West, Ian M. 2019. Worbarrow Bay, Dorset; Geology of the Wessex Coast of England (World Heritage Site, Jurassic Coast). Internet site. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/worbar.htm. Version: Partially revised: 11th September 2019.
Worbarrow Bay Field Guide

Ian West,

Romsey, Hampshire
and Visiting Scientist at:
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

Lulworth Cove | Mupe Bay | Lulworth Bibliography | Purbeck Palaeoenvironments | Portland Dinosaur Footprints |Durlston Bay, Middle Purbeck (Berriasian - Cretaceous) |Durlston Bay - Lower Purbeck (Jurassic-Cretaceous) |Durlston Bay - Central Zigzag Part and Coast Erosion |Durlston Head - Lower Purbeck Formation & Portland Stone

Click here for the full LIST OF WEBPAGES


Worbarrow Bay - a general view in 2019

Cliffs of Chalk between Rings Hill, Flower's Barrow, Worbarrow Bay and Arish Mell, near Mupe Bay, Dorset, view from Worbarrow Tout

Beach in Worbarrow Bay, looking northwest

View from below Flower's Barrow Fort to Mupe Rocks, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, year 2003

At the car park at Tyneham for visiting Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, - walk down from here, seen at a hot day, 15th August 2019

The car park at Tyneham for visiting Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, looking northward with the Chalk hills behind, 15th August 2019

At the display and museum area, near the car park, Worbarrow Bay, with old shells and a duck, 15th August 2019

Going to Worbarrow Bay, walking from the car park westward to the cliffs, on the track, photograph 15th August 2019, Ian West

Walking down to Worbarrow Bay from the car park, now at the coast, thus decide, go right to Worbarrow Bay, or left into Pondfield Cove, photograph 15th August 2019, Ian West

A view of Pondfield Cove, near Worbarrow Bay, looking west, and showing Lower Purbeck strata, including a cargneule,  2011

Arriving at the southern end of the main beach of Worbarrow Bay, adjacent to Worbarrow Tout, 15th August, 2019

Ian West on the main beach of Worbarrow Bay, 15th August, 2019

An ochre spring emerging from a thin sandstone bed in the Wealden Group of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th April 2009

Worbarrow Bay (also spelt "Worthbarrow" or "Warbarrow") provides one of the best coastal sections of Cretaceous strata in Europe. At the southern part of the bay the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary is near the base of the limestones and shales of the Purbeck Formation. Wealden fluvial clastics, with lignite, represent much of the Lower Cretaceous above the Purbecks. There is a small amount of Lower Greensand, then Gault and Upper Greensand with Chalk stratigraphically above, but dipping steeply to the north. This is seen in the cliffs at Cow Corner in the northern part of Worbarrow Bay.

Worbarrow Tout, with Purbeck succession, seen from the north

Open University Geological Society on Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, July 2004

The Purbeck lagoonal limestones and shales are exposed in the cliffs of the promontory of Worbarrow Tout (tout = a lookout) and are particularly interesting. They contain dinosaur footprints, and have abundant brackish water bivalves, gastropods and ostracods. Sedimentary features at Worbarrow include nodular and enterolithic gypsum, satin-spar, calcitised evaporites, dolomite, celestite, cone-in-cone calcite and freshwater chert. An unusual feature in the Upper Purbecks is authigenic glauconite occurring within freshwater gastropod shells.

Go back to top



Worbarrow Bay is within the Army Ranges. It is important to follow the regulations of the ranges and particularly not to interfere with or pick up any metallic object that might be an unexploded shell or weapon of some sort. Stay within the official range walks or on the beach.

The western side of Worbarrow Tout is important in terms of geology but has higher risk than most parts of the Worbarrow Bay area. There is significant risk of falling rock debris here and the state of the cliffs near examination and consideration at the time. Do not loiter here if there are signs of material having fallen recently, and if any is seen or heard to fall, move away to safety immediately. Note particularly that there are dangerous overhangs in the Purbeck Formation which should be avoided (they are similar to the overhang on the east side of Lulworth Cove where there have been fatalities) . Safety helmets need to be worn in this area. Scrambling on the rocks of Worbarrow Tout can be hazardous and cliff-climbing is not recommended; the westward-projecting promontory of Portland Stone has some features of geological interest at the landward end, but if one proceeds further there is some risk of sliding on the rocks or falling into the sea. Although the tidal range is not great it is frequently possible to be cut off by the tide at the western side of Worbarrow Tout. The danger is greater if the high tide coincides with a rough sea.

