Dorset and East Devon Coast
Dorset and East Devon Coast comprise 8 sections along the south coast of Great Britain that are globally important for the study of paleontology and geomorphology.
Rock formations are exposed from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. Great numbers of animal (marine and terrestrial) and plant fossils have been discovered here, as well as fossil dinosaur footprints. They include Dimorphodon macronyx, one of the earliest flying reptiles, and Scelidosaurus harrisoni, the "Charmouth dinosaur".
Geomorphological fields of study include a great variety of landslides and beach formation and evolution on a retreating coastline. Chesil Beach for example is one of the best-studied beaches in the world. And the Fleet Lagoon, enclosed by Chesil Beach, is one of the most important saline lagoons in Europe. The site shows excellent examples of landforms, including the natural arch at Durdle Door, the cove and limestone folding at Lulworth Cove and the Isle of Portland.
Map of Dorset and East Devon CoastLoad map
This was almost certainly the first World Heritage Site I ever visited, on a family holiday to Devon aged two. Therefore, I have always ticked it off on my list despite having no memory of it and so, decades later, sought to rectify that. This is the only natural site in Britain as things stand, although Scotland’s Flow Country looks set to be nominated in the coming years and the UK has other natural sites at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and many others spread across its overseas territories. It technically consists of eight separate sites although they are all contiguous across a core zone that stretches 155 kilometres from Orcombe Rocks in the west to Old Harry Rocks in the east although there are gaps for the towns of Sidmouth, Seaton, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Weymouth, and Swanage. In terms of public transport, trains can be taken to Exmouth and Weymouth with a heritage service also running to Swanage, from all of which it is a short walk into the inscribed areas. The more famous sites like Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove are more rural so you will have to rely on a likely irregular bus service or find your own transportation.
With this being a coastal site, I thought that a boat trip would be the best way to see the site. However, it was not until afterwards I realised that the official maps seem to show the core zone is entirely on land so, if you feel like you need to set foot in a site to count it as visited, beware. Boats run from Poole around the eastern extreme of the site and there appear to be some limited options in Weymouth but I opted for Stuart Line Cruises, operating out of Exmouth on the far western end. It was a bright sunny day, just a few days before the UK set a new all-time high temperature record on 19th July 2022 breaching 40 °C for the first time ever. The boat took us out of the marina at the mouth of the estuary of the River Exe along the seafront then past the first of many Triassic sandstone cliffs. On top of the first of these is the Geoneedle, a sculpture from 2002 constructed from the many different types of stone found along the coast to commemorate the site’s inscription. We then passed beneath a Royal Marine firing range, thankfully not in use and so allowing us to safely pass close to the cliffs without risk of stray bullets from new recruits. Continuing eastwards, we had perhaps too good a view of one of the UK’s largest nudist beaches next to the town of Budleigh Salterton before reaching the impressive sea stacks of Ladram Bay (pictured attached) after a little over an hour then returning back along the same route. By the time we returned, the tide had gone out sufficiently that, whilst we had boarded the lower deck, we disembarked from the upper deck. The views were excellent with a good range of refreshments and the on-board commentary was informative although I would have liked some more geological details.
Whilst the bright orange rocks with their myriad structures are indeed aesthetically pleasing, this coastline is not inscribed on the basis of its beauty but just on criteria (viii): “representing major stages of earth's history”. Despite being known colloquially as the ‘Jurassic Coast’, there are rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous on display. The cliffs of east Devon consist primarily of Triassic sandstone whereas, heading east into Dorset, Jurassic clays and shales predominate along with the famous Portland limestone, which was used in the construction of the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the UN Headquarters in New York, amongst many other renowned buildings. All along the coast are literally textbook examples from your high school geography class of coastal landforms – cliffs, headlands, sea stacks, arches, beaches, bays, coves, spits, tombolos, lagoons, and salt marshes. Starting in 1811 with the discovery of ichthyosaur fossils by Mary Anning from Lyme Regis, the site has produced an enormous array of fossils that kickstarted 19th Century Britain’s dinosaur mania, a phenomenon that continues in children (and some adults) to this day, and informed much academic study in the field. Sailing just a small portion of this coast, its ongoing geological development is clearly visible with distinctly defined layers of rock dating back over 200 million years to when the sediment was deposited in the Triassic era through to evidence of landslides from just a couple of years ago. Whilst not as iconic to the nation as the White Cliffs of Dover further to the east, I would say that the Dorset and East Devon Coast is more influential to our science and culture and certainly more interesting to visit.
