putsborough, though that one is a local slabby sandstone. Because of the occurrence of erratic boulders on the southern shore of Baggy, at Saunton Down End, and under Saunton cliffs, it was then suggested that the boulder might have been dragged up from such a location. Against this is the shape of the boulder - which is rather angular and rough-surfaced - not at all like those on the foreshore, where wave action has resulted in smooth surfaces and a fair degree of rounding of corners. Also other standing stones in the area, all local lithologies to my knowledge, are angular, with no evidence of having ever been subjected to wave action. My personal feeling is that the boulder was already lying there, and was simply pulled up into a more vertical position, at an unknown date.

While not marked on any OS maps as a Standing Stone (there seem to be quite a few in North Devon "missed" by the early surveyors), it is suggestive (to me) that there is an old map, original in the Incledon-Webber archives at the North Devon Record Office, reproduced in "Early Devon Maps" by Ravenhill & Rowe, 2000, pp 52-53), which shows "Cride Beacon" in roughly the location of this boulder. Speculation again on my part - but could the boulder have at one time served to locate the beacon fire for its probably infrequent usage?



That boulder is not the only "high-level erratic" on Baggy Point I know of two others, though smaller - both now on top of the stone wall to the south of Croyde Hoe Farm, and adjacent to the higher footpath/track along the south side of Baggy. Can supply images, if required. Both are tuffs/agglomerates; one a grey almost square block, the other smaller, more irregularly shaped, of a pinkish tinge. Neither were there in the 1970s, and seem to have appeared in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Formerly Croyde Hoe Farm had been mainly arable, and the fields produced regular "crops" of flint tools and waste flakes. In 1969 the farmer, a Mr Bagster, had shown us his collection after we asked permission to walk over his land, and subsequently one of his workmen has allowed me to photograph samples from his personal collection, mostly Mesolithic, but including Neolithic, Bronze Age artefacts, and even a squared-off flint from a flint-lock rifle, all found on Baggy. In the 1990s the new National Trust tenant farmer went over entirely to sheep, so the fields are ploughed only rarely nowadays.

Thus my guess is that the former farmer, knowing of the interest in his land by geologists, and recognising these cobbles / small boulders as "different", having ploughed them up, then placed them in a prominent position for others to see. Neither have the appearance of ex-beach boulders, and I would suggest that they represent the residuum of a former cover of till, now virtually all eroded, most of the boulders once emplaced higher on the coastal landscape now being incorporated into beach deposits, some incorporated in the base of the Raised Beach, as with the Saunton Red Granite (hence any putative glaciation to emplace the boulders needing to be pre-Ipswichian).



In 1981 my mother-in-law, Ann Inglis, spotted a large boulder at the back of Croyde beach, where wave erosion had eroded the dune front. I was called from my then-home in Leighton Buzzard, and found the boulder was a tuff / agglomerate - roughly the same size as the Ramson Cliff erratic, and again angular rather than well-rounded like other shore-line erratics. It was in a novel stratigraphic position, partly buried in the upper surface of the Head, that in turn buried under peaty clays and silts in this locality (immediately north of where the stream cuts through the dunes onto the beach). Subsequently the beach-owner dragged this boulder into the stream-bed, so that its context was lost, and Ann arranged with the local coastguard for it to be moved to the garden of her holiday home in Croyde (now ours) where it still resides.

Because this needed recording in the literature, but need putting in the context of other known erratics in the area, I conducted a literature search, and found that very few of the erratic boulders that we knew of were in fact recorded. At the time, though based in London, living at Leighton Buzzard, we had regular family holidays in Croyde - and both son and daughter were "roped in" to help record these boulders - and to find more. In fact they soon turned this into a game with prizes - a stick of Croyde Rock for every "new" erratic boulder with max dimension greater than 50cm (later scaled down to 25cm by my daughter, keen to get as many sticks of rock as possible!) Amazing how rapidly a 9 & 7 yr old become efficient erratic-spotters if the incentive is there!

Family and work commitments delayed publication, but eventually a paper was published in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1987: "A Re-Appraisal of the Erratic Suite of the Saunton and Croyde Areas, North Devon", P A Madgett & E A Inglis; vol.119, pp 135-144.



At the time of the discovery of the Ramson Cliff boulder I was working with John Catt at Rothamsted, and he encouraged me to have a thin section made, which the Geological Museum staff subsequently identified as an epidiorite, possibly from NW Scotland. In 1974 a short note about this erratic was published in the Quaternary Newsletter No.14. Somewhere I will still have the thin section, and could loan you this, if you are interested in following up the lithology - it would be interesting to know whether it bears any resemblance to any of the Presceli "bluestones"!