Treacherous mud can occur in part of the Wealden outcrop. The steep Chalk cliffs at the northern part of the bay are dangerous for climbing, and there may be falls of chalk here so care should be taken. Pondfield Cove has some risk of falling rock from the Purbeck Formation at the eastern and western sides and some caves and overhangs which not entirely safe. Note that you cannot climb round from Pondfield Cove to the foot of Gad Cliff. There is possibility of falling from cliffs particularly at Worbarrow Tout, but the risk is not high if the walker is careful to stay on the footpath and does not proceed west along the arrete at the tout.

Individual geological, geographical and environmental visitors, field leaders and project students should make their own risk assessments and no liability is accepted.

Go back to top


Location and Access

Isle of Purbeck Location Map

Worbarrow Bay (SY 867802) and Worbarrow Tout (see maps above) are within the Army firing ranges, which are used for tanks. This is not the problem to visitors that it might appear to be. The bay is open at most weekends and bank holidays and usually for a longer period during August. The Army authorities are very cooperative to geologists and public in general and take care of conservation of the area. The place has a certain remoteness which is a pleasant result of it being in the ranges. There are inevitably certain rules and there are range wardens in the area who are concerned with safety and conservation but there is no feeling of severe supervision and little sign of military activity.

The road down to Tyneham car-park (from which there is an easy walk to the bay) is narrow and coaches cannot visit it without special arrangements and permission because they would block the road. There is straitforward access for cars and mini-buses and the car-park at Tyneham is large (map reference - SY 882802), and there are toilet facilities. Please contact the Royal Armoured Corp range office if you have enquiries. From the car-park there is a easy and level 1.4 km walk along a track to the shore. You cannot normally drive to the beach.

For the walker there are excellent coastal "Range Walks" to Gad Cliff, to Kimmeridge and also to Arish Mell and Mupe Bay (and on to Lulworth Cove). These are signposted from Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay.

View of Worbarrow Bay from cliffs of Bindon Hill, above Mupe Bay

Go back to top


Geological and Bathymetric Maps

It is recommended that the reader purchase the 2000 edition of the 1:50,000 British Geological Survey Map, Swanage, Sheet 343 and part of 342, Solid and Drift

Simplified geological map of the coast from Lulworth Cove to Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, Wessex Coast

Old geological map of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Map of zones of the White Chalk at Mupe Bay and Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

A simplified geological map of the area is provided above. In addition part of an old geological map of the coast and a White Chalk zone map of Rowe and Sherborn (1901) is also here is shown. As a matter of interest, compare the position of the cliffs just northeast of Worbarrow Tout with the position shown on the current Ordnance Survey map and notice how rapid is the erosion of the Wealden strata here. Unless you are already familiar with the area to some extent, you will probably need the Purbeck 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey Map (Outdoor Leisure Series, no. 15) and the British Geological Survey Map, Sheet 342 or the Swanage Sheet, 342 (East) and part of 343.

A modified version of the BGS geological map of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

A multibeam bathymetry image of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, courtesy of the Channel Coastal Observatory