I would love to say it was highbrow literature that made me excited to visit England's Dorset and East Devon Coast in May of 2018, but On Chesil Beach just wasn't that inspiring to me. Instead, it was the BBC's excellent television production of Broadchurch that brought me to West Bay, Dorset, next to the iconic cliffs of the Jurassic Coast which formed the backdrop for the murder mystery. After visiting the scene of the crime (as well as the fictional Wessex police department), I hiked up and down the beach admiring the towering sandstone bluff while listening to the waves crashing in, before ascending the hill and hiking east along the clifftops. It is easy to see why this has been labeled an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" in the UK. Back in West Bay, signs near the harbor explained the history and geology of the Jurassic Coast (also mentioning its World Heritage Site status). So as not to ignore other sections of the coast, the next day I made sure to stop by Chesil Beach, where I spent a morning trudging through the pebbles that form the shingle beach. I much preferred the Jurassic Coast by West Bay.
Logistics: To visit both West Bay and Chesil Beach, it is easiest to use private transporation; trails along the coast provide hiking opportunities as well.
I only got the opportunity to explore the western end of this 95 mile long UNESCO World heritage coastline, but it’s enough to get a taste of the cliffs and beaches that hold stones and fossils from the Triassic, Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. Though it’s known as the Dorset and East Devon Coastline, the tourism board promote it as the Jurassic Coast, I guess thanks to Steven Spielberg and Universal.
I was with my bike so cycled from the train station at Wool to the Durdle Door. Its picture features amongst every postcard collage along this coastline, and is a magnet for every visitor to this part of the world for its spectacular setting and for the ample opportunity it provides to amateur photographers, and by that I mean selfie-takers. It’s only a five mile ride from Wool, skirting through the lovely village of West Lulworth and past the estate of the same name which hosts the annual Bestival music festival.
From the car park it’s a steep downward shuffle to the viewpoint and access to the beach. Like goats descending down a dusty mountainside, the other tourists and I made our ways gingerly down to two large green rubbish bins on the edge of a cliff. A slight anti-climax perhaps until you step past the giant receptacles and realise the view that welcomes you. At the left hand end of a small, sweeping bay, a pointy green hill whips its tail out into the perfectly clear waters below. The tail flicks up and then down into the water, creating a large gap, an arch that seems too big, too perfect to have been created by such an unpredictable force as the sea. It drew to mind the seat of a rocking horse sized for a giant to sit astride it.
The whole of the world heritage site can be walked along the South West Coast path which stretches about 600 miles from Dorset round Cornwall to the north coast of Devon. As it’s a cliff walk it’s pretty undulating and, if you were to walk all of it, you would be climbing the equivalent of four Everests of the course of the 600 miles. I’d stupidly brought my bike along so had to carry it up the hills and then cycle as best I could along narrow paths to the road that goes into Weymouth, the main town on the world heritage coastline. Weymouth has the Jurassic Skyline attraction (basically a donut shaped lift you sit in that rises up a pole to give you a view of the coast) if you want a view from high up. Apart from that it’s also a good place to access the Isle of Portland and Chesil Beach, both significant sites along the coastline for their history (Portland stone is quarried on the isle and Chesil Beach is one of the world’s finest tombolos). Further along the coast to the end of the world heritage site at Exmouth (also a nice town to stay in) there are plenty of quaint seaside villages with their own attractions. Lyme Regis I believe has a dinosaur museum which can tell you more about the coastline and provides fossil walks. The trainline from London stops at Weymouth though so Weymouth was as far as I ventured this time round. Overall, it would be easy to have a whole holiday on the Jurassic Coast, walking along the coastal path or staying in the towns along the way. It’s a popular summer holiday location for British families so roads get busy in July/August, but I suppose the site is big enough at points to have to yourself.
Read more from 27for27 here.
I visited this WHS in May 2019. After a long drive from London and due to the cloudy weather upon arrival, I opted to head straight to my cottage/inn just after Wareham and only a short stroll from Lulworth Cove.
I really enjoyed walking for hours on end from one cove/beach/viewpoint to the next along the Coast Path, gazing in awe at the geological marvel and natural beauty of the Devon 'Jurassic' Coast WHS. Just a few steps away to the right (away from the cove) from the pay and display Lulworth Cove Parking Lot, a small trail will lead you to a panoramic viewpoint of Stair Hole which is sculpted from three rock types and further on to a magnificent viewpoint of Lulworth Cove.
Here not only will you find the UNESCO inscription plaque but it is one of the best spots to view from right to left, rocks from 150 to 65 million years ago - namely Portland stone, Purbeck beds, wealden beds, greensand and chalk, from oldest to youngest. The rocks were formed underwater and were later tilted as the continents collided. In fact some 10,000 years ago, the sea flooded in the huge river of glacial meltwater which was Lulworth Cove, removing the softer rocks behind the wall of Portland stone. The tilted layers of rock visible at Lulworth Cove, Stair Hole and elsewhere along the inscribed Devon Coast are the result of what is technically known as folding. In my opinion this is the best place to appreciate the OUV of this WHS.