During the early 1980s I had several more thin-sections made of the Croyde - Saunton erratics. Peter Keene borrowed some of these, when he had a researcher from North America visiting Oxford Brookes; his comment on the 50-tonner was that while it might well originate from NW Scotland, the lithology also fitted granulite gneiss from Greenland, and speculated that ice-floes could have carried it from there across the Atlantic at a time when the ocean current circulation was different to that of today. That be as it may, there are many and varied far-travelled erratics along this coastline, yet there still seems to be a reluctance among geologists to grant more than grounded ice-flows for their emplacement.

The Lundy glacial evidence (referred to in your blog last week) would support the idea of Baggy - and indeed much of the coastal fringe of N Devon - being over-ridden by an ice-sheet at the same time. I look forward to hearing in a few years time of the results of the investigations hopefully to be carried out by Phil Gibbard's and Tom Spencer's research student...


Grateful thanks to Paul for all the above. More to come.....

The Baggy Point area.  The beach to the north is Woolacombe Sands.  The beach to the south is Saunton Sands.  The small one in the middle is Croyde Bay, and the village is Croyde.

In the meantime, here are some key references:

Peter Keene  1989 Read at the Annual Conference of the Ussher Society, January 1989
Classic landforms of the North Devon coast,  Geography Unit, Faculty of Environment, Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford, OX3 0BP.

Keene, P. 1986. Classic Landforms of the North Devon Coast. Geographical Association, Sheffield.

Keene, P. and Cornford, C.  1995.  The Cliffs of Saunton. 9780948444241.  44pp.  £2.95

Kidson, C. 1971. The Quaternary history of the coasts of South West England, with special reference to the Bristol Channel coast. In: Gregory, K.J. and Ravenhill, W. (eds) Exeter Essays in Geography, University of Exeter, 1-22.

Kidson, C. 1977. The coast of South West England. In: Kidson, C. and Tooley, M.J. (eds) The Quaternary History of the Irish sea. Seel House Press, Liverpool.

Kidson, C. and Wood, R. 1974. The Pleistocene stratigraphy of Barnstaple Bay. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 85, 223-237.

Madgett, P.A. and Inglis, A.E. 1987. A re-appraisal of the erratic suite of the Saunton and Croyde Areas, North Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 119, 135-144.

Madgett, P.A. and Madgett, R.A. 1974. A giant erratic on Baggy Point, North Devon. Quaternary Newsletter, 14, 1-2.

Pengelly, W. 1867. The raised beaches in Barnstaple Bay, North Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1, 43-56.

Pengelly, J. 1892. The granite boulder on the shore of Barnstaple Bay, North Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 6, 211-222.

Stephens, N. 1966. Some Pleistocene deposits in North Devon. Biuletyn Peryglacjalny, 15, 103-114.

Stephens, N. 1970. The West Country. In: Lewis, C.A. (ed) The glaciation of Wales and adjoining regions. Longmans, London, 267-314.

Stephens, N. 1974. North Devon. In: Straw, A. (ed) QRA Easter Meeting Field Handbook, Exeter.

Taylor, C.W. 1956. Erratics of the Saunton and Fremington area. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 88, 52-64.

Taylor, C.W. 1958. Some supplementary notes on Saunton erratics. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 90, 187-191.


TonyH said...

Posts (1) and (2) are fascinating.

When I was doing my Durham Geography Degree in the late '60's my family had just moved to within 15 miles or so of these erratics. Sadly, I haven't really investigated them - but we did take a trip to Lundy Island, as has my brother several times. He now lives fairly close to Preseli. Now I live in West Wiltshire, much closer to the potential Bluestones erratic train, living close to the west- east A361 road from Glastonbury to Devizes, and near the glacial erratics on Bathampton Down, close to the University of Bath My daughter works on the coast at Portishead, North Somerset, near the assortment of glacial erratics on Portishead Down!!

TonyH said...

Have in my possession "Two Villages: the story of Mortehoe & Woolacombe", R.F. Bidgood, 1981. I don't know the area too well, but would just quote part of it:-

"Boulders of slate & quartz appear in strange places. A huge grey stone which may be a menhir, can be seen near Seymour Villas. It stands in splendid isolation in Greystone Field, 500 feet above sea level. This impressive rock stands more than 7 feet high, The northern & eastern faces show signs of having been dresses square. One theory is that the surrounding rock has been cut away, leaving the pillar. A legend exists that this stone was used as a target for quoits by the giants who lived on Lundy Island.
Near an old footpath leading from Damage Barton to Bennett's Mouth stands a curiously shaped stone of grey quartz, which was probably a mark stone."