West, I.M. 2013. Ringstead Bay to White Nothe: Geology of the Wessex Coast (Jurassic Coast, Dorset and East Devon World Heritage Site). Internet field guide. By Dr. Ian West, Romsey, Hampshire and Visiting Scientist at Southampton University. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Ringstead-White-Nothe.htm. Version: 19th December 2013

Ringstead-to-White Nothe geological field guide

Ian West,

Romsey, Hampshire
and: Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences,
Southampton University,

Webpage hosted by courtesy of iSolutions, Southampton University
Aerial photographs by courtesy of The Channel Coastal Observatory , National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
Website archived at the British Library

Click here for the full LIST OF WEBPAGES

See also the related webpage:

White Nothe to Bats Head

(You can download this educational site to SurfOffline or similar software to keep an offline copy, but note that updating of the live version takes place periodically.)

See also: White Nothe to Bat's Head Webpage

White Nothe near Weymouth, Dorset, with a cloud plume, as seen from near Ringstead, September 2006

A view of White Nothe, a headland of south-dipping Chalk, as seen from Bran Point near Osmington Mills, Dorset, 2nd March 2009

White Nose, a Dorset headland, with the base of the Smugglers Path shown

Aerial view of the ledges between Bran Point, Osmington Mills, and Ringstead, Dorset, courtesy of the Channel Coastal Observatory

Home and Contents | | Osmington - Pt. 1 - Introduction |Osmington - Pt. 2 - Osmington Mills to Ringstead |Osmington Pt. 3 - Bencliff Grit |Osmington Pt. 4 - Osmington Oolite | |Osmington Pt. 5 - Osmington Mills to Black Head | Osmington - Pt. 6 - Corallian Fossils | Osmington - Pt. 7 - Bibliography | |Lulworth Cove |Stair Hole |Fossil Forest | Dungy Head |Durdle Door

See also: White Nothe to Bat's Head Webpage

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Access and Car Parking

There is a small, relatively secluded, tarmac and grass car park near the beach at Ringstead (SY 753814). with a kiosk for snacks, maps, beach goods and fish. It is approached by a narrow private toll, a branch off the road from Upton and the A353 main road to Weymouth (there is a rather awkward hilly junction just round the bend south of Poxwell). There is a car park fee and coaches are no permitted, at least without prior arrangement. The land around is privately owned and there is no other parking nearby (except the South Down car park mentioned below). It is good for cars and minibuses, and is much used by wind-surfers and to some extent by coastal walkers (a good starting point for walks!). There are toilet facilities adjacent, but no pubs, shops or anything except some bungalows and a caravan site. This is the best car park for Ringstead cliffs and the foot of the White Nothe landslide.

From the car park there is an easy path, the South West coast path, along the cliff top to Burning Cliff and onto White Nothe. Alternatively, you can walk eastward along the beach of Ringstead Bay in the direction of White Nothe. This car park also enables access to Bran Point and the Corallian section to the east, but this is usually approached from Osmington Mills where coaches can turn.

An alternative car park, particularly suitable for walking directly to the top of White Nothe, is above South Down Farm (at SY 760823). This is a large open field car park, on a hill top with a good view. It belongs to the National Trust; it has no toilets or any facilities and there is no charge. This car park is also approached from the A353 and the narrow road through Upton. From this car park there is trackway east heading for White Nothe, or you can go down (on foot) past South Down Farm to Burning Cliff (eastern part of Ringstead Bay) and a cliff top path to White Nothe.

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Safety and Risk Assessment

The high cliff paths on the chalk up and around White Nothe, including the Smugglers Path, all have some risk of slipping and falling from the cliff. These are high and dangerous and much care should be taken. Do not leave recognised paths and do not venture too close to the cliff edges of crumbly chalk. Do not climb, particularly on the chalk cliffs. It is sad to note that a walker fell from the cliffs in the White Nothe area in December 2006. See the BBC New Website (2007) - Cliff Walker Fell 200ft to Death.

In some places there is risk of falling rock, mostly near White Nothe where the cliffs are steeper. In such places safety helmets should be worn and places avoided where there are signs of recent rock fall.

There is hazard from sea and tides if walkers continue along the beach southeast towards the end of White Nothe. It is not possible to enter the beach to the east and one must be careful of being trapped in this area. Do not try any hazardous climbs here.

Be careful not to hammer flint or chert. High velocity splinters are a serious risk to the eyes. Wear goggles for any hammering.

In places there are slippery rocks on the shore. Take care with these.