Like in Stevns Klint in Denmark, but on a much larger scale, I had a go at trying to find different fossils. Further on from Lulworth Cove, the coastal path leading to what is known as Fossil Forest has been closed down due to recent landslides and perhaps also because just next to this spot is an out of bounds military area. This area is particularly important because of the several round tufa marks along the rocky coastline. Ancient trees once stood here some 147 million years ago and several fossilised remains of an ancient forest can be seen. Other important fossils of gastropods, fish, plants and also a dinosaur footprint can be seen at the little visitor centre and gift shop just before reaching Lulworth Cove. An important tip is to make sure you have a look at the low/high tide times at the Lulworth Heritage Centre before hiking along the coast.
Natural erosion processes have ravaged the rocks over immense periods of time to create the famous arches, cliffs and bays and the coast is constantly evolving. Another example of this evolution which is perhaps more iconic and photogenic is the stretch of coast from Man O' War Bay to the Durdle Door which I explored the following sunny morning (photo). Here the coastline reminded me of the UK's Antrim Coast and the Giants' Causeway and it indeed is one of the UK's natural beauties. I felt really lucky to visit such a place and humbled at the sheer size of it all (Malta's Cliffs are too tiny and lack OUV to be included in the list!).
I was quite taken by the Dorset Coast. We spent there two days and could have easily spent more. Our first walk was to Old Harry Rock. Beautiful white cliffs (chalk is the youngest layer of the Jurassic coast's time line), not as high as Dover but purer white. We parked the car in Studland, walk east along the north shore of the peninsula and returned over the ridge. It is not clearly indicated and your have to enter a fenced meadow but you have a nice view in both bays and can easily descend over the fields downhill when you are on the hight of Studland.
Our next stop was the famous Lulworth cave. There are two possible walks from there to Durdle Door. One over the hills which is a bit steep but easy and one along the beach which is officially closed due to land slide. It is doable nonetheless though not well marked: You can walk up Britwell Drive, descend from there to the shore. You walk a while along a stony beach (good shoes) and then comes a short section where you have to walk partly on the rocks and partly in the water, a bit adventurous but fun. Don't do it if you are not secure on your feet or with small children. After that comes the landslide part which is really easy when it is dry but possibly difficult after rain. From there we took the hill path back.
Lime Regis is not included in the natural WHS but a very nice town despite the tourists. and a few kilometers west is the famous Fossil Beach that is not directly reachable by car.
Our last walk was at Ladram Beach with very nice - and older - red rocks. The most interesting part here is not the main bay where everybody swims but the next bay to the east that you can see from the top when you follow the SW coast path a few hundred meters to the east.
As much as the often quite spectacular coast I enjoyed the drives between the beaches. They follow almost never the coast directly but wind though the (not included) hinterland. They are often narrow with trees and bushes on both sides which often form tunnels. There are incredibly cute villages with thatched roofs. They are lovingly well-kept and reminded me a bit of Hobbits. Some villages have additional attractions: In Corfe Castle there is a huge castle ruin (National Trust) and in Kimmeridge is the excellent Etches Collection which displays basically a single mans lifework of finding dinosaur bones.
March 2018 - After our visit in Stonehenge and Salisbury (on 5th of March!) we finally wanted to cut the coast somewhere.
We went to Westbay and had a long walk along the cliffs. Unfortunately this was our only real encounter with the world heritage coast, but it was quite amazing. You could see the Isle of Portland and to the other side up to Torquay. Many seagulls were nesting in the cliffs and even more people walked their dogs along the coastline. The weather was perfect that day, so the view was magnificent and the whole experience well done!
We made another stop at Seaton, but not as intersting as the coastline in Westbay.
We visited the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon in May 2016. The site itself is very large, and covers about 1/3rd of the southern coastline of England. Although we'd allowed for two days to drive various parts of it, very uncooperative weather meant that we had to rush through most of it in just one day. The highlights I'd recommend are:
- Lulworth Cove, where you can see several hundred million years of geology in one spot
- Durdle Door, just adjacent to Lulworth Cove and very spectacular
- Fossil hunting on the shore at Lyme Regis, where many dinosaur bones have been found and ammonite fossils are just sitting around on rocks
- The Dorset County Museum in Weymouth has quite a bit of info as well and is a good rainy day options
Several other spots including the rock stacks near Durdle Door we had to skip, partly for time but also because many places charge 5 pounds or more for parking!
See below for my full video review.
Read more from Joel Baldwin here.
Walking along the beautiful coastline of white chalk cliff between the Lulworth Cove and the natural arch of Durdle Door was probably one of the highlight of my England trip. Originally not part of my first plan, but I decided to visit this place after saw picture of the Durdle Door on Wikipedia, at that time I hardly believed that the place was in England.
