The Jurassic Coast ranks with the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon as one of the recognised natural wonders of the world. It provides a fascinating scenic walk through 185 million years of history covering the Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous periods.
Parts of the coast are world famous for fossils and new specimens are being constantly uncovered. However, that’s only part of the attraction – the entire stretch is stunningly beautiful with an unparalleled range of dramatic natural features from landslides to rock arches. Here’s a list of must-see highlights.
The hard rocks at the very edge of the cliffs have eroded much more slowly than the rocks behind – this explains Lulworth Cove’s distinctive horseshoe shape. There’s a lovely beach, fascinating heritage centre, and tiny village with a small hotel and two ancient pubs. The beautiful rock arch of Durdle Door is nearby.
The Fossil Forest
Just to the east of Lulworth Cove is the Fossil Forest. It formed 144 million years ago when sea levels dropped and trees started growing. The area then became swampland with thick layers of algae growing around the stumps and fallen logs. Sediment then covered and fossilised them in the shapes you can see today – the most complete fossil record of a Jurassic forest in the world.
Chesil Beach and Fleet Lagoon
Chesil Beach is an awe inspiring 18 mile long pebble beach, separated from the mainland by a remarkable area of saline water called the Fleet Lagoon. The desolate atmosphere has inspired two famous novels – “Moonfleet”, the hair-raising tale of ghosts and smugglers, and the more recent “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwen.
Abbotsbury Swannery, at the western end of Chesil Beach, is only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans. It was established by Benedictine Monks who built a monastery at Abbotsbury during the 1040’s. They farmed the swans to produce food for their lavish Dorset banquets!
Lyme Regis and Charmouth
Lyme Regis and Charmouth are two of the best spots for fossil hunting – but click here for directions to all the different fossil sites along this coast. Ammonites, Belemnites and even bones from Ichthyosaurs, or “fish lizards”, are frequently uncovered.
See the exhibits in the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum and Dinosaurland, or take a guided tour with local experts. Also read the novel, “Remarkable Creatures” by Tracy Chevalier for the amazing story of local fossil hunter Mary Anning.
The Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve is one of the most important wilderness areas in Britain. The entire reserve is formed from landslides, and is particularly famous for the occurrence of an enormous landslide at Bindon on Christmas Eve 1839. The area was brought vividly to life in the novel and film “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”.
Just behind the village of Beer there is a layer of Chalk known as Beer Stone, composed of minute shell fragments. It’s a high quality masonry stone used in many important buildings. Quarried from underground since Roman times, the workings have created Beer Quarry Caves which cover an area equivalent to over 50 football pitches. Guided tours are available.
Golden Cap is the highest cliff on the South coast of England. It forms part of West Bay, the site of many enormous landslides that occur from time to time. The views and walking are exceptional.
The Isle of Portland
The Isle of Portland is home to Portland Stone, probably the most famous building stone in the world. Many of London’s finest buildings have been, and continue to be, built using this fine white limestone. The earliest known use was by the Romans. Christopher Wren famously chose the stone for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Durlston Head, topped by the splendid Victorian Durlston Castle, offers exquisite views of the English Channel, Durlston Bay and the Isle of Wight. The parkland and wild coastal scenery is accessible to the public from nearby Swanage.
When you’ve explored that lot you’ll probably be ready for one of our legendary afternoon teas – a hearty appetite is essential!