Monday, 31 October 2016

22nd October - Golden Cap, Charmouth & West Bay, Dorset

We were off again, this time to spend a week in Dorset.  We traveled Friday afternoon in some horrendous traffic along the A31 and A35.  We were staying in a cottage in the village of Morecombelake between Bridport and Lyme Regis.  Although we arrived just as it was getting dark the views out across the hills were visible, the Golden Cap silhouetted against the pink sky as the sun set.

During the night a Tawny Owl called repeatedly from the nearby trees, but as usual stayed well out of sight.  Morning saw clear skies still, and a lovely sun rise from the west that lit up the sky with pinks and grey before turning blue.


As the sun rose in the sky, the mist rolled in and the surrounding hills were shrouded in cloud.  We had decided to stay close to the cottage today, and make the most of the weather to enjoy the views of the stunning countryside around us.  With the mist starting to lift we headed out, crossing the busy A35 and heading south towards Stanton St Gabriel.  The footpath took us through fields and along tree lined tracks.  In the bushes I heard one or two Chiffchaffs, and several flocks of Long-tailed Tits, but apart from that very little else.

The path headed down and then opened into a clearing where there was a couple of holiday cottages and the ruins of a chapel.  This was the old village of Stanton St Gabriel.  This is also the area where the Roman road going from Dorchester to Exeter passed through this part of the Dorset.

The chapel itself is now just a set of "preserved" ruins, but was once the site of a Saxon settlement and was recorded in the Domesday Book in the eleventh century. Stanton St Gabriel was never exactly a thriving community and struggled to find funds to keep the Chapel weatherproof from the 1500s onwards.

In what would have passed for its heyday, this small settlement was itself on the main road for coach and horses traffic from Bridport to Charmouth . But the road was costly to maintain and a new road was built through Morcombelake. This was the end for the remaining populace of Stanton St Gabriel who moved away to scrape a living in more hospitable  parts of the county.
We left the ruins and started the ascent towards Golden Cap.  Away to our right now clear of mist were the towns of Charmouth and Lyme Regis both gateways to the Jurrassic Coast.


There was still some mist around us, and with the low autumn sunshine it made for some atmospheric pictures.


The climb up to the top was a combination of zig zag slopes and steps, and as we reached the closely grazed grass of the summit we were rewarded with some wonderful views both to the east and west.  This is looking east across the village of Seatown, and beyond towards West Bay.


The name Golden Cap comes from the distinctive outcropping of golden greensand rock present at the very top of the cliff, where we were now standing. Golden Cap is the highest point on the South Coast of England.  At 191 metres above sea level, this distinctively flat-topped hill overlooking Lyme Bay is about 30 metres higher than Beachy Head and around twice the height of the White Cliff’s of Dover.

After catching our breath we started the descent down the east side, agian via a series of steps and zig zag paths.  Lookinng across the valley towards the village of Morecombelake in the distance we could make out the cottage in which we were staying.  It was the left side of the main white buildings


There had been few birds about, a Kestrel passed us at the top while out on the sea Herring Gulls of all ages flew in both directions.  As we came down the hill, a pair of Stonechats were busy calling from the fence posts and low trees.


We were now on the South West Coast path heading towards the small village of Seatown.  The path crossed open fields where the impact of the winter storms coming in off the sea was clear in the shape of the trees and bushes.


We stopped for a drink in the Anchor at Seatown.  The settlement was never a town, as the name might imply, but undoubtedly was somewhat bigger and more important in years gone by. The suffix town meant originally just farm.  A hundred and fifty years ago there were thirty or forty fishermen here: at least, they were fishermen by day, but at night they were smugglers, and much contraband cargo was landed in here.  Apparently the ruined chapel of Stanton St.Gabriel, on the far side of Golden Cap, was a favourite receiving house.

We wandered out on to the pebbly beach.  From here we were able to see the full impact of the Golden Cap, the yellower greensand outcrop that gives it it's name being visible at the top.


As we walked along the beach Rock Pipits called from the top of the cliffs.


Calls above us on the cliff alerted us to two Kestrels that were flying along the top.  The two stayed very close to each other, and repeatedly called to one another.


I can only presume that these were siblings, not yet ready to go their own way.  They would take it in turns to sit on the ridges in the cliff face and call at the other bird as it flew out over the sea.


Rather than wall on along the beach we turned back.  It was now a lovely day, and one or two brave persons had even ventured into the sea for a swim.

Another sign of the warm conditions was the appearance of a Red Admiral flying along the beach.  It settled on part of the dried clay slip to warm up in the sunshine.  Quite an impressive fossil.


