English Delight At Jurassic Coastline

The World Heritage Site on the English Channel Coast consists of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous cliffs, spanning the Mesozoic, documents 185 million years of geological history

By Seema Anand Chopra

Thick sweat ran down my neck and back as the sun blazed at over 35 degrees and it felt like I was back-home in India. Actually we were in the vast openness of the magnificent Jurassic coastline of Dorset England, all a part of the Lulworth estate and Castle nearby. We were headed for the prehistoric Durdle Door and the Lulworth Cove – both parts of the 120000 acres of Lulworth Estate owned by the local Welds family. It was thrilling to remember that we were walking on a site that spanned 185 million years of Earth’s geographical history and I felt being a part of the Jurassic period!!


On our left as far as the eyes could see the deep blue sky merged with the crystal blue of the English Channel on the distant horizon. What we were about to see was the result of continuous erosion on the narrow rock bands running parallel to the seashore – The Durdle Door that was a large natural limestone Rock Arch formation on the Jurassic coast ; most photographed iconic landmark ! The lime cliffs that we saw were formed when the other rocks also eroded. No wonder it has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO!


Treading cautiously over the downwards sloping pebble kaccha track we reached the cliff top from which we caught the first breathtaking view of the Durdle door. It set my memory jog backwards to Ron Dawson’s Children’s story ‘Scary Bones meets the Dinosaurs of Jurassic Coast’ that narrates the myth of a Dinosaur Durdle Doorus who is magically transformed into a rock that has come to be known as the Durdle Door today! I stared for a moment at the huge rock formation and could actually make out the silhouette of a Dinosaur with its mouth dipped in the icy waters of the English Channel. Perhaps the aggressive sun heat was stirring my imagination!


Before descending the makeshift stairs towards the Beach we came across two interesting Boards. One of which informed that the Durdle Door and the area around is a Geological site of Special Scientific Interest that has 5 types of rocks in its cliffs each formed underwater and tilted or exposed when the continents collided! As printed we looked out for several holes on the Durdle Door Arch at this great height, which are ‘fossiled’ remains of Cycad Trees that grew there 147 million years ago! The second Board held an instruction for the visitors – Do not leave rubbish on the beach and carried an amusing translation in Hindi that read- Samundra tat par Bakwaas mat choro!!


First we managed to find a spot to spread our picnic mat in the cool shadow of the ‘back of the hill-rock Dinosaur’ for respite from the scorching sun. I remembered reading that Durdle Door received its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Thirl’ in Old English meaning drill or pierce which in turn derives from Thyrel, meaning hole. The early written records of the past 1000 years endorse the name, sometimes differing a bit over the centuries. The word Door was perhaps attached due to its arch shape and the fact that even a sailing boat could pass through the Rock Arch!


Recharged we ventured out to get a closer look at the unique rock formation and scenes from the Hindi movie Houseful 3 came to mind as shooting had been done at Durdle Door ! We were told that many Hollywood movies had been filmed here too. Amongst the music videos shot here Cliff Richard’s ‘Saviour’s Day’ was my favourite. We also looked for the vertical Purbeck beds that bear the ripple marks of an ancient sea floor. Far away where this cluster of cliffs ended we spotted the Butter rock and The Bat’s Head about which we had read on the Board near the steps.


A sticky hot upward climb from Durdle Door got us back to the car park and we soon headed for the Lulworth Cove car park at the top of the cliff. It had a stunning view of a large Cove with indigo blue seawater surrounded by limestone cliffs and a beautiful white pebble beach faraway below. Lulworth cove too was a Jurassic coast British World Heritage Site.


Descending the stairs I remembered reading that the Cove was formed when the sea waves broke through a thin layer of Portland limestone rocks running parallel to the shoreline. The huge crater like scallop shaped splendid view Cove was formed 10000 years ago by the ‘power of water’! The perfect Horseshoe Bay had an incredible look created in the last Ice age with the combined forces of melted ice- water in a swollen River and Sea!!  This is an important area for study of inimitable Geology as the landscape around the Cove is continuously transforming!

Going downhill we caught a splendid view of boats sailing on the tranquil water in the Cove below. I had recalled that this was possible due to the Refraction of waves in circular manner inside the Cove that restricts the energy of the sea waves. So the almost still, serene Cove water was ideal for boating, rock-pooling, fishing and other water sports!


Down at the pebble beach we looked out for a Café to find an Ice-cream instead of the usual tea or coffee! During a chat with the staff we discovered that Lulworth Cove had almost 500,000 visitors every year! On enquiring about so many Walkers taking a particular direction, we were told that about 200,000 Walkers used the path between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door! Additionally she said that we must look out for the ‘Lulworth Skipper’- a special Butterfly of this region on the Jurassic Coastline.

Lulworth Cove often features in popular TV Documentaries – ‘Seven Natural Wonders’ and ‘Walking through History’ and location filming in ‘Doctor Who’ serial. ‘At Lulworth Cove a Century Back’ is  English poet Thomas Hardy’s famous poem related to it as once he lived closeby within the Lulworth Estate.

Driving onwards our thoughts diverted to the transformation of this area from a shallow tropical sea and marshy dense forest in the Jurassic era to the tranquil beauty of today – an explorers delight!