The name of this dramatic coastline alone conjures up images of a world millions of years ago: a world that nobody walking the Earth today would recognise. There’s a sense of mystery that draws people from all over the world, year after year, to the fringes of the Devon and Dorset coast. To the keen paleontologist, the ‘Jurassic Coast’ serves as something of a mecca – a paradise for those seeking a keener insight into prehistoric life. But it’s more than that. It’s impressive to anybody who can appreciate the staggering 185 million years (or thereabouts) that the layers of sedimentary rock here represent.
If you’re visiting our East Devon or Dorset cottages, you’ll find some wonderful ways to keep the whole family entertained, whether it’s brushing up on your history, taking a stroll along some of the region’s dog-friendly beaches or getting the adrenaline pumping with a day of outdoor adventure.
Durlston Country Park
Spend a day at Durlston Country Park, a 280-acre paradise of hay meadows and coastal downlands. There’s a wealth of wildlife to marvel at here – including regular dolphin sightings – as well as views of some astonishing limestone cliffs. These sweep into two bays, where rocks have been found to record the entire Cretaceous period – roughly 79 million years. The park’s also home to a Victorian castle, inside which you’ll find interactive displays and exhibitions. From the car park, a serpentine timeline path walks you through 4.6 billion years of history, giving you a mindblowing synopsis of just how significant the ‘Jurassic Coast’ is.
For more beautiful views, you’ll be hard pressed to beat those of the Jurassic Skyline in Weymouth. The viewing capsule here has floor-to-ceiling windows, so you feel as if you’re suspended, looking down upon the coast. This is enhanced as the capsule gradually rotates, revealing the most incredible panorama you’re ever likely to experience. Where else can you take in 185 million years of history for 26 kilometres in every direction?
A trip to the Isle of Portland comes highly recommended. Connected to the mainland via Chesil Beach, Portland makes for some great exploring, from Portland Castle, which was built by Henry VIII, to Tout Quarry. Since falling silent in the early 1980s, Tout Quarry has become famous for the work done there by artists and sculptors in response to the holes, labyrinths and scars left by the quarrying. The exposed rocks here are more than 135 million years old – from the late Jurassic period – and if you look hard enough, you’ll find more than 60 hidden sculptures in the quarry. Fancy trying your hand at sculpting and stone carving? If so, there are classes running at the quarry until September – all you need to do is book!
Beer Quarry Caves
Having been handworked since Roman times, the village of Beer’s history centres around the Beer Quarry Caves. When work to extract the limestone ceased in 1920, a series of eerie caverns were left behind. If you’re visiting the caves, you can expect vaulted ceilings and pillars of Beer stone in a complex, cavernous network that’s been likened to an underground cathedral.
From the end of March until September, tours run daily, every hour on the half hour, with the last tour starting at 4.30pm.
After your visit, swing by The Masons Arms in neighbouring Branscombe, a charming, 14th century thatched-roof inn that serves an extensive menu of hearty, feel-good pub grub, as well as satisfying Fairtrade coffee from Brewer & Bean.
Here is one of the ‘Jurassic Coast’s’ finest, dog-friendly walks, of around seven miles. The limestone coastline here has been carved into caves and platforms by millions of years’ natural erosion, as well as human influence since prehistoric times and centuries of quarrying. The pool itself is a wild beach, where a plunging ravine sends water cascading down the cliffs, forming a stream that meets the sea. When the sun’s shining, Chapman’s Pool is a wonderful place to sit for the afternoon, so pack a picnic and don’t forget the blanket.
HUNTING FOR FOSSILS
Coming in all shapes and sizes, fossils help bring the lost world of pre-history to life. Through them, we find evidence of how plants and animals evolved during the Mesozoic Era, and those found on the ‘Jurassic Coast’ have been used to construct vivid recreations of the region hundreds of millions of years ago. It’s this that continues to captivate a whole spectrum of visitors, from children inspired by the Jurassic Park films, to professional historians and paleontologists looking to expand their knowledge in the field.
All the way along the ‘Jurassic Coast’ there are fossils to be found. However, if you’re setting out to find your own, you need to be safe and avoid the dangerous areas, while being mindful of protected spots and those which are prone to damage. If you’re planning an unguided trip, it’s important to check local information and for those who are new to fossil finding, joining a guided walk is highly recommended, as you’ll be able to maximise your time in some of the coast’s best digging spots.
For anybody who’d like to book a walk, or wants to read into the history that fossils represent, Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre – near Charmouth beach, one of the region’s most prolific fossil hunting grounds – has some superb displays of locally-found fossils, as well as interactive displays and information on fossils, fossil hunting and local wildlife. Open daily from Easter to October, from 10.30am to 4.30pm, you’ll even find a video microscope that you can use to examine your finds from the beach.
For more information on how you can make the most of the ‘Jurassic Coast’, including dog-friendly walks, fossil finding details and general information about the area, visit www.jurassiccoast.org.