Chesil Beach, Dorset
Chesil Beach is located on the South coast of England in the county of Dorset. It is a pebble beach 18 miles long and stretches north-west from Portland to West Bay. For much of its length it is separated from the mainland by an area of salt water called the Fleet Lagoon. Our self guided walking holiday along the Jurassic coast of Dorset turns inland by Abbotsbury on the eastern part of Chesil Beach to follow the South Dorset Ridgeway before returning to the coast after Weymouth . On this wonderful walking holiday along the south coast of England you’ll get views of Chesil Beach. Indeed The view of the beach from Abbotsbury has been voted by Country Life magazine as Britain's third best view. Walking holiday - Dorset Jurassic Coastal Path & Ridgeway.
Chesil Beach forms one of the main sites of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dorset and East Devon coast. This coast provides an almost continuous sequence of rock formations spanning some 185 million years of the earth's history. The area's important fossil sites and classic coastal geomorphologic features have contributed to the study of earth sciences for over 300 years.
Chesil Beach is one of three major shingle structures in Britain and derives its name from the Old English ceosel or cisel, meaning "gravel" or "shingle".
The pebbles are coarsest near Chesil (Chesilton) and diminish in size towards Bridport. Apparently fisherman landing on the bank at night could judge their position by the size of the pebble are mainly flint and chert, derived from Cretaceous rocks, perhaps by way of Tertiary gravels such as those at Blackdown and Bincombe. Limestone and chert from the Portland Group are also common, especially at the eastern end plus the flatter pebbles of quartzite, red and purple that occur in the Triassic pebble beds at Budleigh Salterton in Devon. Much rarer are pebbles of porphyry that can be matched in the Permian breccia of Dawlish. Various tourmalinised rocks have been identified with the Palaeozoic rocks of Cornwall; many of them may have come like the flints, out of Tertiary gravels.
The Raised Beach of Chesil is most likely only the remnant of a much larger deposit, formed when the Portland and Purbeck rocks stretched far to the west and east of what is now Portland Bill; Chesil Bank being formed from the sweeping together of the materials of these ancient shingles and gravels.
The Fleet Lagoon is a shallow area of saline water between Chesil Beach and the mainland. It is home to many wading birds and Abbotsbury Swannery, and fossils can be found in the sand and mud. You’ll get a chance to visit the swannery and the local nature reserve on our walking holiday on the Dorset coast.
Both Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon are a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The south west coastal path is a National Trail, 630 miles, long running from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. At Abbotsbury walkers have the choice of turning inland and following the South Dorset Ridgeway providing great views of the coast (as per our walking holiday), or of walking the inland coast of the lagoon. Walking the length of the beach itself would be a feat of endurance.
The Fleet Lagoon and Chesil Beach feature in the novel Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner (1898), in which the village of Moonfleet is based on the real village of East Fleet. It has more recently formed the location of a book On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. In a BBC Radio interview, McEwan admitted to taking a few pebbles from Chesil Beach and keeping them on his desk while he wrote the novel. Protests by conservationists and a threat by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council to fine him £2,000 led the author to return the pebbles. "I was not aware of having committed a crime," he said. "Chesil Beach is beautiful and I'm delighted to return the shingle to it."
Because of the low population density of nearby areas and their proximity to the naval base on Portland, the beach and the Fleet were used for machine gun training and bouncing bomb testing in World War II. Defences were constructed on and around the beach. A double row of anti-tank blocks divides the beach near the beautiful historic village of Abbotsbury. The beach to the west was protected with miles of scaffolding with anti-tank ditches, minefields and flame fougasse installations further inland along with many pillboxes.
Find out more about the Dorest Jurassic Coast and our independent walking holiday: Dorset Jurassic Coastal Path and Ridgeway