Our walk now headed inland towards Langdon Hill, a National Trust owned piece of land that includes a substantial area of woodland.  The walk we took skirted around the wood along a tree lined track that was sheltered and it was no surprise to find several Common Darters either bashing the bramble leaves for insects or just sunning on the exposed path.


With the wood on our left hand side, the right and eastern side was open fields with the odd tall Oak trees along the edge of the field.  On one of these I noticed a bird at the top of the tree, and was surprised to find that it was a Jay, I have never seen one so prominently out in the open like this.


We passed the National Trust car park where the trees were taking on the early signs of autumnal colour.


The path then crossed a field that took us to the farm shop, where after stocking up on some provisions we made our way along the A35 to the cottage.

Our day was not done though, and there was still plenty of time to enjoy the stunning weather so we drove down to Charmouth to walk along the beach.  After beeing stung a fortune for two ice creams we crossed the river and walked east along the beach.  It was very busy with lots of people milling around, and the sound of hundreds of hammers chipping away at any rock that dared to look interesting.


Ahead of us once again was the peak of Golden Cap, while the cliffs were fronted with large slips of shale and mud.  In some places these were still moving and every so often you would hear or see large clumps of mud and rock fall.

The beach and cliffs are part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, which encompass 95 miles of coast between Dorset and Devon. The rocks at Charmouth date predominantly from the early part of the Jurassic period (around 190 million years ago), during which time this area lay beneath a warm, shallow sea, closer to the equator, approximately where North Africa resides today. The cliffs and foreshore between Charmouth and Seatown represent two stages within the Early Jurassic (or Lias) period known as the Sinemurian and Pliensbachian, dating from this time.

Then an enormous, generally shallow epicontinental sea (less than 100m deep), spread over this area of the world, and laid down alternating layers of clay and limestone. Overlying the Jurassic sediments are younger Cretaceous deposits, including the Gault and golden coloured Upper Greensand (green when freshly split) - deposited around 106-102 million years ago.

Without a hammer we were only able to split layers of shale in the clay, but this soon revealed several ammonites.


Ammonites are perhaps the most widely known fossil.  These creatures lived in the seas between 240 - 65 million years ago, when they became extinct along with the dinosaurs. The name “ammonite” originates from the Greek Ram-horned god called Ammon. Ammonites belong to a group known as cephalopods, which includes their living relatives the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus

A better specimen of an Ammonite was found in a much larger rock.


Another cephalopod fossil widely found in rocks here were the Belemnites.  The name is derived from the Greek word belemnon  meaning a dart. A fossil belemite is usually the guard, the back part of the shell, and this does look like a dart or bullet.  Here the rock has been split through the fossil.


We then learnt that the best way to find fossils was to search along the beach at the low water line, and this soon revealed further pieces of ammonite, and this lovely collection of Crinoids.


Crinoids are ancient fossilised marine animals, they consist of an array of branching arms which are s arranged around the top of a globe-shaped, cup-like structure containing the main body of the animal.  Crinoids are sometimes referred to as sea lilies because of their resemblance to a plant or flower.  These star-shaped examples above were associated with the sun by ancient peoples, and given religious significance.

As we wandered along the beach with our heads down searching the rocks, above there was the familiar call of a Raven.


In places the beach took on an appearance like that of another world.


And with the sun low over the sea the rocks revealed at low tide became quite impressive.


Where the rocks were exposed, and the sea weed was drying out a good sized flock of Pied Wagtails could be seen jumping and chasing flies.  they would then fly back up the beach to sit on the rocks as if to rest before returning to dance amongst the weed and rocks.


With the sun now dropping sending some lovely light we decided to head for West Bay to take in the glorious golden colours of the cliffs as the sun set away to the west.

West Bay is also known as Bridport Harbour, Bridport historically needed a harbour to allow it to export its ropes and nets.  The harbour is not natural and is inclined to silt up with the drift of pebbles and mud that in turn has formed the Chesil Beach.  As a result it is now a series of sluices.

West Bay has been used for several television series setting.  The beach was used in the opening scenes of the "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin", and more recently was the setting for the ITV drama "Broadchurch", where the town, harbour and beach were used.

The East beach is the most impressive where Bridport Sand and Inferior Oolite rock form the impressive colouring of the cliff face.


The beach was busy, and some had left behind some treasured possessions.


We walked around the harbour where the air was ripe with the smell of the lobster pots.  A group of Herring Gulls had also found a supply of small Red Gunnards that were intended to be used to bait the pots, but were now providing a welcome meal for the scavenging Herring Gulls.


We headed back to the cottage, and as the sun set finally to the east I could just make out the path we had walked down earlier and taken the picture of the cottage where I was now standing.


A lovely day, hopefully the conditions will continue tomorrow


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