Last summer we had a day out on the Purbeck Coast in Dorset and we visited the Fossil Forest which is just to the east of Lulworth Cove. It had rained that morning so a blustery, dramatic sky was blowing over the sea.
Lulworth Cove is a small, circular bay with a narrow harbour entrance. It is a popular tourist destination, although most people seem to stay at one end of the Cove with their ice creams if they are not venturing east or west along the Dorset Coastal Path.
We walked along the bay to the eastern end, where we scrambled up a cliff path and looked down onto turquoise, shallow waters.
Not far along the clifftop path is a high fence and a gate. The land beyond it belongs to the Ministry of Defence and is an Army firing range. It was requisitioned for training the troops prior to the D Day Landings of WW11. The public only have access on certain days when the red flags are not firing.
Once through the gate, we scrambled down some steep steps onto a wide rocky ledge that overlooked the English Channel. To the west, the Isle of Portland rose out of a silver-grey sea.
Limestone loving marine plants flowered in crevices among the strata and the scree.
On this ledge above the waves, we found one of the world`s best preserved Fossil Forests. We had heard that this was an amazing place and we were not disappointed!
The Fossil Forest shows the petrified remains of trees that grew there in Jurassic times 144 million years ago. Only Jurassic dinosaurs would have witnessed them in their living beauty. Human beings had yet to evolve.
The Forest grew when sea levels dropped and a group of islands formed. When the islands were later flooded under a shallow saline lagoon, the plant remains were preserved, only to be exposed to human eyes by erosion and cliff fall. The cliff behind the fossil remains is friable and still being eroded today.
Great circular shapes in the rock indicated the shapes of tree trunks, thought to be of the Cypress family. These ancient trees have now been named Photocypressinoxylon purbeckensis. For millennia they were trees with no name.
Lichen on limestone
We walked and scrambled among ancient life forms. We met just one human being - a geologist walking the Coastal Path.
We felt quite overwhelmed by what we had seen as we climbed back to the top of the cliff and found the path down again, to join the crowds among tea shops and car parks just along the bay.