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Geological Field Trips and Walks

View of the Chalk cliffs of the Dorset coast from White Nothe to Bat's Head and Swyre Head, as seen from Weymouth, Dorset, with zoom lens, 24th March 2009

View of the Chalk cliffs of the Dorset coast from White Nothe to Bat's Head and Swyre Head, as seen from the rather hazardous upper slopes of White Nothe cliffs, old photograph of Ian West

The Fountain Rock, east of White Nothe, is something of a Dorset secret, but it shows good horizonal Chalk at about the axis of the foresyncline, old photo from Kestin

There are several possibilities:

1. Cliff Top Walk from White Nothe eastward to Durdle Door.
This is a long walk to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. This is a spectacular but hard walk along steep hills and valleys above rather dangerous, high chalk cliff tops. Careful observation at intervals will enable you to see the abrupt synclinal folding of the Chalk. You may use vehicle transport back from Durdle Door or Lulworth Cove or else you may walk back by a less hilly route. If you follow the coast fairly closely this trip is more like fell-walking than normal coastal walking and is one of the most energetic walks on the Wessex Coast. You may wish to start from the beach and thus include the Smugglers Path, mentioned below.
Take great care not to approach the Chalk cliff edges, because these are very dangerous. There is no route to the beach between White Nothe and Scratchy Bottom, near Durdle Door. There is an easier path a little further inland on the hill top. Fountains Rock is hazardous, and the walk should not be made to the end of Bat's Head. When descending on the east side of Bat's Head, do not rush and keep well back from the cliff edge. This is not a very safe area.

2. Ringstead to the White Nothe Landslide.
Walk from Ringstead along the beach to first part of the landslide of White Nothe and return. This is relatively easy. It is good for detailed geological study and perhaps some fossil collecting.

3. South Down Car Park to White Nothe.
Walk from South Down car park to the top of White Nothe and back. This is easy because it is mostly on a plateau at about 140 metres with no major hill-climbing. It is very good for viewing the geomorphology. It is low risk, as long as the cliff-edge is not approached.

4. Smugglers Path Route
Walk from Ringstead (or South Down Farm) to the beach at Burning Cliff (there is a downward path from the cliff top path). Examine the rather poor Kimmeridge Clay exposures and continue on to the landslide of White Nothe. After a short distance you may encounter a sloping ladder without side rails (however, with cliff erosion it is, of course, not guaranteed to be there in the future). Proceed up this and onto the White Nothe Undercliff (landslide). Walk southeast to the beginning of the Smugglers Path. This zizags up to the 160 metre summit. It is not physically difficult and it would not bother someone accustomed to mountain heights. It does, however, cross for a short distance a 45 degree long grass slope down to the outer cliffs, and may be unsuitable for children. The path will take you to the top of White Nothe, and a return can be made by the much easier cliff-top path northwest to Burning Cliff or to South Down car park.

5. Burning Cliff and Beach to the Foot of White Nothe.
This is a beach scramble for examining the Cretaceous fallen debris of White Nothe. Safety helmets are advised, and there are many irregular and slippery rocks to cross. Do not try to climb beyond the foot of White Nothe. The next beach is inaccessible except by boat.

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Ringstead Bay

Ringstead Bay, Dorset, as seen from the northwestern part of White Nothe

Beach at Ringstead, Dorset, with sea defences obscuring Kimmeridge Clay exposures, September 2006

LOCATION: Burning Cliff, Ringstead

Map showing the Burning Cliff and White Nothe area near Weymouth, Dorset

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Please go to: Burning Cliff section in the Kimmeridge oil shale fire webpage for information on the cliff fire in 1826 at Burning Cliff, Ringstead Bay, Dorset.

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Portland and Purbeck - Holworth House Area

A view eastward near Holworth House, Ringstead Bay, Dorset, showing north-dipping Portland Stone, with, in the distance, south-dipping Chalk

A rock fall in the Portland and Purbeck cliff section at Holworth House, Ringstead Bay, Dorset, 26th May 2013, photograph by Alan Holiday

Walk from Ringstead car park or from South Down car park to the cliffs just west of Holworth House. Here Portland and Purbeck Beds dipping 30 north are unconformably overlain by Gault with the overlying Upper Greensand dipping 12 southeast. The Portland and Purbeck strata are cut out (or displaced to the north) to the west by the Holworth House Fault which has a downthrow to the east of about 45m (Arkell, 1947; House, 1993).

The succession of late Jurassic rocks seen at Holworth House is as follows:

Purbeck Formation, above

Portland Group, comprising:

----- Portland Freestone -------------- 6.4 m.
----- Portland Cherty Series -------- 10.4 m.
----- Portland Sand ------------------- 22.0 m.

