The Jurassic Coast - The History of the Earth on the Dorset Coast

England's natural wonder is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Natural stone arch known as Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset
••• Natural stone arch known as Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. courtesy of www.britainonview.com

You've heard of Jurassic Park no doubt, but did you know that England has a real Jurassic Coast? It's made up of 95 miles of the Dorset Coast, in Southwest England, about a third of it owned by the National Trust. More than 185 million years of the history of life on earth is frozen in the rocks along its wild beaches, sheer white cliffs and stunning rock formations. It's all easy spot too -  even on a casual walk along this UNESCO World Heritage landscape.

More than just Jurassic

The folds and layers of the rock formations and cliffs, as well as the fossils that can be found within them - and scattered on the beaches below, show evidence of three important periods in the development of life on earth. Here's what to look for, and where:

  • The Triassic Era - 250 to 200 million years ago This part of Dorset was the at the center of one huge super-continent called Pangaea.
    • What to look for: Layers of red-colored sandstone and and petrified mud. Fossils of reptiles and amphibians as well as some plant remains are rare and hard to find.
    • Where to look: Orcombe Point, Budleigh Salterton, Ladram Bay, Littlecombe Shoot, Jacob's Ladder, Sidmouth.
  • The Jurassic Era - 200 to 140 million years ago.
    • What to look for Fossils of ammonites, belemnites, ichthyosaur vertebrae, plant remains.
    • Where to look: Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis, Black Ven, Charmouth, Bowleaze Cove, Bran Point, Lulworth.
  • The Cretaceous Era 140 to 65 million years ago
    • What to look for: The pure white chalk layer is made up of the skeletons of millions of sea algae and micro organisms. In areas of high erosion, you may find fossils of ammonites, belemnites, dinosaur footprints and plant remains.
    • Where to look: Hooken Landslide, White Nothe, Durdle Door.

    For fossil hunters

    Visitors can collect fossils that beach erosion has washed out of the cliffs and bluffs. Beaches and cliffs near Lyme Regis and Charmouth, which is Triassic and Jurassic, are good fossil hunting territory because of their high levels of erosion. If visitors don;t pick up the fossils lying on the beach they'll only be washed away by the sea. 

    Maps of the Jurassic Coast

    All 95 miles of the Jurassic Coast can be reached along the South West Coast Path, a National Trail. These maps show relevant stretches of the trail:

    • The Purbeck Coast - includes stretches of Jurassic and Cretaceous beach near Swanage and Old Harry's Rocks
    • The East Devon Coast - takes in Triassic and Cretaceous stretches near Sidmouth, Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton
    • West Dorset Coast Triassic and Jurassic stretches around Lyme Regis and Charmouth
    • Weymouth and Portland Coast Evidence of Jurassic and Cretaceous Eras along more challenging paths. Views of the rock formation called Durdle Door.

    To find out more about the Jurassic Coast

    • The National Trust, owners of about one third of the Jurassic Coast, have information about paths of special scenic interest as well as path maps.
    • The Jurassic Coast World Heritage site tells the geological history of the coast, explains managing and conserving it and has information about Visitor Centers, Access and Gateway towns.

     

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