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Exploring Chapman's Pool along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset

Fossil Coast in collaboration with Matt Pinner one of Dorset's leading professional landscape photographers explores Chapman’s Pool a wild, rugged and secluded bay along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and a short walk from the picturesque Isle of Purbeck village of Worth Matravers.

(Image by Matt Pinner)

Upon first impressions Chapman’s Pool resembles the horseshoe shape of Lulworth Cove but instead of limestone the Pool is bordered by the distinctive grey fossiliferous Kimmeridge shale with its high cliffs capped by Portland stone.

Chapman’s Pool was formed by a similar process to Lulworth Cove where the Portland Stone was breached by the erosion of the sea and then quickly eroded the softer rock behind. Today, the steep cliffs remain exposed and landslips are a regular occurrence.

The seaward entrance to Chapman’s Pool is guarded by the steep cliffs of Houns Tout (meaning “look out post of Houn”) to the west and Emmetts Hill and St Aldhelm’s Head to the east. These areas of high ground are thought to have historical military importance with uninterrupted views to the Isle of Portland and Durlston Head.

Chapman’s Pool looks like an excellent location for fossil hunting especially as this location exposes the Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay synonymous for marine reptiles, ammonites and shells.

The best place to see a bounty of curated fossils from the Kimmeridge Shales is to visit The Etches Collection an internationally recognised collection of Kimmeridge Shale fossils curated by Dr. Steve Etches housed in nearby Kimmeridge Village.

The Kimmeridge Clay of the Upper Jurassic was once a soft sediment deposited between 158-148 million years ago when this area was a deep warm sea whose sea bottom was deep enough to be undisturbed by storms. The Kimmeridge Clays have since risen above sea level creating these fossil rich grey cliffs.

The beach of Chapman's Pool is safely visited during good weather, dry conditions and not during storms or at high tide when the waves may reach the foot of the cliffs. There is always the risk of slipping on rocks and rock fall therefore do not explore the cliffs unless you are wearing a safety helmet - even then its not advisable. Always look out for freshly fallen shale on the beach to identify areas of recent rock fall activity.

Walking down to Chapman's Pool is a steep trek on the footpath to the beach. On your way down you will see that there is a valley stream in a dell leading downwards to the beach known as Seven Wells Hollow. Once on the beach it is recommended to fossil hunt along the foreshore of the Pool among the shingle as hammering on the bedrock and unstable crumbling cliffs is not just not allowed the cliff face is dangerous.

Among the most fossil finds are the cephalopods known as ammonites including the fragile Pavlovia pallasiodes and Pavlovia rotunda that are best found preserved in rare Rotunda Nodules. Larger specimens can be seen at low tide on the surface of the shale rock pavement (see image above) that extends seawards from the base of the cliff. In the Kimmeridge Shale cliffs marine reptilians including plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, crocodiles, pterosaurs and turtles, have been found. Over time partial fossil remains may have made it to the foreshore where it is safest to explore.

So, be safe and always expect the unexpected in fossil hunting at Chapman's Pool!


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