Nautical map of Crane BeachCastle Neck

The missing dunes at Castle Neck

When Google maps first went online, it showed a couple of large dunes at the tip of Crane Beach, one labelled “The Great Dune.” It was the tallest of the newer dunes, comparable in size to Wigwam Hill, which is a small drumlin which became covered in sand and to become a well-established dune in the middle of Castle Neck.

The Great Dune, alas, is no more. Using Google Earth, I was able to compare satellite images from 1995 and 2005 with the satellite view today. It is clear that the tip of Castle Neck, where the Great Dune once stood, is retreating, and the opening to Essex Bay between the tip of Castle Neck and the tip of Wingaersheek Beach has widened by perhaps a quarter-mile.

The newer dunes may have been a temporary phenomenon–they seem to have appeared after publication of the 1912 nautical map of Ipswich Bay, reaching prominence sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, then began their retreat. A crude map produced in 1786 and shown further down (if at all accurate) indicates that Castle Neck is longer than it was 230 years ago.


Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, March 28, 1995

Google earth satellite view, April 29, 2005

Google Earth satellite view, April 29, 2005


Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, June 6, 2015


Castle Neck on Google Earth, 2019

The large new tree-less dunes at the tip of Castle Neck were short-lived. In the book, Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes, a study of the Ipswich dunes published by Charles Wendell Townsend in 1925, he includes the map below, drawn in 1786. In that map, Castle Neck is rounded at the end, and does not protrude so far into Essex Bay. (The accuracy of the map may be questionable.)

“Map of Castle Neck With Ye Adjacent Sea..,” produced by P. B. Dodge, April 3, 1786.

Castle Neck in the 1832 map of Ipswich

Section from the 1832 map of Ipswich

Cross-country skiing in the Castle Neck dunes, Ipswich.

Cross-country skiing in the Castle Neck dunes, Ipswich. The dunes, contrary to popular belief, have not disappeared, but they do expand, contract and evolve. Castle Neck and Crane Beach are a wonderful place to go for a walk, with almost 10 miles of dune trails and beach combined.

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2 replies »

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL abt the Ipswich dunes, which we used to slide down, and picnic among on sunny cold winter days, Alicia Moore PLM362@aol

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Growing up on Little Neck from 1946, I remember the “huge sand dunes” at the mouth of the river. When I was older and would walk the entire length (whew!) many “real dunes” were along the way and especially as one approached the Essex River, (but further back).
    Thank you for the confirmation!


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