What is the ‘Jurassic Coast’? The Jurassic is the best-known geological period incorporated into the formation that is the Jurassic Coast. See www.jurassiccoast.org.
The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site because of its essentially continuous geological (rock build-up) formation over millions of years represented in one coastline (95 miles stretching from Exmouth in Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset).
The Jurassic Coast was named Britain’s first mainland UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. This was due to the Jurassic Coast’s global significance in the history of geological science, particularly Mesozoic [250-65 million years ago] palaeontology and stratigraphy, alongside evidence providing crucial information on coastal processes and geomorphology. The site encompasses 95 miles of coastline from Studland, Dorset to Exmouth, East Devon.
Race through 185 million years of history from the Mesozoic era (Triassic, through the Jurassic and Cretaceous) to modern day. You will witness the stunning coastline that has experienced a continuous sequence of rock formation and coastal erosion. The unique sequential rock formation and stratigraphy allows you to essential run backwards through time from 65 million to 250 million years ago, as you run westwards along the coast.
Imagine as you run across this stunning landscape, the environmental shifts that have occurred through the years and the associated animal and plant species that would have been resident to the area from the Mesozoic ‘age of the dinosaurs’ through warmer climates that supported Hippo and colder climates that allowed Mammoths to roam free.
The rocks demonstrate a dynamic environmental landscape that saw extraordinary changes in sea levels and climate. Environments shifted from ancient deserts to tropical seas with an associated evolution of plants and animals, in the Mesozoic era [250-65 million years ago].
Environment has shifted from desert, to a shallow tropical sea to marshland through this time.
The West of the Jurassic Coast exposes the oldest of the geological periods, the Triassic [250-200 million years ago]. Largely in Devon, the rich red sandstone and mudstone rocks formed within a desert-like environment of the Triassic. There are very few fossils preserved in these rocks but there is evidence of water evaporation in the mineralised (sparkly)rocks.
As you move Eastwards and in to Dorset, the clays and limestone rocks typical of the Jurassic [200-145 million years ago] period become exposed. The Jurassic period saw a rise in sea-level, which flooded the desert lands and hosted tropical seas. The rocks from this time are very fossil-rich, with creatures such as ammonites being common but also marine predators, including Plesiosaurs, Pliosaurs and Ichthyosaurs could be found.
On the Eastern side of the Jurassic Coast (Dorset), Cretaceous [145-65 million years ago] limestone and chalk rocks are exposed. The Cretaceous is the longest time range represented. Through this period, sea levels fell and forests grew. In the early cretaceous, forests, swamps and rivers covered the area. Swamps then flooded the forests and sea levels rose again to 200m higher than sea level today. The pure white limestone visible in the cliffs is evidence of this time- with the rocks having been formed from the microscopic skeletons of sea creatures.
In the late Cretaceous, plate tectonics caused the earth to tilt eastwards roughy 3 degrees and planed off with flat surface to expose all the rocks of the late cretaceous form and bury everything else (chalk roughly 65 Ma). At the end of the cretaceous, a meteorite hit the Earth, rendering many species extinct – the obvious one being dinosaurs, but also the more common creatures that we now find on beaches today as fossils – such as ammonites.
Key points on route
DURDLE DOOR – A natural coastal arch formed from Portland limestone. Linked to the folklore of King Arthur.
RINGSTEAD BAY – A pebble, shingle and sand beach. There are some offshore reefs, which can become visible at low tide. The imposing white chalk cliffs of White Nothe dominates the eyeline at Ringstead Bay.
OSMINGTON MILLS – A beautiful and more secluded section of the South West Coast Path boasting views to Devon and the Isle of Wight, with some fabulous pubs.
SMUGGLERS INN – Traditional English pub with stunning views across the Isle of Portland, situated on the coast at Osmington Mills, Weymouth DT3 6HF. Parking is available on site.
LODMOOR COUNTRY PARK – A site of special scientific interest, that preserves a wetland habitat for rare UK resident and migratory birds. Lodmoor Nature Reserve is RSPB maintained.
WEYMOUTH – Situated on the mouth of the River Wey, the tourist town of Weymouth is a gateway town with a harbour and many tourist attractions. Sandsfoot castle in Wyke Regis and Portland Castle in Castletown were forts built by King Henry VIII in the 1530s. Part of Sandsfoot castle was swept out to sea due to coastal erosion.
WYKE REGIS – Due to its location, the village gained a reputation for smuggling and looting shipwrecks, with The Wyke Smugglers pub reflecting this.
CHESIL BEACH – A 17-mile stretch of barrier beach, with Fleet Lagoon, an internationally important wetland that sits behind Chesil Beach. At Abbotsbury to the wesr, Chesil Beach splits to form a sheltered strip of water – The Fleet – which runs up to the Isle of Portland further East. Portland was once a true island until the shingle spit attached it back to the mainland by coastal processes (via longshore drift). In a similar process (although not entirely understood), the pebble size from the shingle increased from pea-sized at West Bexington to baked-potato sized around the Isle of Portland. The village of Langton Herring is set on a ridge overlooking the Fleet Lagoon.
LANGDON HILL – Here views of Abbotsbury abbey remain.
ABBOTSBURY – In the main street, many of the stone houses are thatched, and lead to a Market Square. You may see remnants of the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort, Abbotsbury Castle. Bullet holes from the English Civil War (in 1664) can still be seen in the Jacobean pulpit in the Church of St. Nicholas.
WEST BEXINGTON – Provides access to Chesil Beach, with the Dorset Wildlife Trust’s West Bexington reserve showcasing the rare shingle habitats that survive here.
COGDEN BEACH – A shingle beach owned by the National Trust, located between Burton Bradstock and Abbotsbury. Access to the beach via a footpath. dog-friendly all year.
WEST BAY – Chesil Beach (shingle) starts here. East cliff at West Bay is now known locally as Broadchurch cliffs, thanks to the ITV drama that used this stunning backdrop of sandstone cliffs as its setting.
DOWNHOUSE FARM – An organic working farm just outside Eype, near Bridport with a café and small shop. There is a narrow road to get here (low cars be aware-danger of scraping). Downhouse farmcafé has excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. The views from here are incredible and easily accessible to/from the South West Coast Path. Sheep graze the fields, so dog walkers please be aware. In addition, Downhouse Farm Cottage is a National Trust owned property, situated on the Golden Cap estate. This lovely cottage is available to book as lodgings.
THORNCOMBE BEACON – Spectacular views from Thorncombe Beacon. Thorncombe Beacon was one of a chain of beacons along the coast used to warn of invasions from the Spanish Armada in 1588. Around this area is East Ebb Cove, Doghouse Hill (West Dorset’s oldest known human settlement was on Doghouse Hill) and Eype (The beach at Eype Mouth is popular amongst fossil hunters).
SEATOWN – At low tide, there is the chance to spot the ‘Lisbon tsunami’ deposit at Seatown; the tsunami occurred following the Lisbon earthquake of November 1755. This historic natural disaster is evident in a horizontal line in the shingle bank. The horizontal line is made up of a narrow band of large pebbles.
GOLDEN CAP – A fantastic viewpoint as the highest point on the English south coast, at 191m above sea level. The yellow sandstone of this area really stands out to create a dramatic landscape scene not to be missed. High in the grey clays of Golden Cap, a tsunami in the Jurassic Sea, 190 million years ago, buried brittle stars to form the starfish bed.
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