The multibeam bathymetry image of Worbarrow Bay, shown above should be compared to the BGS map, a small modified section of which is shown further above. The multibeam bathymetry image confirms that that the outer Portand and Purbeck stone outcrop is not broken by any major fault, although the BGS map shows one at Arish Mell. The bathymetry image reveals that the Kimmeridge Clay outcrop contains a number of north-south trending faults (as elsewhere). The westward overstep of the Wealden by the Albian in Worbarrow Bay is clearly shown. The Wealden is much thinner at Mupe Bay. Note that the continuation of the Coarse Quartz Grit of the Wealden across the bay is very well-shown on the bathymetry image. This confirms the discussion of this topic by Arkell (1947), pp. 158-159. He noted that the Wealden strata are of about 229 metres thick at Mupe Bay in contrast to 425 metres at Worbarrow Bay cliff section. The reduction has been to almost half. The Coarse Quartz Grit at Mupe Bay is 30 metres above the middle of the Wealden at Mupe Bay, whereas it is almost at the middle in the cliffs at Worbarrow Bay. Arkell commented that some 30 percent of the upper division of the Wealden was removed before the deposition of the (locally thin) Lower Greensand. (note that in the illustrations, and in some cases in the text, distinction is not always made between sub-Albian and sub-Aptian unconformities. They are related and closely adjacent phases of the Late Kimmerian unconformity. The well-known, sub-Albian is the major one.)

Go back to top


Strata at Worbarrow Bay and Worbarrow Tout - Introduction

Strata of the Lulworth Cove Region

This diagram shows the simplified succession of strata in the Lulworth Cove region. It applies in general to Worbarrow Bay and Worbarrow Tout, but the thicknesses are greater than those shown, which apply to Lulworth Cove. The Wealden Group, in particular, is much thicker. The Portland Sand is not accessible, but is present in Gad Cliff. The Kimmeridge Clay is not seen in the Worbarrow cliffs and lies offshore to the south. It is well-exposed at the type-locality of Kimmeridge, a short distance away to the southeast and on the other side of Gad Cliff. FF - Fossil Forest horizon, LGS - Lower Greensand (thin here), PL - plenus marl, a grey marl marking the boundary between Lower and Middle Chalk.

Go back to top


Worbarrow Bay - From the Sea

Worbarrow Bay and Gad Cliff from the sea Worbarrow Bay and Gad Cliff from the sea, with entrance to Pondfield Cove

Left: Worbarrow Bay, seen from the sea to the southwest, has a reddish cliff exposure of the Wealden Group between the Chalk (with thinner Gault and Upper Greensand) to the north and the Purbeck and Portland strata to the south. The Portland and Purbeck clearly show the northerly dip and continue eastward in the spectacular and overhanging Gad Cliff. The lower part of this cliff consists of Portland Sands (in fact largely marls with some dolomite and some thin sandstone beds) and the top of the Kimmeridge Clay beneath.

Right: Worbarrow Tout with north-dipping thin-bedded Purbeck limestones and shales, and with Gad Cliff rising away to the east. Gad Cliff has precipices of Portland Stone above marly Portland Sand. Kimmeridge Clay is beneath but fallen debris obscures the lower slopes.

Go back to top


Worbarrow Bay - Cliff Section

Cliffs from White Nothe to Worbarrow Bay, Dorset. Old diagram Worbarrow Cliff Section

Above left is an old diagram after Davies (1935) . It shows Worbarrow Bay in relation to adjacent parts of the coast. Above right is a cross section from Strahan (1898). It is a useful old diagram showing some more detail, including the positions of the main stratigraphical units in the cliffs of the bay.

Go back to top

GEOMORPHOLOGY - Worbarrow Bay Beach

View northwest toward northwestern part of the beach in Worbarrow Bay

View southward towards southern part of the beach in Worbarrow Bay Southernmost part of the beach in Worbarrow Bay with some sand and with beach cusps

The beach at Worbarrow Bay is a shingle beach of about one kilometre in length and in general trending from the southeast to the northwest, but with curvature, especially in the southern part. In general it faces the prevailing southwesterly winds and southwesterly waves which result. In this respect and in others it resembles the Chesil Beach on a smaller scale. It is a beach of dominantly flint pebbles, quite well-rounded almost like those of the Chesil Beach (except that there is much more Upper Greensand chert there) and unlike the subangular flint pebbles which are ubiquitous on the beaches of Hampshire, further east.

Shingle on the middle to the northwestern part of the beach in Worbarrow Bay Close-up of flint pebbles in the middle part of the  beach in Worbarrow Bay

The beach pebbles show some gradation in size from smaller pebbles in the northwestern part of the beach to larger pebbles at the southeastern end. The grading is not as perfect or as well-developed as on the Chesil Beach but there is a similar phenomenon on a smaller scale. A major difference is that the beach material here is mostly flint which can be supplied by the local Chalk, whereas the Chesil Beach has an abundance of Upper Greensand chert in addition to some flint and also some exotic pebbles.

