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Sandhills



Manchester City News April 27, 1901.

WIND ACTION ON THE LANCASHIRE COAST.

THE SANDHILLS AT ST. ANNES-ON-THE-SEA.

BY HENRY T. CROFTON.

The Lancashire coast is fringed with Sandhills from Liverpool northwards to Churchtown, otherwise called North Meols, east of Southport, and from Lytham to South Shore, and from Rossall Point to Fleetwood. They bear eloquent testimony to the force of the gales, and to the constructive capabilities of wind as distinguished from its generally destructive and levelling propensities.

Sandhills are dependent upon three things; first, a shallow shore with a broad stretch of sand left bare at low water; secondly, strong winds; and thirdly, star grass, from which they take the name of star hills. A sandy shore, however, does not always result in sandhills as may be seen to the east of Churchtown, where there is plenty of sand, but the wind is unable to drive it along to any great extent, because the muddy waters of the Ribble have protected it with a slight deposit. Strong winds alone would not suffice, because their tendency would be to drift the sand far inland, as may be seen at South Shore, where the absence of sandhills causes the railway running parallel with the coast but a little distance inland to be blocked at times with drifts that are more troublesome and expensive to remove than even snow. It is the combination of sand, wind, and star grass that results in the formation of sandhills.

There is some reason to think that at a fairytale distance of time the sandhills about St. Annes-on-the-Sea were not so effective a barrier as they are at present. Originally the coast appears to have been a series of low-lying' bogs or mosses, and speculation can be indulged whether those date back to the glacial period, when Lancashire may have been as full of morasses as Spitzbergen is now. As the sea carved its way gradually into this unguarded coast the width of sandy beach increased, and the gales swept the sand in layer after layer further and further inland, so that at the distance of a full mile from the present beach at St. Annes the moss pits show several feet of sand overlying the peat, and compressing it a large and valuable extent. The peat and its seedy covering can be also seen much nearer the beach, not far from the parish church at St. Annes, and the far drifting of the sand is chronicled in the name of the hamlet which long since acquired the name of Blowing Sands, near South Shore, and which is over half a mile inland. Amongst the Clifton muniments of title is the record of an application made to the Monks of Durham for remission of rent on account of blown sand covering the petitioner's land.

Ages ago, but in less prehistoric times, the star-grass made its appearance on the coast, and each successive year's growth of its pliant leaves, nearly two feet long, caused the coast line to rise higher and higher, and to give more and more protection to the land behind. Observations of its growth, in positions suitable to its action, such as the easterly slid of the St. Annes Promenade, show that, owing to the shelter afforded by the star-grass, the mounds increase in height even more rapidly than two feet per annum, if there are gales during the summer time when the grass is growing. The leaves bow before the wind, but in the lee of each blade the sand grains drop, and the plant pushes itself higher and higher to avoid being buried altogether. About 1711 it is said that Parliament passed an Act making the planting of star-grass compulsory.

It might be supposed from this rapid rate of growth that the sandhills should be much higher and would have no limit to their height, but such is not the case, for fifty feet above Ordnance datum seems to be about the maximum height. which they can attain. The reason for this is that the star-grass requires moisture as well as sand for its sustenance, and the suction powers Of sand do not seem to extend beyond the height of fifty feet to a degree sufficient for the star- grass to thrive.

The material, however, which is prevented from adding to the height, serves to increase the width of the belt of hills, so that there is generally more than a single line of them. Sometimes there is more than one belt, and the groups or belts are separated by a gap of two or three hundred yards. -These spaces are called "'slacks" by the natives, and are usually swampy. The word "slack" means a hollow or valley, but is generally understood as a valley containing a pool or swamp, and to have some relationship to the words like, Incise, or leach. "Leach" is the form favoured by place- names about Blackpool, and " lache" is the usual form in South Lancashire.

Clifton Drive from Fairhaven to Stoney Knolls traversed a chain of slacks, the best known of which was called Cross Slack and extended from Kilgrimol (as the site of St. Annes used to be called) to Stoney Knolls, where Clifton Drive turns inland and crosses the railway. This slack took its name from the boundary cross which was erected by Richard FitzRoger about 1199, to mark the limits of Lytham Parish, which was then granted by him to the monks of Durham. In that grant he describes the territory as starting “from the ditch on the western side of the cemetery of Kilgrimol, over which .I have erected a cross." The cemetery was for the interment of unfortunate mariners, who were wrecked thereabouts. The wrecks were sufficiently frequent for the monks about 1260 to think it worth while to litigate their right to “wrecks of the sea." They, however, failed to establish the right.

The word "Kilgrimol," or "Kelgmoles" as it was sometimes written, is appealed to fie evidence of the antiquity of the sandhills.' It is formed of three Celtic words—" kil," a retreat or corner; " gro," a pebble ridge formed by the sea, sea "stanner"; and "mod," a heap, or bare hill devoid of trees, and the name thus aptIy denotes "the stanner corner of the sandhills." "Meal" is used in Norfolk to denote a sandheap, and on the southern side of the Ribble estuary and Wirral shore of Cheshire there are several places with meols as part of their name and signifying sandhills.

Besides the large slacks which "generally run more sir less parallel with the shore, there are smaller valleys between the hills following the direction of the prevailing 'wind... In times of storm the wind tears along the narrow gullies and over the intervening hills causing eddies at the sides and rears of the hills, which. are thereby scooped into cup-like craters, and the face of a hill, if not protected by a growth of star-grass, is seamed in contorted lines, indicating the layers deposited by the wind when the hill was being formed.

Tales are told about Southport and Formby on the other side of the estuary, where the zone of sandhills is almost a mile wide, of persons being overtaken n the hills by sudden sea fog, and only extricating themselves from the labyrinth by noting the way in which the star-grass lay as left by the last gale.

The general effect of the wind action is a raising of the margin of the land along the beach to a height of about fourteen feet above the general level of the hinterland, and the land has had to be artificially drained back from the sea and parallel to the, coast for considerable distances by ditches and canals until an opening to the coast was available. Even now the swampy slacks endeavour to soak through the hills in order to drain off to the sea, and this accounts for what the natives call the " ?eam " or subsoil water, the level of which is greatly affected by the seasons, and in some measure fluctuates with the ebb and flow of the tides. High tides have the effect of holding back this land drainage, and make the ream rise. Geologists and water engineers tell us that these diurnal tides may be observed elsewhere in wells by the sea and in chalk and other permeable rocks along the coasts, although the water in the wells is several feet above mean sea level and never falls down to it.

Printed and Published for the Manchester City News company Limited, by LEONARD PHILLIPS, at the Office, Strutt Street, Cross Street, Manchester.

Saturday, April 27, 1901.