Kimmeridge is one of those great places where scenery, history, fun and fresh air mingle together.
At its simplest, Kimmeridge Bay is a rocky inlet carved out of the Purbeck coastline of Dorset by the sea. It’s great for walking and it’s great for paddling, playing and looking for fossils too.
At a deeper level, literally and metaphorically, Kimmeridge and the land around and under it have contributed hugely to our understanding of the world’s prehistory. It has also contributed quite a bit to the national economy.
Take a look at the cliffs around Kimmeridge Bay, where the action of the sea has eroded and exposed layer after layer of rock. These layers are the stuff of geologist and palaeontologist heaven. So much has been learned from these layers, that even before Kimmeridge became part of the UNESCO Dorset and East Devon World Heritage Jurassic Coast, it had given its name to an entire stage of the Jurassic Period - theKimmeridgian.
The Kimmeridgean is one of the later stages of the Jurassic Period. The time its layers of rock and clay were laid down was a time of ammonites and of dinosaurs. It was also the time that the plants and other organic material that would become our modern-day oil reserves were laid down. And there’s evidence of both for all to see at Kimmeridge.
The evidence of the fossil record can be found all along the beach. Unlike at Charmouth everyday visitors and fossil hunters at Kimmeridge are not allowed to bring their hammers. But even without one, you will find fossils large and small.
All the usual rules apply, stay away from the cliff bottom, don’t pull rocks from the cliffs and take proper precautions to ensure you don’t get caught by the tide.
At Kimmeridge there is an extra warning, don’t stray over the boundary of the firing ranges. If you do, you are putting yourself at risk and may also incur the wrath of the Range Wardens.
For those who follow these simple rules, there’s lots of fun to be had hunting for fossils along the beach. The best of your finds will be too big to carry away. Look carefully and you’ll find fairly large ammonites embedded in the rock slabs which make up much of the beach along this stretch of shore. And if you find something you don’t recognise, or simply want to know more about how the coastline and rocks were formed, there’s an excellent little visitor centre at the Eastern side of the bay next to the boat houses.
At the Western end of the bay, on top of the cliffs, you’ll also see more evidence of the area’s Jurassic history and one of its modern-day benefits to humanity. Visible from the beach or from the South West Coast Path which goes right alongside it, you will see a single “nodding donkey”. This is a type of pump used to extract oil. Often seen on TV in massive oil fields in Texas or the Middle East, it is the only external evidence in this magnificent Dorset landscape of the oil riches it hides. Oil is also extracted from the other side of the Purbecks near Brownsea Island. But it is also oil from theKimmerdigian age that made up the majority of what everyone now calls North Sea Oil.
If fossils and fossil fuels aren’t your thing, then try heading to the Eastern side of the bay. Here atop a rounded hill overlooking the Bay and the Channel you will find Clavell Tower. This architecturally pleasing watch tower and folly was built by the Reverend John Richards Clavell in the 1830s.
A steep flight of steps from behind the boat houses (and the remains of a few WWII tank defences) lead up to Clavell Tower. Although you can’t go in, the area around by the tower provides probably the best views of Kimmeridge Bay and the Jurassic Coast cliffs extending East into the firing ranges.
Clavell Tower itself has been much improved from its condition a few years ago. It has been extensively renovated and, believe it or not, moved. It was feared that ongoing cliff erosion would cause the tower to fall into the sea and so the whole thing has been moved back from the cliff edge and restored. The old foundations are still there to see, just a few tens of metres from where the tower now sits, keeping watch over magnificent views seawards and landwards. Anyone walking the South West Coast Path Eastwards from Kimmeridge will pass between the Tower and its old foundations...at least until the cliff erosion catches up!
Kimmeridge is a great place to walk the Coast Path from, but you’ll want to check whether the range sections are open before you set out. It’s also a great place for just wandering around or sitting and enjoying as a beach. The rocks can be slippery and there’s not much by way of sand, so if that’s what you’re after, you are better off heading to Weymouth or Swanage. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful bay in a beautiful part of Dorset.
Getting to Kimmeridge Bay does incur a cost at busy times of the year. The toll road that leads to it will cost you about £5 depending on what sort of vehicle you’re in, but for that you do get to park all day. There are toilets and a small shop as well as the visitor centre down by the shore, but other than that, what you go for is the location, the rocks and the sea.
This is the sort of place you go to for the day, especially if you want to steer clear of glitz and trinkets. Or it's a place you can call into for an hour or so for a picnic lunch and some seascape and scenery.
Kimmeridge can easily be tagged on to visits to Lulworth, Tyneham, Corfe or Swanage. And if you like open space and fresh, sea air, you won’t be disappointed. If you can, pick a day when the roads and walks across the ranges are open. It makes getting about by car much easier and walking much more rewarding.
And don’t forget, a trip down from the top of the low cliffs at Kimmeridge to beach level isn’t only a stroll of a few hundred metres, it’s also a walk of 155 million years, down into the world that time forgot!
Kimmeridge and the land around and under it have contributed hugely to our understanding of the world’s prehistory. It has also contributed quite a bit to the national economy. "