The Nev, Westray
Significance: exceptional cliff scenery and dramatic cliff-top storm deposits

The magnificent high-level storm beach at The Nev in Aikerness was probably first noted and photographed by Wilson et al. in 1935. They described a continuous ridge of angular blocks of flagstone up to 3 m across and 0.3 m in thickness situated on top of a vertical cliff up to 21 m above sea level. The ridge is about 400 m long, 30 m wide and up to 5 m in height. Wilson et al. recognised the origins of the material as a storm deposit and clearly understood that the ridge contained elements which are contemporary and others of more ancient origin.

The cliff at The Nev is >15 m high and slopes at 75° above a short rock platform at the cliff foot. On top of the cliff is a rock platform which slopes inland at about 4° for 70 m. The front surface is largely clear of debris and shows fresh scars from joint block removal. Several scars are not apparent on the photograph of Wilson et al. (1935) . To the rear of the platform lie fresh angular blocks up to 1.5 m across and possibly derived from the scars to seaward. Beyond this lies the storm boulder beach, which rests on the weathered surface of the flagstones. It is about 4 m in height and shows large imbricate blocks on its surface, of which the largest is 3 m across. The imbrication of the boulders lies between 250 and 300º, implying transport by waves from WSW to WNW.

The ridge front shows both fresh and patinated blocks and comparison with the Memoir photograph suggest that there has been little recession of the ridge since 1935. The ridge top and rear show blocks up to 1.5 m across partly buried by turf and with a cover of lichen, indicating that the ridge is mainly composed of relatively old debris. Some 6 m inland of the main ridge is a low ridge, 0.5 m high, composed of fresh, angular cobbles, which appear to represent the inland limit of recent storm-washed debris. Large blocks up to 1 m across protrude through the turf to the rear of the main storm ridge and appear to relate to wash-over from extreme storm events.

To the north, the storm ridges are more subdued and weathered. There is no washed cliff-top platform to seaward and the ridges appear to be fossil features, soon to be destroyed by cliff retreat. Sections in a track along the cliff top show 1-1.5 m of weathered breccia in which small pebbles are broken down to a slightly silty sand. It is unclear how old this weathering is but it suggests that these storm deposits predate the last few centuries, at least.

Recent observations by Woodman-Smith (2004) have confirmed continuing activity. He records sockets on the platform and cliff edge that remain angular and lichen-free, implying recent block removal. Impact marks also occur on the ramp where large boulders have been dropped by waves with considerable force. It is estimated on the basis of edge rounding that the oldest deposits were emplaced 300 years ago.

Key Geomorphological Sites

  • Significance: a coastline noted for its Devonian geology and coastal geomorphology

  • Significance: this bay lies adjacent to Skara Brae and provides evidence of the interaction between coastal processes and human disturbance between 6600 and 4400 radiocarbon years ago. The settlement first re-emerged from the dunes after a storm in 1850.

  • Significance: this site provides evidence for changing ice-flow conditions during the last ice sheet glaciation

  • Significance: the construction of the Churchill Barriers started in 1940 and led to a fundamental change in the pattern of tidal flow around Scapa Flow. A range of coastal landforms have been created subsequently which illustrate the fundamental control of coastal configuration on the transport and deposition of sand.

  • Significance: Rackwick lies at the southern end of two major glacial breaches on Hoy. Its well-developed moraines indicate that at the close of the last glaciation two lobes of ice retreated northwards at a time when the Pentland Firth was probably still occupied by ice.

  • Significance: The Old Man is the tallest sea stack in Britain, 137 m high

  • Significance: a superb corrie formed at an unusually low elevation that was last occupied by a small glacier only 11,000 years ago

  • Significance: Ward Hill provides examples of a range of active and fossil periglacial landforms. As the highest point on Orkney it also provides evidence of the thickness of the last ice sheet

  • Significance: the site of a former small corrie glacier on Hoy

  • Significance: the site of a small corrie glacier during the Loch Lomond Stadial

  • Significance: a raised beach deposit at 6-12 m asl buried by till

  • Significance: a possible Scandinavian erratic on Orkney.

  • Significance: a peat deposit with willow boles formed 6500 years ago and now lying below sea level

  • Significance: the Kilns of Brin-Novan is an excellent example of an interconnected series of caves, arches and blow-holes which illustrate the sequential development of these features.

  • Significance: this coastal section provides perhaps the best available exposure of the shelly till which is characteristic of the eastern part of Orkney

  • Significance: exceptional cliff scenery and dramatic cliff-top storm deposits