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Fossil Coast Explores Ladram Bay along the Jurassic Coast of East Devon

Fossil Coast in collaboration with Gary Holpin one of Devon’s leading professional photographers explores Ladram Bay along East Devon's Jurassic Coast mid-way between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth.

Looking Across Ladram Bay to High Peak - Image by Gary Holpin - Fossil Coast Drinks Co
Looking Across Ladram Bay to High Peak - Image by Gary Holpin

Ladram Bay is formed by a sequence of Mercia Mudstone sitting above the internationally important Otter Sandstone dating back to the Triassic Period (252 - 201 million years ago). The Triassic Period of East Devon's Jurassic Coast is pictured by the identifiable red rocks exposed along these cliffs.

East Devon along with the Midlands and South Wales are recognised as the main areas for Triassic Period rock exposures in the United Kingdom. The Triassic lasted approximately 50.6 million years and has three epochs called the Early Triassic, the Middle Triassic, and the Late Triassic.

The Otter Sandstone of Ladram Bay was deposited between the Anisian Age of the Mid Triassic Epoch 247.1 million – 241.5 million years ago and the Ladinian Age dated between 241.5 – 237 million years ago.

The Anisian Age name is derived from an area of limestone formations along the Anisus River at Grossreifling in the Austrian Alps. The Ladinian Age name is derived from the Ladini people of the Dolomites in northern Italy. The Mercia Mudstone was deposited during the Mid and Late Triassic Epoch including and up to the Rhaetian Age. This age name is derived from the Rhaetian Alps located in the cross-border area of Italy, Switzerland, and Austria.

During the Triassic Period Devon and Dorset would have been located at a latitude around 10 degrees more north experiencing hot and dry desert conditions. The Triassic Period and the early Jurassic epoch were one of the very few times in Earth's history where there is no evidence of polar caps. Over time both the mudstone and sandstone have turned red or effectively rusted as the iron contained in these rocks oxidised.

The Triassic Period began after Earth's worst-ever extinction event that devastated life and is the reason why the fossil record of the Early Triassic is seriously impoverished. The Permian-Triassic extinction event, also known as the "Great Dying" was responsible for the extinction of up to 90% of all species 252 million years ago and it was not until the Middle Triassic and when the Otter Sandstone was deposited that there was the recovery of life on Earth and milder environmental conditions.

A Ladram Bay Otter Sandstone Stack - Image by Gary Holpin - Fossil Coast Drinks Co
A Ladram Bay Otter Sandstone Stack - Image by Gary Holpin

There are a number of features found at Ladram Bay. Firstly, the red-coloured Ladram Bay rock stacks can be seen from the High Peak headland. These are known as Ladram Rock, George III Rock, Hern Rock, and the twins of Little and Big Picket Rock.

Another feature of the rocks and cliffs is the presence of cross-bedding. Cross-bedding or cross-stratification is a primary sedimentary feature and is characterised by sandy layers intersecting at different angles caused by their movement by the force of wind or water currents. At this time the environment was periodically transitioning from desert conditions where layers of sand created dunes and periods with the presence of water through climate change. This combination created the criss-cross pattern of cross-bedding.

Reptiles were common and the first dinosaurs evolved. The Triassic Period is largely defined by its book-ending extinctions and the time of the Earth's one restless giant landmass called Pangea. In terms of fossils, a Rhynchosaurus spenceri (“beaked lizard”) dated 238 million years was found near Ladram Bay within the Otter Sandstone. Believed to be a herbivore it grew to about 60 cm in length. The Rhynchosaurus spenceri is on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (see YouTube Video below).

In the lower sections of the Otter Sandstone Formation are also many vertical and irregular calcareous crystal structures known as rhizoliths or rhyzocretions representing the mineralised moulds and casts of ancient plant root systems that have long since died away leaving the presence of paleosols or ancient soils.

It’s hard to believe that Ladram Bay was once a wet sedimentary basin whose environment allowed habitats to develop and provided an opportunity for animals and plants to flourish and colonise the river systems during the Middle Triassic.

Visiting Ladram Bay can be either by the South West Coast Path or from the village of Otterton just off B3178 Budleigh to Sidmouth Road. If you intend to stay in Ladram Bay you may want to consider the 5 - Star Ladram Bay holiday park.

About Gary Holpin

Gary Holpin is a professional photographer based in East Devon, not far from the Jurassic Coast. Gary fell in love with the coastline of the southwest whilst walking the South West Coast Path, and this led him to become a photographer with a particular love for seascapes and capturing the beauty of our coastline. These days he does it professionally, and as well as landscapes he also specialises in providing photography services to tourism businesses, including property interiors & exteriors (hotels, B&B's), leisure & tourism locations (from glamping sites to tourist attractions to golf courses), aerial (drone) photography, and people and events (from corporate headshots to informal shots of customers enjoying tourist attractions). You can see more about Gary and his work on his website at as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


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