Highlight: Orcombe Point

Orcombe Point, with the Geoneedle just visible on the clifftop
Orcombe Point, with the Geoneedle just visible on the clifftop. Photo: Steve Belasco.

This is where it starts. The rocks exposed at Orcombe Point embody the opening paragraphs of the Earth-story contained within this World Heritage Site. Stretching out in cliffs to the east, along 95 miles of coast, are the layers of geology that record the rest of the tale, spanning 185 million years of time. But here, on the mouth of the River Exe, is where it all begins.

Orcombe Point is at the western end of the Jurassic Coast. The layers of red mudstone and sandstone that make up the cliffs here were laid down in a desert some 250 million years ago, at the start of a time period known as the Triassic. They formed not long after the most devastating mass extinction event known, when 95% of all species were wiped out. The rocks at Orcombe Point contain no fossils, echoing how the environment of the Early Triassic was reduced almost to a blank canvass. As Earth’s ecosystems began to slowly recover time and evolution painted a new masterwork of prehisotirc life where reptiles and dinosaurs ruled and marine habitats flourished. This is the story of the Jurassic Coast, and every story starts somewhere.