The Jurassic Coast is a hugely diverse and beautiful landscape underpinned by incredible geology of global importance. In 2001 it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for the outstanding universal value of its rocks, fossils and landforms. It remains England’s only natural World Heritage Site.
The Jurassic Coast begins at Orcombe Point in Exmouth, Devon, and continues for 95 miles to Old Harry Rocks, near Swanage, Dorset. This span takes in four distinct geographic regions – East Devon, West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland and Purbeck – each containing their own iconic towns, villages and natural landscapes.
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So what is so special about the geology here?
Imagine your favourite film trilogy. Now imagine that the first film is only ever shown in Scotland, the second only shown in France and the third only shown in Brazil. Annoying right? Now imagine that you stumble across a little cinema on the south coast of England that shows the entire trilogy, all three films back to back with extra scenes and everything. That’s what the Jurassic Coast is like for three geological time Periods called the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.
Those three time periods of Earth history collectively make up the Mesozoic Era, running from around 250 to 65 million years ago. Rocks that offer an almost complete record of that entire time are spread out along the Jurassic Coast, a bit like the pages of a book. Here’s the short version of their story…
252 million years ago: This area of the Earth’s crust was stretching and sinking. As it sank, layers of sediment piled one on top of the other to form rocks. First in baking deserts during the Triassic Period (252 – 201 million years ago) …
…and then in the Jurassic period (201 – 145 million years ago), sea level rose and changed the desert into a tropical sea.
At the close of the Jurassic sea levels fell, a forest grew then died and was buried beneath the sediments of lagoons swamps and rivers. This was the start of the Cretaceous (145 – 66 million years ago.
During this Period, earth movements tilted the rock layers to the east. The rocks pushed up in the west were eroded.
Soon, the sea rose again and during the rest of the Cretaceous sandstone and Chalk were laid down across the region, burying the tilted layers of older rock.
Since that time erosion has carved this remarkable rock record into the landscape we see today.
Through this coastline’s unique geology, visitors can understand the profound environmental changes that occur across millions of years of time. The fossils of strange and terrifying extinct creatures that tumble from its cliffs have the potential to change the way we see the world. And out of its rock falls, landslides and storm-battered beaches we gain insights into the creation of the coastline itself.
In short, the Jurassic Coast is a truly outstanding place to explore Earth’s history, the evolution of life and the natural processes that shape our world.
What’s in it for me?
The different rocks crammed into this 95-mile stretch of Dorset and East Devon coastline create a wonderfully varied landscape. There are opportunities here for many different and unforgettable experiences, from lazy-summer beach days and family BBQs to soul-stirring walks in wind-swept winter.
Nestled in towns and villages are museums and visitor centres that help to bring the Jurassic Coast’s global heritage to life. These vital hubs showcase exceptional fossils and fascinating exhibitions, and many offer unique activities such as coasteering, fossil hunting and even musical geology walks.
The landscape of the Jurassic Coast is a feast for the senses. Its stories stimulate mind, body and soul. It captures our imagination and invites us to find a sense of belonging, to return again and again to experience all it has to offer.