I have lived on the coast for most of my life and have learned a lot about the sea. This page is for you if you want to know about beachcombing on the Yorkshire coast. Yorkshire Coast beachcombing can be very rewarding. Do you want to find your own piece of Whitby jet or maybe even Baltic amber. I found all the amber and jet in photos on this page on the Yorkshire coast. On our website you will find all the information you need, including how to stay safe. Beware of the tide.
How material moves
The general movement of material along the Yorkshire coast by the sea is from the North to the South. This is the direction of the most powerful waves and currents.
The Best Conditions
You should remember that much of the time there is very little of interest being washed up. Yorkshire coast beachcombing is very condition dependent. However you can usually find fossils among the stones and in the rock strata. Go to our fossils page if you want to know more about fossils.
You need a good sustained gale force 8 or above with some East in it to really shake things up. Northerly gales have the most powerful waves and erode the cliffs fastest particularly if the tides are strong. However they do not usually tend to wash things up.
Easterly gales are not as common but can halt the southerly movement of material and tend to throw it up on the beaches, sometimes in huge quantities.
Everywhere is different
Each individual beach and cove on the Yorkshire coast has its own conditions when material is thrown up. You need to get to know the areas you visit. Most stuff will wash up as the gale starts to subside or swings round to the west giving perfect conditions for beachcombing.
The sea sorts.
You can get up to a week or more of good conditions after a gale for things to be found as the sea sorts things out into the same density and size. The best clue that conditions are good is the presence of patches of weed and black coal on the beach or in amongst and on the rocks.
Sometimes the weed can be feet thick covering a huge area of beach. These are good areas to look for amber and jet when the sea has sorted it a bit. Amber is far rarer than jet. I go years sometimes without finding any amber. However on my best day I found over 30 pieces of amber.
Whatever you are looking for remember that the sea sorts things. So if you find one look in the same area for others. Often within a few yards you will find some more.
Danger!!!! Cliff falls
If you go close close to unstable cliffs you are taking a great risk. Some cliffs are permanently in a very unstable state. Many around Staithes, Whitby and Runswick Bay are constantly having small falls of stones. Any almost vertical cliff is inherently unstable and will fall at some time. This often happens after rain or frosts but sometimes on a bright dry sunny day. You would not want to be anwhere near the cliff fall below when it happened.
I once witnessed a fall near Bempton cliffs from Filey seafront. It threw up a massive white cloud of chalk dust over 600 ft into the air. Later that month I saw the fall close up from the sea and it was massive. Thousands of tonnes of rock. Tragically people have been killed on the Yorkshire coast by falling rocks. Make sure you are not under one!
Danger!!!! Getting cut off by the tide
You can be cut off by the rising tide in many places. Check the tide tables. Know when the tide will start coming in and be aware of your safe exit from the shore and how long it will take to get to safety. In many places there are wide areas of flat rock. The sea can be a hundred yards or more away. Twenty minutes later the rock is all covered and the sea is at your feet. Do not leave it too late. It is not easy to walk quickly over rocky shores.
If you do get into trouble you will almost certainly have no mobile signal so cannot call for help. Mobile masts are on land and you are in a signal shadow below a cliff. Make sure you are well away from danger when the tide comes in or you may become a sad statistic.
It is also worth noting that it can get a lot rougher near high water quite suddenly.
Wherever you find coal washed up you can find jet if near or South of Whitby. Beachcombing even many miles away from Whitby can be productive. If you persevere you will find some. A very very tiny percentage of the black stuff is normally jet and even less of it is good quality jet. So do you want to know where, when, and how to find and polish your own piece of jet?
Amber is yellowy orange fossilized tree resin millions of years old and sometimes with insects embedded in it. It has been used by humans as jewellery for thousands of years. It can be found on the Yorkshire coast. Yes, really!!!
After big Easterly gales we sometimes get what the locals call washups. Acres of a beach can be covered with weed often a foot or more deep. They contain every type of sea life, fish, starfish, crabs, lobsters and particulalry shellfish of every description.
Locals are never sure when and where stuff will come ashore but when they do many people are down hunting for all sorts. Want to know what they are looking for?Click to learn more
Yorkshire coast beachcombing does not come more exciting than after a big wash up. The beach can get quite crowded.
Fisheries officers and commercial fisherman may well be down looking for lobsters still alive . Thousands of lobsters have on occasions been washed up in big drifts at several places along the southern Yorkshire coast. The fisherman then take them to the tanks where they keep live lobsters. They allow them to recover before returning them to the sea.
Just a cautionary note. If you were tempted to take a lobster off the beach as I understand it you are breaking the law unless you have a shellfish gathering license and even then you could only take one if it was size. You have to leave them and let them die and rot rather than taking them home and eating them. That’s the law!
2018 wash up
Anglers and bait dealers will be down looking for bait. Razor clams, mussels and the most prized, worms. It takes a long long time to pick them out of the weed if there are any and there usually aren’t. However this is a lot easier than digging them.
Lots of people just like looking at all the interesting creatures washed up. Many of these creatures are rarely seen dead or alive. Did you know there are about 50 species of crabs and lobsters in the British isles. Many people only know about edible, green,and velvet crabs plus prawns, shrimps and lobsters. You can see a full list at The Marine Life Information Network. Scroll down to the Crabs, shrimps, prawns, crayfish and lobsters (Decapoda) section.