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Discovering Swanage along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset

Fossil Coast in collaboration with Matt Pinner one of Dorset's leading professional landscape photographers explores the picturesque Isle of Purbeck town of Swanage on Dorset's Jurassic Coast famous for its Victorian Pier and views of Swanage Bay from Durlston Castle.

Views of Swanage Bay, Dorset along the Jurassic Coast

Swanage is located at the eastern gateway of the Jurassic Coast and is twinned with Rudesheim am Rhein in Germany. The towns history has seen it transform from a Victorian stone port to now a tourist resort ever since the railway opened in 1985 giving the Victorians the option to travel to Swanage to enjoy the clean air and bathe in the sea.

Fossil Coast recommends that you visit the Swanage Museum and Heritage Centre to learn more about the area, its history and where best to fossil safely hunt.

Among the towns attractions is the Swanage Railway that runs steam trains through the Isle of Purbeck, past Corfe Castle and onto Swanage. Durlston Castle and its 320 acre Country Park and nature reserve awarded Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status in 1997 to protect an important wildlife habitat for 33 species of breeding butterfly, over 250 species of bird recorded, 500 wildflowers, 500 moths and thousands of other species of plants and animals inhabiting the sea cliffs, downs, ancient meadows, hedgerows, woodland, and dry stone walls.


Swanage Pier


Apart from the vista of Swanage Bay a prominent feature of this well sheltered bay is Swanage Pier. Swanage Pier was originally constructed by the Victorian Swanage Pier and Tramway Company and is today owned and operated by the Swanage Pier Trust. Swanage Pier is one of only a few timber piers in the UK to exist today.

Old Swanage Pier, Dorset along the Jurassic Coast
Image by Matt Pinner - View of the Old Swanage Pier

The Old Swanage Pier was opened by John Mowlem in 1859 -1860 who was the founder of the Swanage based building firm Mowlem & Company and a significant benefactor to Swanage.


At the time the pier was built to ship a cargo of durable and hard-wearing Purbeck Stone used as a building and paving stone across the country.


This Purbeck Stone travelled from the nearby Langton Matravers quarries by a horse drawn narrow gauge tramway to waiting the boats.


In 1874 the pier was rebuilt as it could no longer manager the industrial traffic and a new and longer Pier was built. Today the pier is open throughout the year to the public for a nominal fee and many activities take place. There is also the opportunity to enjoy the 1859 Pier Café & Bistro for a breakfast, sandwich, cake or a lunchtime daily special.

Swanage Pier YouTube Video by Explorizm


A Discordant Coastline


Geologically Swanage Bay has a discordant coastline where Studland Bay (soft rock), Ballard Point (hard rock), Swanage Bay (soft rock) and Durlston Head (hard rock) are exposed to the impact of coastal erosion by both the sea and weather elements.


Unlike a concordant coastline where only a single hard rock faces the shore. Swanage Bay exposes a number of bands of softer rock that erode quicker than those of the more resistant hard rock leaving sections of land jutting out into the sea called "headlands". The areas where the soft rock has eroded away next to the headland these are known as bays. The town of Swanage is located within a bay.


Swanage Bay is a sandy bay facing east with low cliffs and banks of Upper Purbeck limestone and shale and sections of Early Cretaceous Wealden Group where dinosaur remains have been known to be found in these Cretaceous fluvial sediments.

Images by Benjamin-Elliot of Swanage Bay


This sedimentary rock of Swanage is made up of a series of Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous rock layers from the Purbeck and Wealden Groups. These were deposited between the Tithionian (152-145 million years ago) and Berriasian Ages (145-139 million years ago).


The Purbeck and Wealden Groups


The Purbeck Group is a series of mudstones, limestones and evaporite beds of rock laid down in a sub-tropical coastal forests, swamps, marginal freshwater, brackish and marine environments. The lower boundary of this Purbeck Group has a fine layered limestone rich in fresh and brackish ostracods whilst the upper boundary is also a limestone rich in Viviparus or freshwater snails, Unionidea or large freshwater mussels as well as the occasional remains of larger species such as turtles and crocodile have also been found.


The most common fossil found near New Swanage are ostracods (Cypridea), snails (Viviparus) and oysters. Further around Swanage Bay towards Ballard Cliff and Ballard Point ammonites (Schloenbachia and Sciponoceras), starfish, brachiopods, bivalves and echinoids can be found.


The Wealden deposits of the Lower Cretaceous belong to the Valanginian (140 million to 133 million years ago), Hauterivian (133 million to 129 million years ago) and Barremian Stages (129 million to 125 million years ago). These sediments are continental and mainly of fluvial or river deposited in origin. Wealden fossils are not common but can be found in the soft Wealden mudstones, sandstones and grits on the foreshore and between the boulders of Swanage Bay.


Swanage Dinosaur Footprints


During this time 140 million years ago, dinosaurs gathered by the water’s edge. The evidence of this was discovered by Kevin Keates and Trev Haysom local quarrymen in 1997. They found over 100 dinosaur tracks left behind in what is known as the Spyway fossilised dinosaur footprints at Keates Quarry.


This site managed by the National Trust accessible from the Priest’s Way a 4.75km stretch of the South West Coast Path connecting Swanage, Langton Matravers and Worth Matravers or from the nearby car park (BH19 3HG). These dinosaur footprints are believed to have been made by sauropods such as Brachiosaurus.

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