Highlight: Handfast Point

Handfast Point. Photo: Alan Holiday
Handfast Point. Photo: Alan Holiday

Here, at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, the white chalk of Handfast Point and Old Harry Rocks gleams brightly in the sun. Passing boats and walkers stop to soak up the view. This tranquil stretch of English downland records, in its chalk bedrock, the closing chapters of the story of the Jurassic Coast.

From around 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, countless skeletons of plankton began to drift to the bottom of a tropical sea here. Over the course of roughly 35 million years this process formed a thick blanket of white limestone known as chalk. At this time the ecosystems of the world were under pressure, life was vulnerable, struggling with natural changes in global climate.

Disaster came 65 million years ago when an asteroid six miles across crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. In the cataclysm that followed around 75% of species were wiped out, including the dinosaurs. This event brought the Mesozoic Era to a close and made the world we recognise today a possibility. After the extinction event mammals, freed from the tyranny of the dinosaurs, rose to dominate the world. We are their descendants, possessed of the unique ability to transport ourselves back to those ancient days, with little more than a white cliff face and our imagination.