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The Stunning Jurassic Coast

Updated on November 20, 2014

An Adventure in Place and Time

Some people travel to get away "from it all" or for a few days of relaxation; some people travel to experience new cultures or to see famous historic sites. I love to swim in the sea, to relax on sunny beaches, to try new restaurants, but this page is about one of my favorite places in England. The Jurassic Coast of Dorset, in southern England, is an adventure in place and time.

This stunning coastline runs from Orcombe Point, in East Devon, to the Old Harry Rocks, in East Dorset. It is a World Heritage Site stretching around 96 miles and 180 million years. The coastline consists of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous cliffs, with public access along its entire length on the South West Coast Path.

All the photos and illustrations on this page are copyright to me, and can only be used with my written permission.

The Old Harry Rocks - An iconic coastal rock formation in Dorset

Old Harry
Old Harry

The Old Harry Rocks are a famous landmark on the Dorset Coast, near Swanage. The coastline here is stunning, with caves, arches, stacks and stumps carved from the chalk. Weathering, erosion and hydraulic action have all played a part in the formation of the Old Harry Rocks from the chalk headland of Ballard Point.

The Story of the Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast - How it came to be

Rock layers of Jurassic Coast
Rock layers of Jurassic Coast

There are good reasons why this coastline was designated as a World Heritage Site - it shows amazing examples of natural landforms and rock structures, including Lulwoth Cove, Durdle Door and the Old Harry Rocks. It includes a varied geology and stretches of concordant and discordant coastlines.

The area has been studied in detail, and has a fascinating geological history, which begins with the laying down of different rock types as the continents moved and sea level rose and fell. The oldest rock in the area is Portland Limestone, a hard and resistant rock. Over this Purbeck Limestone, Clays, Greensand and Chalk layers were deposited in their turns.

In brief, as Africa moved up towards Europe, the rock layers were crushed and distorted so that the limestone layers are now tilted to the east. The layers in the west were raised and exposed to erosion. In places Triassic and Jurassic rocks that had been buried for millions of years were exposed. In the Cretaceous period, seas flooded across this eroded surface and new rocks (Greensand and Chalk) formed on top.

Over the last 65 million years, sea level changes and erosion have carved into the rocks to create the coast we can see today.

Have You Visited Yet?

Which is your Favourite Place on the Jurassic Coast?

See results

The Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast

The Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast: Dorset and East Devon's World Heritage Coast
The Official Guide to the Jurassic Coast: Dorset and East Devon's World Heritage Coast

This excellent guide will tell you about the World Heritage Site, how it is managed, and all the best places to visit. Take a walk through time with these stunning coastal walks.


Stair Hole - A spectacular Feature of the Dorset Coastline

Stair Hole
Stair Hole

In this photo of Stair Hole, you can see the twisted layers of limestone, as well as blow holes and caves carved by the actions of the sea.

Formation of Stair Hole - illustrated in 4 stages

formation of Stair Hole
formation of Stair Hole

Portland limestone is quite resistant to erosion by the sea. However, the layers behind are less resistant. Any breach in the Portland limestone can expose the weaker rocks behind to coastal erosion, and particularly to hydraulic action. In hydraulic action, air trapped in cracks on a rock face is compressed when a wave breaks, the trapped air is compressed weakening the cliff and causes cracks and holes to get larger.This is what has happened at Stair Hole. Over time, the less resistant Purbeck limestone, and the weak clays have been eroded to form a dramatic inlet. In rough weather, sea water shoots up through the blow holes in the limestone, further weakening the barrier. Eventually, a cove will develop behind the remaining limestone.

Lulworth Cove - A natural harbour on the Dorset coast

Lulworth Cove
Lulworth Cove

Just a few hundred yards from Stair Hole, you can see the natural harbour of Lulworth Cove. It too is tucked away behind the ridge of Portland limestone. It has formed since the last Ice Age, as a result of water power, from a river and the sea.

It began when a river, swollen with water from the melting ice, began to cut a valley. The river eventually breached the barrier of tough Portland stone. Over time, the rising sea also flooded into the valley and began to wear away the weaker rocks behind the Portland stone.

Formation of Lulworth Cove

development of Lulworth Cove
development of Lulworth Cove

The Greensand - Chalk Boundary - at Lulworth Cove

greensand at lulworth cove
greensand at lulworth cove

If you look carefully at this photo of Lulworth Cove, you can see where the Greensand layer joins the Chalk layer. The Greensand layer is visible just behind the buildings on the edge of the cove.

