GCSE Geography: Coasts - Headlands and Bays

24th August 2017

GCSE Geography Revision - Made Easy!

Everything you need to know about Headlands and Bays on Coasts!


Headlands and Bays are both formed as a result of the same process taking place. A headland is a peace of land that juts out to the coast, usually characterised by a cliff face. A bay is essentially the opposite. A bay curves into the coastline in an arch shape and usually has a beach, either sand or shingle.


The reason for these differences in shape is a result of alternating bands of soft and hard rock facing the coastline. Soft rock is characterised by the fact it erodes quickly and smoothly, whereas hard rock erodes very slowly and can be very jagged and steep in shape.


There are two categories of coastline that you need to be aware of for your exam:


  • Concordant Coastlines - This type of coastline is one where only one type of rock is facing the sea. If a coastline is all made of hard rock, then it will stay relatively firm and resistant to erosion and weathering, and therefore create a headland. While not as common, soft rock can also face the coast on its own, and create a headland. This will be a much more gently sloping cliff face becuase of the nature of soft rock.


  • Discordant Coastlines - This type of coastline is characterised by its alternating headlands and bays running along the shoreline. This is caused by alternating types of rock facing the coastline. If you were to imagine a rainbow, with each stripe being an alternating pattern of soft and hard rock, this is what is facing the coast. As earlier mentioned, the hard rock stays resolute to erosion, whereas the bands of soft rock erode back inland. With this, we see many bays forming along discordant coastlines as a retreated soft rock area moves back either side of a firm standing hard rock area, creating inland facing arches.


Here are two Case Studies you can use in your exam that are also mentioned in our music video "Headlands and Bays":


  • Lulworth Cove - This is a concordant coastline. While it may look like a discordant coastline becuase of the huge cove, this is not the case. Only one rock type is facing the sea here, a chalk cliff face. Therefore on the coast it is relatively straight and flat. However, over time, the hard rock has finally eroded and been pushed through. Behind that layer of rock is a layer of soft rock, which has eroded quickly to form the large cove. Remember though, this soft rock does not touch the coast here, only the hard rock does. The soft rock is behind the hard rock.


  • Swanage Coastline - This is a discordant coastline. Bands of both soft and hard rock meet the coastline here, and therefore bays are formed along this coastline as hard rock stays firm and the soft retreats in between, forming arch-chaped bays. Landforms such as the Old Harry Rocks feature here, which include arches, stacks and stumps.


Make sure to check out our music video on 'Headlands and Bays', try to remember all the lyrics, and then take a shot at our test!


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