Jurassic Coast from the air
Robert Harvey takes to the skies to record a rather different perspective of Dorset's Jurassic Coast
Published in December ’15
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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