Kimmeridge Clay

On the downthrown side of the fault a sequence down to the White Stone Band, 56m below the top can be traced; the Blackstone, the Kimmeridge Oil Shale is at shore level.

Townson (1975) noted that the Portland Freestone (his Wins pit Member) already differs from the facies at Lulworth by the introduction of lime muds (a "chalky" facies) in the upper part rather than oolites: this facies change is further emphasised to the west (House, 1993).

Portland and Purbeck strata in the cliff top, west of Holworth House, Ringstead Bay, Dorset, 2006

Portland succession ear Holworth House, Ringstead Bay, Dorset

Just to the southeast of Burning Cliff is a section with dipping Portland Stone in the upper part of the cliff. This is the westernmost of two sections near Holworth House (SY 764814) and shows the north-dipping strata under an Albian unconformity.

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Holworth House Area - Portland Group - Details

This is based on a succession described by Arkell (1935; 1947) with minor modifications, additions and some updating. The measurements were originally made in feet and inches, probably with some simplication to the nearest foot or six inches. They have been converted into metres but beware that this may result in an impression of spurious accuracy. Research workers should remeasure the section, although the list below should provide an initial guide and list of bed numbers. Some beds may need to be subdivided into a, b and c etc.

Notice that the oolitic Portland Stone was not well exposed when the section was measured by Arkell, because of previous quarrying. The western exposure has improved naturally to some extent because of landslide movement directly to the west. However, because of fallen boulders and vegetation it is not of very easy access now.

Comparison should be made to the section of Townson and other details on the Portland Stone in that paper. It contains useful sedimentological data.


HHPT. 27. "Roach": White micritic limestone, with many moulds of Laevitrigonia gibbosa, Protocardia dissimilis, Pleuromya, etc., and calcitic shells of Lima rustica and Camptonectes lamellosus. Equivalent of the Roach of the Isle of Portland, although that is oolitic.
0.39 metres (1 ft, 2 inches).

HHPT. 26. Limestone; a white, soft (slightly argillaceous ?) massive limestone (freestone), with broken shells, passing down into white micritic "Roach" in the lower two-thirds, full of moulds as above.
1.07 metres (3 ft, 6 ins)

HHPT. 25. Limestone; a white massive limestone (freestone) passing down into "Roach" with bivalve moulds as above; Isognomon listeri is common.
1.37 metres (4 ft, 6 ins)

HHPT. 24. Oolitic limestone, Portland Stone, which has been quarried. This is generally without chert. When Arkell studied this in 1937 the place was totally concealed by debris (thus, his thickness estimate below needs checking). Now, in 2006, because of landsliding of the Kimmeridge Clay area to the west the limestone is well-exposed.
3.66 metres approx. (12 feet approx.)

The Portland Cherty Series of Arkell, 1947 (Dancing Ledge and Dungy Head Members of Townson, 1975)

HHPT. 23. Oolitic limestone, with a few thin seams of chert.
1.5 metres (5 feet)

HHPT. 22. Oolitic limestone, but with more chert than in the overlying bed.
0.6 metres (2 feet)

HHPT. 21. White limestone, with chert bands.
1.8 metres (6 feet)

HHPT. 20. Chert band, continuous.
0.08 to 0.30 metres (3 inches to 1 foot)

HHPT. 19. White chalky limestone with large black chert nodules and broken shells, the lower part with Glomerula gordialis.
3.50 metres (11 feet 6 inches)

HHPT. 18. Shelly limestone, with large Isognomon bivalves; no chert.
0.60 metres (2 feet)

HHPT. 17. Serpulite: white chalky limestone, full of the serpulid, Glomerula gordialis.
1.52 metres (5 feet)

HHPT. 16. Basal Shell Bed (c.f. The Basal Shell Bed of the Isle of Portland). Limestone full of shells, now of calcite. These include Trigoniae.
0.60 metres (2 feet)

(Total for Portland Freestone - 10.51 metres (34 feet 6 inches))


HHPT. 15. Argillaceous micritic limestone ("cementstone") with vertical fractures.
0.30 metres (1 foot)

HHPT. 14. Whitish argillaceous, micritic limestone ("cementstone") with irregular splintery fracture, often spheroidal, weathering red in places.
0.91 metres (3 feet)

HHPT. 13. Black clay.
0.46 metres (1 foot 6 inches)

HHPT. 12. Marly clay and marl, more or less hardened towards base
0.76 metres (2 feet 6 inches)

