The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Jurassic Coast from the air

Robert Harvey takes to the skies to record a rather different perspective of Dorset's Jurassic Coast

 

Lulworth Cove's scallop-shell shape is perfectly framed on this shot

Lulworth Cove’s scallop-shell shape is perfectly framed on this shot

Mark Richardson’s work is all to do with aircraft, but he doesn’t get to fly for work, but he does share ownership of a plane in which I am not the only passenger. Mark has brought his dogs Mabel – a Basset hound – and Georgie, a Westie/Bichon terrier. They both seem at home on board but Mark explains that: ‘Georgie isn’t too sure and usually hides at the back until she senses we are coming into land’.

Old Harry rocks or, more formally, from far to near: Handfast Point (or the Foreland) and Old Harry

Old Harry rocks or, more formally, from far to near: Handfast Point (or the Foreland) and Old Harry

 

It takes us 40 minutes to reach the coast at its westernmost point – as far as the World Heritage site is concerned. We pass Seaton and ahead is the mysterious Undercliff, a mass of dense woodland clothing the slumped shoreline which straddles the border of Devon and Dorset. The area is almost inaccessible from land and this is the first time I have ever had a good view of it. Rounding the end of the Undercliff, we have a great view of the distinctively curved Cobb at Lyme Regis.

To the left of this shot is Branksea Castle on Brownsea Island. The castle is leased to John Lewis Partnership, which uses it as a holiday home for its partners (employees). Between the two landing stages is the National Trust's Villano Café, while beyond the buildings on the right is the Dorset Wildlife Trust's Lagoon

To the left of this shot is Branksea Castle on Brownsea Island. The castle is leased to John Lewis Partnership, which uses it as a holiday home for its partners (employees). Between the two landing stages is the National Trust’s Villano Café, while beyond the buildings on the right is the Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Lagoon

Perhaps the most striking landmark of the West Dorset coast is Golden Cap. The cliff takes its name from a band of bright yellow Cretaceous sands overlying more sober grey Jurassic clay. What is obvious from the air is that Golden Gap is half of a dome-shaped hill. The other half has been claimed by the sea, leaving southern England’s highest sea cliff as a section sliced straight down through the middle.

Durdle Door shot under raking side light that shows the once horizontal strata that make up the iconic rock formation having been thrust upwards to a near vertical aspect

Durdle Door shot under raking side light that shows the once horizontal strata that make up the iconic rock formation having been thrust upwards to a near vertical aspect

Chesil Beach is another formation whose true scale and form is best appreciated from above. In one image, I can encompass the graceful curve of its entire 29 km length. Mark gains height and detours out to sea in order to avoid any chance of collision with airborne residents of Abbotsbury Swannery. I ask if he feels safe flying over water and he assures me that even if the engine were to stop, the Cessna could easily glide back to land.

The beak-shaped southern tip of the Isle of Portland that is Portland Bill showing the three lighthouses and, further up, is the former Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment which is now known as Southwell Business Park and is home to a hotel and, from September 2016, will be the home of Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, Portland's superschool

The beak-shaped southern tip of the Isle of Portland that is Portland Bill showing the three lighthouses and, further up, is the former Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment which is now known as Southwell Business Park and is home to a hotel and, from September 2016, will be the home of Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, Portland’s superschool

We circle Portland Bill twice to get the best angle on the lighthouse, its white paint gleaming in the afternoon sun. I am also able to take in the entire Isle of Portland, giving a sense of how far the Bill juts into the English Channel.

The characteristic seaward lines of Kimmeridge Bay with  the Landmark Trust's Clavell Tower, which is available for holiday lets, in the foreground. It was disassembled from the edge of the crumbling cliff and rebuilt 25 metres further inland. In the distance is a nodding donkey oil pump.

The characteristic seaward lines of Kimmeridge Bay with the Landmark Trust’s Clavell Tower, which is available for holiday lets, in the foreground. It was disassembled from the edge of the crumbling cliff and rebuilt 25 metres further inland. In the distance is a nodding donkey oil pump.

The Cessna turns north and we are heading for perhaps the most iconic site on the Jurassic Coast. Durdle Door is perfectly illuminated, throwing a deep shadow onto the beach which is relieved by an arch of sunlight. The Door is so familiar, yet I have never before seen the seaward side.
Just one minute’s more flying time brings us to Lulworth Cove. I ask Mark to gain height so as to give an almost vertical view. He does so, in the course of two tight orbits. It seems astonishing that nature has created a cove so perfectly shaped. The answer lies in the interaction of the sea with five steeply tilted different layers of rock. I am entranced.

The eastern end of the 630-mile South West Coast Path is at South Haven point, just before the Sandbanks ferry on Studland. Opposite it is Sandbanks, while Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour sit behind the narrow crossing point.

The eastern end of the 630-mile South West Coast Path is at South Haven point, just before the Sandbanks ferry on Studland. Opposite it is Sandbanks, while Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour sit behind the narrow crossing point.

As I fill my camera’s buffer faster than it can write to memory cards, Mark is talking to a military air traffic controller. We are not allowed to overfly Lulworth Ranges. Instead we head inland, following the sinuous course of the River Frome, then turn to Corfe Castle, then turning south-west to Kimmeridge Bay. Our flight along the coast has outpaced the eastward surge of the rising tide. The still low tide reveals the Bay’s distinctive limestone wave-cut platforms running seaward, with Clavell Tower standing sentinel high above.
It is not long to sunset as we round Durlston Head and its Globe. Passing Swanage we reach Foreland Point, the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast. Old Harry Rocks are still catching late sunlight but the view I prefer is looking back westwards over the rocks towards the land. The chalk cliffs are amazingly crinkled and corrugated. It is easy to see how the sea is constantly carving out stacks and pinnacles of rock. In the centuries to come Old Harry and his Wife will have many new sons and daughters. ◗

❱ For more images of the Jurassic Coast from the air, visit www.robert-harvey.co.uk

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