The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Colours of the Dorset Coast

Photographed and described by Guy Edwardes

sandstone cliffs,dorset coast

The towering, golden sandstone cliffs between Burton Bradstock and West Bay are constantly eroded by battering waves. The cliffs lie at the western end of the famous eighteen-mile-long Chesil Beach. When the cliffs are bathed in golden late-afternoon sunlight, they glow like a beacon and can be seen from Lyme Regis to the west and the Isle of Portland to the east.

The variety of rock types on display along the length of Dorset’s coast line make it unique. The colours and textures of the rock range from the brilliant white chalk cliffs between Handfast Point and Swanage in the east, through the muted tones of fossil-rich limestone on the Isle of Purbeck, to golden sandstone between Burton Bradstock and Bridport in the west.

Weymouth, Dorset Coast

The coastal seaside resort of Weymouth is a particularly colourful spot throughout the year. The historic harbour is surrounded by brightly painted cottages, with fishing boats lining the harbour walls. This photograph was taken from the drawbridge which separates the harbour from Weymouth marina.

Separate coves and bays display their own characteristic geology. At Kimmeridge Bay, for example, layers of sedimentary rock create colourful patterns on the exposed cliff faces, where golden bands of sandstone contrast with dark oil shale. Beneath the cliffs are many rock pools that support a variety of colourful marine life, easily observed at low tide.

mudeford sandbank

Mudeford Sandbank lies at the very far end of Hengistbury Head, at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour. It is a peaceful spot where cars are not allowed. Access is by foot, by land train from Hengistbury Head or by ferry from Mudeford or Christchurch Quays. The dunes are adorned with 350 multicoloured wooden beach huts.

eype's mouth,dorset coast

The tiny village of Eype lies close to the town of Bridport. Eype means ‘steep place’ and it is easy to see why when descending the narrow lanes to the beach. Eype’s Mouth is a relatively quite beach which is dominated by the towering Thorncombe Beacon, and is the perfect place from which to watch a colourful sunset.

The landscape of the Dorset coast is exposed at its very best during the winter months when the sun rises and sets out to sea, revealing in great detail the textures, contours and colours of the cliffs. On clear sunny summer days the shallow water around some points of the coast appears turquoise from the cliff-top paths due to patches of golden sand on the ocean floor.

the pinnacles and old harrys rocks

Set at the southern end of Studland Bay, the Pinnacles and Old Harry Rocks are a series of impressive sea stacks. Best viewed from Ballard Down, both the stacks and the gleaming white chalk cliffs form one of the most recognisable landmarks of the Jurassic Coast. They are from the same band of chalk as the Needles off the coast of the Isle of Wight, which can also be seen from Ballard Down.

The diversity of habitats along the coast provides nesting and feeding sites for numerous bird species. During migration some species of wading bird display very colourful breeding plumage as they pass through Dorset on their way to and from their breeding grounds further north. For example, black tailed godwits and knot both lose their normal muted brown and grey plumage and become rich red. In low-lying areas along river valleys and estuaries, extensive reedbeds provide nesting sites for Cetti’s warblers and bearded tits as well as cover and feeding areas for the elusive bittern.

Great black-backed gull

The great black-backed gull, our largest gull species, is both a scavenger and a predator. During the summer months these birds can often be seen harassing seabirds and other gulls in an attempt to steal food. They can be seen all along the Dorset coast.

The calm blue waters of the Fleet provide sheltered feeding for birds such as migratory sandwich and little terns, along with a host of wading birds and ducks. In many places the Dorset coast is backed by verdant farmland, much of which has escaped intensification and retains a patchwork of small fields, hedgerows and pockets of broadleaved woodland.

puffin, dorset coast

Puffins are scarce breeding birds in Dorset and are more often seen on the sea than on land. However, they are one of our most colourful seabirds and are often referred to as the ‘clowns of the sea’ because of their comical expressions and multi-coloured beaks.

By late April a mass of coastal wildflowers begin to burst into bloom. This is particularly evident on cliff-top grasslands on Durlston Head, the Isle of Purbeck and the Isle of Portland. Thrift, sea campion and kidney vetch form swathes of bright colour, often punctuated by early spider and bee orchids.

seaside daisies,dorset coast

On a sunny day the promontory of Portland Bill, with its red and white lighthouse set against a backdrop of deep blue sea, is a vibrant seaside location. In spring and summer the low cliffs and meadows are adorned with many species of colourful flowers. In early June, vivid pink seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus) carpet a small area below the beach huts along the east cliffs.

Many of these flowering plants provide an important nectar source for butterflies such as the green hairstreak, the Lulworth skipper and the appropriately named Adonis blue. A colourful display of wildflowers continues through May and June and on a clear day this is probably the best time to explore the Dorset coast at its vibrant best.

spider orchid,dorset coast

The early spider orchid is a nationally scarce species which is on the very northern limit of its range in the UK. It flowers in April and May at a few sites along the Dorset coast, where the land is managed by careful grazing to provide the perfect habitat for this and other wildflower species. The flowers are similar to those of the bee orchid. The velvety-brown flower is supposed to look a little like a large spider and has blue markings in the centre.

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