HHPT. 11. Sandy, nodular micritic limestone (cementstone), the nodules with cherty centres. The lower part is very hard and projecting.
1.52 metres (5 feet)

[An even bedding-plane]

HHPT. 10. A sandy, very hard micritic limestone (cementstone), less nodular and cherty.With the lower projecting part of the bed above this forms a prominant bluff. Glaucolithites (typical), Ostrea expansa, Isognomon, Lima moulds (?), patches of Glomerula gordialis and Nanogyra nana.
0.76 metres (2 feet 6 inches)

HHPT. 9. A sandy micritic limestone, or cementstone, with a strong odour (a stinkstone), rubbly, less hard. It contains the common Portland Sand ammonite Glaucolithites, moulds of the bivalves: Myophorella incurva, Modiola autissiodorensis, Protocardia calcarea and Plicatula.
1.06 metres (3 feet 6 inches)

HHPT. 8. Soft rubbly calcareous sandstone full of moulds of Trigoniae.
0.30 metres (1 foot)

HHPT. 7. Nanogyra nana Bed ; Rubbly, sandy cementstone, packed with the small oyster Nanogyra nana, also small examples of the ammonite Glaucolithites and examples of clavellate forms of Trigoniae
0.76 metres (2 feet 6 inches)

(Total of Portland Sand to the base of the Nanogyra Bed - 6.86 metres (22 feet 6 inches))

HHPT. 1-6. Sandy marls, soft, greenish-brown, with semi-indurated bands, seen to about -
15 metres (50 feet)

[end of exposed section, but more Portland Sand lies beneath concealed by vegetation and debris]

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White Nothe - General

"Recently there has been a landslide at White Nore, covering several acres and bringing down masses of chalk from the upper part of the cliff"

(Damon, 1884, p. 131)

The landslide of Chalk in back-rotated blocks, White Nothe, near Weymouth, Dorset, looking from the Smugglers' Path northwest towards Ringstead Bay, 2011

White Nothe near Weymouth, Dorset, with a cloud plume, as seen from near Ringstead, September 2006

Students walk easst beyond Bran Point, near Osmington Mills, Dorset, towards Ringstead, with White Nothe in the distance

White Nothe, Dorset, in 1981, seen from Ringstead

Old photograph of White Nothe, east of Weymouth, Dorset, Arkell, pre-1933

Old photograph of White Nothe, east of Weymouth, Dorset, Kestin, 1930s or 40s

Changes in exposure of Chalk and vegetation at White Nothe, from 1933 to 2006

A diagrammatic geological cliff section from Burning Cliff to White Nothe, east of Weymouth, Dorset, based on Strahan (1898)

A selection of photographs of White Nothe from different dates is given above, together with an explanatory section diagram. The older photographs show that the promontory was still relatively white until the 1930s or 1940s. Like the cliffs at the back of Lulworth Cove the white chalk has now mostly been covered by green vegation. The White Nothe, White Nore or White Nose has turned green. This is a general trend with regard to the chalk cliffs of Dorset, but the near-vertical ones still remain mostly white.

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Chalk Outcrops of White Nothe

Chart for the Chalk of southern England relating older Chalk Zones to the modern lithostratigraphic schemes of Mortimore and the British Geological Survey

A simplified table is provided here to assist translation of older Chalk terminology into newer terms used by Mortimore and by the British Geological Survey (e.g. Inoceramus labiatus Zone equals Holywell Nodular Chalk Formation). Because reference is made to both older and more recent literature, it is necessary to know both terminolical schemes.

Smugglers Path on the Chalk Cliffs of White Nothe, east of Weymouth, Dorset

We ascend Smugglers Path, White Nothe, Dorset, the old escape route in Moonfleet, taking care not to slip off down to the sea to the right

Chalk fossils

More Cretaceous  Fossil

Cretaceous echinoids

The general stratigraphy, sedimentology and origin of the Chalk is not discussed here in detail. The reader is referred to Gale and Kennedy (2002) in Smith and Batten's (2002) guide to Fossils of the Chalk.

The Chalk of White Nothe in particular has been discussed in old terminology by (1901) and subsequently summarised by Davies (1935; 1956). We will first discuss the Chalk in these terms and then subsequently add later work and new terminology.

White Nothe is a headland of Chalk, 160 metres high. Below it are good sections of the Chalk which is not crushed as it is further east, in the Lulworth area (where there are major Tertiary compressional features).