Travel without own vehicle was the real pain in the area especially in winter, from Wool train station there were infrequent bus connect the town to the village of West Lulworth, but the schedule was not so friendly to leisurely sightseer, at the end I decided to take taxi to Durdle Door and walk back to Lulworth Cove for better bus connection. Taxi took me to some kind of campsite with many small summer houses in the middle of green rolling hills, the driver said this place was the most convenient to see the famous natural arch, and true to his words, after walking downhill I started to see the coastline with stunning turquoise water of Atlantic. Then I saw the headland and a cove, the one on the photo of Ian Cade’s review, called Men O’ War Cove, the view was pretty lovely, I continued along the pathway to see the viewpoint where with my surprised, I saw the Durdle Door! Actually I planned to walk on the beach in Durdle Cove, but the access was closed with warning sign of danger, so I had no chance to see the Durdle Door closely, but the view of the area was really great. I looked at the coastline and saw that the chalk cliff is melting into the ocean, a sign that erosion from the ocean is still continuing and one day the cliff I saw will be gone.
After Durdle door, I tracked back to Lulworth Cove to see its almost perfect circle cove, the area was again a lovely place but with more tourist facilities. After leisurely walk in the area, I took a bus back to Wool Station before continued my trip to Stonehenge. I was quite surprised to know that the area was called Jurassic Coast for its abundance of fossils; so this was the second fossils site place I saw after Monte Giorgio on Italy and Switzerland border. However, I could not find anything in the area to emphasize the fossil; all information was about stunning geology or do I misunderstand something about the place? For me the coastline of Dorset is a lovely place to visit for its landscape, and it is more interesting than the one in Dover.
I also found extensive views of Chesil Beach from the causeway near Weymouth and from Littlesea.
The quarry area on Portland bill was very interesting too, with the cut stones ready to be lowered into barges, long since discontinued, for tranport and use in many London buildings.
Other interesting features along the cast were the cliffs at Bowleaze Cove, the red cliffs of Sidmouth and the Devon Cliffs at Exmouth.
I really quite enjoyed my trips to this piece of coastline, I have visited pretty regularly having family days out here when I was very young, but I have also made two trips to specifically tick it off as a visited site.
Whilst the reasons for its inscription may seem a little dull,
“The coastal exposures within the site provide an almost continuous sequence of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations spanning the Mesozoic Era”
The reality is actually a little more interesting and you don’t have to be a budding geologist to have a nice trip here.
I visited the part of the coast stretching from the almost completely circular Lulworth Cove along to the Durdle Door (which is just the other side of the headland in the picture). It is a really nice walk, giving you a bit of exercise and fresh air as well as the ‘Highlights’ of the coast, well for the non expert anyway. Unfortunately after a few hours spent breaking open any rock we could see we were not able to uncover any fossils, but apparently this is one of the best places in the Europe to do it.
The little village of Lulworth has a great visitor centre and a fine fish and chip shop so makes a nice place to start and end in. And for those that share my silly obsession of finding the World Heritage symbol on a plaque then just to the west of the cove there is a really fine example of the symbol and the reasons for its inscription!
There are lots of lovely little towns and villages all along the coast, replete with B&B’s, campsites and small hotels, or if you wanted just a day trip to the coast the best place to base yourself would probably be Bournemouth which has a nice seaside charm, it also sits on the edge of the New Forest which is on the UK tentative list and has an airport used by budget airlines!
The coast is a nice place to get a dose of fresh air and rewards even the non experts who visit it.
The views of Durdle Door and Portland Bay from the cliff tops are quite something and the walk down to the beaches at Durdle Door is certainly worth the effort. On a hot day the sea is so inviting and clean and on a stormy day, the atmosphere is simply electric.
This is the closest site to me but it has taken me a long tme to get around to see it. In the end i was very happy that i did. I visited the area around Lulworth Cove and the Durdle Door, which was a really fantastic way to spend an afternoon and the walk along the cliff top is highly advisable, it is a nice 2km (1.2 mile) walk, but it is up and down hill so provides a bit of a work out!!. the two Lulworth Villages were really pretty aswell. definatly worth a visit if you are in the area, amkes a nice afternoon away from nearby Bournmouth, which is a very nice places to visit aswell
I'm delighted to see that you have listed the spectacular Dorset and East Devon coastline so quickly and that you have visited this beautiful part of the world. More information on this coast can be found on www.jurassiccoast.com and information on the area can be found on www.westdorset.com The swannary is in the beautiful village of Abbotsbury on the Dorset coast. The famous Chesil beach, a major feature of this World Heritage Site, is best viewed from the hill above Abbotsbury village.
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