A Coastal Coal Mine
The Donkey Path
Coastal erosion has taken nearly all of The Donkey Path into the sea but 200 years ago this was an access route down to the shore. Access for what? The principle reason was in order to exploit a coal seam discovered at the foot of the cliffs.
Seams of coal, often only a few inches thick, were formed around 160 million years ago during the Jurassic era. Plant remains washed into hollows in an ancient river delta were buried and eventually fossilised to become the coal seams of the future. There are many such deposits around the North York Moors which were worked during the late 17 and early 1800s and whilst never very extensive they produced enough coal for local needs. Coastal exposures were however very limited. The seam at Hawsker Bottoms was worked via a level rather than a pit and the coal was then carried up the cliff on asses.
Father of English Geology
William Smith, The Father of English Geology visited the site while staying at Larpool Hall in 1813 as a guest of Mr Peters. The difficulties of reaching and working the site were graphically described in his report.
The works are carried on in the summer only on account of the dangerous path by which the coals are brought up the cliff upon asses and also from the roughness of the tides in the winter which cover part of the track and which sometimes flow to the mouth of the level