A small landslide near the souhern end of White Nothe, Dorset, 26th May, 2013

The cottages of the former Coastguard Signal Station at the top of White Nothe stands on Chalk of the Micraster coranguinum zone, with Marsupites testudinarius Chalk exposed 100 yards to the east. The Smugglers Path, shown in photographs here, descends to the top of the undercliff, traversing the Micraster coranguinum, the Micraster cortestudinarium, and Holaster planus zones. All these are flinty chalk, the lines of flint being more regular in the Micraster coranguinum zone than in those below. The two Micraster zones are somewhat iron-stained, especially cortestudinarium.

The Holaster planus chalk, on the other hand, is marly and greyish in colour . Yellow bands of nodular chalk occur in it and pass up into the other two zones, but there is no true Chalk Rock, and the characteristic fauna of that horizon is absent. Lower down and turning north-westward along the undercliff, we find another good face in the Holaster planus zone at the top of the talus below the adjoining bluff. The zone of Terebratulina lata is practically flintless. That of Inoceramus labiatus is nodular chalk with one line of flints near the top. Then, the beds dipping gently to the E.N.E., we reach the grey, marly Actinocamax plenus Chalk, Holaster subglobosus Chalk, also marly, and then, still descending the sequence, the Chalk Basement Bed with Holaster subglobosus abundant at its base. This is only a metre thick and rests on the chert beds of the Upper Greensand.

We now pass to the shore section. The Chert Beds form a small bench projecting into the sea below the southern point of White Nothe, and above them is the Lower Chalk. The beds are at first nearly horizontal, but further east they begin to dip in the same direction, gently at first and then more steeply, toward a syncline at Middle Bottom.

The cyclical appearance of the foot of White Nothe is due to hard chalk beds and softer marly beds in the Cenomanian, particularly the Holaster subglobosus Zone. The grey plenus marl can be recognised.

Study of the sequence beyond the end of White Nothe, that is to the east requires the use of a boat. The long beach with high Chalk Cliffs is not otherwise accessible from the land (although I have reached it by swimming round Bats Head - this is not recommended!).

(to be continued)

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Please go to the related and continuing webpage:

White Nothe to Bats Head


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I am very grateful for the continued support for the continuation of this website by the Head of and the Staff of the School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, Southampton University. The hosting of the website is by Information Systems Services of Southampton University, to whom I am very grateful. I very much appreciate the kind help and cooperation of the Channel Coastal Observatory in making available excellent aerial photographs of the region of study. The assistance of many members of geological field parties is appreciated, and I particularly thank Alan Holiday for donation of photographs for this and associated webpages. My wife Cathy has very kindly provided background support for the production of this and all the other webpages.

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See also: White Nothe to Bat's Head Webpage

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Copyright © 2013 Ian West, Catherine West, Tonya Loades and Joanna Bentley. All rights reserved. This is a purely academic website and images and text may not be copied for publication or for use on other webpages or for any commercial activity. A reasonable number of images and some text may be used for non-commercial academic purposes, including field trip handouts, lectures, student projects, dissertations etc, providing source is acknowledged.

Disclaimer: Geological fieldwork involves some level of risk, which can be reduced by knowledge, experience and appropriate safety precautions. Persons undertaking field work should assess the risk, as far as possible, in accordance with weather, conditions on the day and the type of persons involved. In providing field guides on the Internet no person is advised here to undertake geological field work in any way that might involve them in unreasonable risk from cliffs, ledges, rocks, sea or other causes. Not all places need be visited and the descriptions and photographs here can be used as an alternative to visiting. Individuals and leaders should take appropriate safety precautions, and in bad conditions be prepared to cancell part or all of the field trip if necessary. Permission should be sought for entry into private land and no damage should take place. Attention should be paid to weather warnings, local warnings and danger signs. No liability for death, injury, damage to, or loss of property in connection with a field trip is accepted by providing these websites of geological information. Discussion of geological and geomorphological features, coast erosion, coastal retreat, storm surges etc are given here for academic and educational purposes only. They are not intended for assessment of risk to property or to life. No liability is accepted if this website is used beyond its academic purposes in attempting to determine measures of risk to life or property.

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Dr Ian West, author of these webpages

Webpage - written and produced by:

Ian West, M.Sc. Ph.D. F.G.S.


at his private address, Romsey, Hampshire, kindly supported by Southampton University,and web-hosted by courtesy of iSolutions of Southampton University. The website does not necessarily represent the views of Southampton University. The website is written privately from home in Romsey, unfunded and with no staff other than the author, but generously and freely published by Southampton University. Field trips shown in photographs do not necessarily have any connection with Southampton University and may have been private or have been run by various organisations.