Ringstead Bay is well known for its slumping low cliffs. Bad weather gradually erodes them and more fossils regularly appear on the shore after heavy rain and storms. However, the storms over the last two months (January & February 2014) have had a significant impact on the shoreline in this location – as you would perhaps expect given the media coverage of the dramatic changes to be seen on Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland only a few miles away, which are actually visible from Ringstead.
The first thing I noticed on my visit of 1st March was that I couldn’t go to the eastern part of Ringstead Bay where I usually prefer to walk. This is the part that leads to the White Nothe chalk cliff. The lower half of the wooden access steps had been destroyed in the storms; and descent to the eastern shore from just past the caravan site was dangerous and impossible for me. I returned to the coastal path to find another point of entry to the beach – walking further eastwards to the zig-zag path that crosses the undercliff near the “Burning Cliff”. This is steep and not hazard-free at the best of times but right now is officially closed as parts of the path have slipped away altogether.
I retraced my steps to the cluster of houses near the car-park and went to the beach via the concrete slipway, turning right and westward as I reached the shore. This direction leads to Bran Point and Osmington Bay. On every visit to this particular place over the last 14 years there have been pebbles, large pebbles, and lots of them. They shift around a bit, sometimes a gradually flattened slope to the water line, and at other times piled up into steep terraces. But always millions of pebbles. Now there were none. Not a single one. Just coarse sand with maybe a bit of pea gravel as far as the eye could see.
Isolated rocks bearing fossil assemblages stood proud of the sand. The soft cliffs had been scrubbed by the storm surges to remove the surface vegetation on the lower levels revealing strata previously hidden from sight. Slides and falls of mud, rocks, and clays had left fresh surfaces exposed to view. Intriguing ‘fracture’ patterns decorated the clays as they began to dry out.
It has always been possible to see exposures of the Jurassic Period rock strata at the top of the Ringstead shore. The low cliffs at the western end of the bay are mostly made up of Later Corallian Formation Beds and Kimmerdge Formation Clays above them. The way these rock beds have slumped is an expected feature at this location.
However, the strata have to some extent always been obscured on my many previous visits by overgrowing vegetation, superficial weathering deposits, and of course the pebbles. The big difference now, at least for the moment, is that most of the pebbles have been washed away and those that remain seem confined to one area. The earlier exposures of rock have been scoured by the storms to present fresh clean faces. The new rock falls and slides have uncovered new sections and revealed more fossils.
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