Jurassic Coast:and don't forget the Triassic and Cretaceous coasts as well

old harry rocks

The Jurassic Coast is England's first natural world heritage site stretching for 95 miles from Old Harry Rocks Dorset in the east to Orcombe Point Devon in the west.

The site is made up of cliffs and beaches between the low water mark and the top of the cliffs.Is is recognised by UNESCO as

an outstanding example representing major stages of the earth's history,including the record of life ,significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms,and significant geomorphic or physiographic features

Phew bit of a mouthful that!

The coast is know popularly as the Jurassic Coast though rock found here also comes from the Triassic and Cretaceous periods.The period of formation covers 250 to 65 million years ago.

Rock from the Triassic period is mainly red in colour as it was formed under desert conditions where iron forms red oxcides.Most four legged animals formed by the end of this period,including frogs turtles and crocodiles.The Devon end of the Jurassic Coast has most of the examples from this period.

Next came the Jurassic period from 200 to 140 million years ago.Sea levels rose and fell, depositing clays during this period.Ammonite fossils from this period are very common along the Dorset Coast.

After this came the Cretaceous period from 140 to 65 million years ago.The major rock from this period is chalk formed from the skeletons of billions of algae.This is the period when the big dinosaurs ruled the earth before they became extinct.This ushered in the world dominated by mammals which we see around us today.

To explore the Jurassic Coast fully the best way would be to follow the South West Coastal Path which runs from Studland Bay in Dorset all the way to Minehead in Somerset.However if your time is limited then it would be better to explore the coast from the various "gateway" towns that lie along the coast.

south west coast path sign

I would suggest you start at Old Harry Rocks at the eastern end of the coast as it is easy to reach from Poole via the Studland Ferry.

There is a break in the coast that is part of the UNESCO site as it passes Swanage before resuming again at Durlston Head.Here huge limestone cliffs run eastwards from St Aldhelms Head.A fault has brought the Purbeck Limestone down to sea level creating allowing the sea to create the landslipped coast of Durlston Bay.

Moving westeward you will come to Saint Aldhelms Head and it's tiny chapel, past Chapman's Pool and arrive at Kimmeridge Bay This bay is famous amongst geologists as it contains thick layers of Kimmeridge Clay each showing a page of geological history.Harder bands of limestone jut out into the sea making an ideal vantage point to observe marine life.

On past Kimmeridge Bay you will come to Worbarrow Bay which can be reached by car via the deserted village of Tyneham.

WARNING:the area between Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove is controlled by the Army who use it for firing practice.This area is off limits during the week but is open most weekends.The South West Coastal Path is marked with yellow posts.Do not stray outside these posts as there could be unexploded shells beyond.Call the Army on 01929 462721 ext 4819 to check opening times as there are some weekends when the ranges are closed.

Following this there is a steep climb up to the top of Flowers Barrows on which lie the remains of a Iron Age iron fort.Through coastal erosion most of this fort has now slid down the steep cliff into the sea.

Following this there is a steep descent to Arish Mell then a steep ascent again past Mupe Bay before arriving at Lulworth Cove a perfect horse shoe shaped bay formed when a stream breached the hard limestone allowing the sea to attack the softer clays behind.A steep climb from here gets you eventually to Durdle Door another famous landmark formed where the limestone has been titled vertically allowing the sea to erode the rock forming a natural arch.Both Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are easily accessible by car and then on foot.

Continuing westwards you will pass a high cliff called White Nothe and then into Ringstead a shingly beach which hints at what is to come past Weymouth.

Before reaching Weymouth you pass Osmington where rocks covering an oil reservoir have been eroded such that oil now seeps into the sea.

The Jurassic Coast breaks as it passes Weymouth before resuming again around Portland home of perhaps the most famous stone in the world.Many London buildings are constructed with this stone which has been used since Roman times.Access to Weymouth can be made via train which runs all the way up to London Waterloo .

At this point Chesil Beach starts here all 17 miles of it. At 15 metres,higher at the east than the west.The pebbles at the east end are also bigger too.To take in the scale of the beach it is best viewed from Portland or Abbotsbury particularly from the hill on which sits St Catherine's Chapel .The beach protects Fleets Lagoon which hosts a rich diversity of wildlife including the swans at Abbotsbury.See them swarm at feeding time.

The Jurassic coast continues past West Bexington/Burton Bradstock before arriving at Lyme Regis This stretch of the coast boasts huge cliffs including Golden Cap at 191metres the highest cliff on the south coast of England.Numerous landslips occur in this area.

In 1958 one of the largest landslides in Europe occurred at Black Ven between Lyme Regis and Charmouth spilling millions of tons of mud onto the beach.The erosion continues of course and it is only a matter of time before the next one happens.

Just to the west of Lyme Regis the Triassic stretch of coast begins, but at this point we have reached the border with Devon and I would be going off topic if I continued.

Accordingly I hand over to the fine people at the East Devon Guide to lead you on, all the way down to Exmouth .

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