Jurassic Coast: An Aerial Journey Through Time
Jurassic Coast: An Aerial Journey Through Time

Fantastic photos by Peter Sells and words by Robert Westwood led you on an aerial journey along the amazing Jurassic Coast.


Durdle Door - Dorset

Durdle Door
Durdle Door

Durdle Door illustrates a further development where the Portland Limestone has been eroded into stacks, now collapsed to leave stumps, just visible in the waves, and an impressive arch. Eventually the arch will collapse to leave another stack. In the background, you can see the Isle of Portland, which is connected to the mainland by a tombolo: a narrow piece of land connected at both ends.

St Oswald's Bay

St Ostwalds Bay
St Ostwalds Bay

St Oswald's is a double bay, next to Durdle Door. Again you can see the remaining stumps of Portland Limestone. If you look at the sea on the upper (more easterly) bay, you will see a brown stain in the water. This is where a large section of the cliff had collapsed into the sea a couple of days before. A section of the coastal path also fell into the sea, so the coastal path has now been re-routed.

This is an active coastline, changing from year to year, as a result of rain, storms, and the actions of the sea.

In January 2014, the 150 million-year-old rock stack known as Pom Pom Rock collapsed during a violent storm. You can read more about the widespread storm damage here.

East Dorset Coast

Swanage is a good base for exploring the Jurassic Coast of southern England

West Lulworth, Dorset

get directions


Concordant and Discordant Coastlines

concordant and discordant coastlines
concordant and discordant coastlines

The making of a coastline

simplified diagram of Dorset Coast
simplified diagram of Dorset Coast

The shape of a coastline develops over many thousands of years as a result of wave action and weather pounding the rocks and beaches. Different rocks can be more or less resistant to this energetic process resulting in the construction of headlands, bays, caves, and coves.

Which is your favorite coastline? - And why should I want to visit?

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    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      It really is worth a visit!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Stunning, stunning, stunning! The Jurassic coast of Dorset is now on my bucket list.

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and the Old Harry Rocks are all quite stunning.

    • annieangel1 profile image


      4 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      Definitely on my 'places to visit' list.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      4 years ago

      My favorite still is the coast of Oregon, but I suspect I'd be enamored of a great many coastlines around the world. One nearby would be the west coast of Vancouver Island.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      what an incredibly beautiful area - I would love to go there, I've been to England but not the coastline (well except taking the Hovercraft over to France, but we didn't get to see much while there)

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @ecogranny: Thanks for your visit and your kind comments. The Oregon coast sounds wonderful too - I'd love to go to watch the whales!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      I've never been to England, but I should certainly like to see these sights. You've done a wonderful job of providing just enough geological information to help us understand what's going on. Excellent lens. Utterly fascinating. As for my favorite coastline, given my limited exposure to coastlines, my favorite is the Oregon coast. It's fantastically rugged, yet has lots of lovely white-sand beaches. Too cold to swim comfortably, but whale watching is spectacular. My favorite spot on the Oregon Coast is at a rather seedy hotel, (at least it was very old and seedy last time I was in the area several years ago), high on a bluff about seven miles south of Yachats. There the waves crash and pound, eating away at the cliff on which the hotel sits, and the views out to sea are ever-changing and always magnificent.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Impossible to choose when my home country has so many glorious places to see!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow, I love the beautiful pictures and information in this lens. My favorite coastline would have to be California, USA because I've never been to any other ocean coast, except briefly (one day) at the Gulf of California in Mexico.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I stayed at Lulworth Cove just last year and visited Durdle Door at the same time. If you have never been to Scotland I would recommend the west coast for stunning scenery and vistas.

    • sharonbellis profile image

      Sharon Bellissimo 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Very educational!

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @FanfrelucheHubs: And, I would love to explore the Brittany coast!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      5 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Any Bretagne (Brittany) coastline. But I have to admit I would really enjoy hiking the Jurassic coast

    • savateuse profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Richard-H: Thanks for your kind comment! And, yes, don't leave it too long before you visit!

    • Richard-H profile image


      5 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Beautiful part of the country which I need to visit again some time. Lovely photos :)

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 

      5 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I love the Jurassic coast. The part I know best is from Studland to Lulworth Cove. I've even found some tiny fossils there.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      As a kid I often tried to swim out and thru Durdle Door, but always lost my nerve. It's a lot further from the beach than it looks, especially when you're 8!


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