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A bird’s eye view — The Dorset coast from Gad Cliff to White Nothe

Photograph by Grahame Austin of Kitchenham Photography; text by John Chaffey

This is one of the most spectacular stretches of the Jurassic coast. In the foreground is the dominant feature of Gad Cliff. This is formed of Portland Limestone with screes running down to the sea over the underlying Portland Sand and Kimmeridge Clay. As a result of the Portland Limestone and Portland Sand being underlain by the unstable Kimmeridge Clay, Gad Cliff has been much prone to landslides in the past, but they appear to be less active now. At the western end of Gad Cliff is Worbarrow Tout, which forms the southern bastion enclosing Worbarrow Bay. The latter is cut in the relatively soft clays and sands of the Wealden Beds, which also underlie the western end of the Vale of Purbeck running away eastwards towards the abandoned village of Tyneham. The tree-lined Tyneham Gwyle (wooded steep-sided valley) can be seen running down to Worbarrow Bay from the village.

The northern side of Worbarrow Bay is mainly Chalk, much subject to landslides because of the unstable underlying Gault Clay. At the top of the cliffs here is the Iron Age fort on Flower’s Barrow, much threatened by erosion on its seaward side. The Chalk cliffs become lower to the west at Cow Corner and just beyond is the little Bay of Arish Mell, where a stream has cut a gap in the Chalk hills. Beyond are the high Chalk cliffs of Cockpit Head. At its western end is the brilliant white scar of the spectacular rockfall of spring 2001, which has now obscured nearly one third of the shoreline of Mupe Bay beyond. This bay is also cut in the easily eroded Wealden Beds. At its southern end are Mupe Rocks and the small bay of Bacon Hole. Inland from this stretch of coast are the tracks and rusting armour on the Lulworth Ranges, with the buildings of Lulworth Camp in the background.

Beyond Bacon Hole, Portland Limestone forms the cliffs as far as Lulworth Cove, just visible in front of the Chalk mass of Hambury Tout with its white stone-strengthened path leading over to Durdle Door. To the west the Chalk again forms the coast, with cloud shadow on Swyre Head and the distinct profile of Bat’s Head just beyond. The final Chalk headland on this stretch of the coast is White Nothe. Inland, cultivated Chalk downland extends away northwards to Wool and the Frome valley. In the far distance, beyond White Nothe is the coast extending towards Weymouth itself and the Weymouth lowland beyond.

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