Go back to top

GEOMORPHOLOGY - Tyneham Gwyle and the Origin of Pondfield Gap

The Wealden Valley at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Pondfield Gap from the cliffs above Worbarrow Bay

The Tyneham Gwyle and Pondfield Gap at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Possible origin of the Pondfield Gap by former southward route of the Tyneham Gwyle

The gap at the narrow isthmus at the landward end of Worbarrow Tout poses some interesting problems. What was the origin of Pondfield Gap? Was it formed by a northward flowing stream now destroyed by the formation of the cove, or was it formed by the Tyneham Gwyle (brook) when it once flowed southward to the sea at this point? Bury in 1936 discussed this interesting problem. His view was that the Tyneham Gwyle originally turned southward and flowed through the gap into Pondfield Cove. He considered that it has since been effectively captured by the sea as a result of coastal erosion and retreat of Worbarrow Bay towards the east. The matter, however, is not clear-cut and is open to discussion and individual assessments.

The conical hill of Worbarrow Tout is separated from Gad Cliff by the little inlet of Pondfield Cove. At the head of the cove there is a narrow neck of nearly level ground, about 11 m above O.D., falling away abruptly on its northern edge, but sloping more gradually to the south. This narrow isthmus clearly marks the floor of an old river-valley, and it is interesting as the only valley which cuts at all deeply into the long range of Jurassic hills, other than the valley that once continued south through Lulworth Cove (and, of course, a stream flowing south from Arish Mell and continuing the valley there should have cut the ridge in the past). Bury noted that while the little valley at Pondfield might at first sight be expected to be the small relic of a consequent stream flowing northward down the dip, the origin may in fact be less simple. The small longitudinal stream, the Tyneham Gwyle enters Worbarrow Bay a little to the north and runs across the sandy beach . This gwyle, which is little more than one and half kilometres in length, rises near Tyneham and flows in a steep-sided ravine. On either side of this ravine there is the broad flat floor of a mature valley which is followed by the gravel track from Tyneham to the sea. The difference in level between the ravine floor and the broader valley floor is about 11 m to 12 m near the mouth and diminishes upstream. Clearly there has been some relatively recent rejuvenation of this stream which has adjusted the bottom of its valley to a new level, but has not yet had time to spread laterally. As in the case of the Bournemouth and Isle of Wight chines and other places in Dorset this is probably due to coastal retreat moving the location of base-level landwards. This type of double valley pattern is very common in the region and can be seen at Kimmeridge , Chapmans Pool, Lulworth Cove, Anvil Point and many other places.

According to Bury (1936) there is likely to be some relationship between this old valley-floor, and the Pondfield isthmus, but there are two alternative ways of explaining it:-

Northward Flowing Stream at Pondfield. - The Pondfield stream may have flowed north, and joined the Tyneham brook, which then flowed as now into Worbarrow Bay, (or perhaps at an earlier stage, before the bay was well-developed, into a southward continuation of the Arish Mell stream); or

Tyneham Stream Originally Turned Southward. - The Tyneham brook may have originally turned sharply southward and flowed into the sea through the site of Pondfield Cove. In this cases its present channel into Worbarrow Bay would have been the result of a later capture or diversion.

Henry Bury (1936) put forward three argument for this second explanation - that the Tyneham stream once flowed southward at Pondfield:

1. Pondfield lies only a few hundred metres to the north of the axis of the Purbeck Anticline and the Portland and Purbeck stone ridge is generally unbroken elsewhere, for example Gad Cliff. It is improbable that a such a short consequent stream could have cut down here through the hard Portland Stone and the Purbeck limestones and shales to such a low level.

2. The remnant of the old stream-bed at Pondfield, although too short for accurate measurement, has a definate fall towards the south.

3. If the Pondfield stream had flowed north then there should be a trace of a ravine corresponding to the Tyneham Gywle. In other words there should be a clearer sign of the join of the streams.

These, then are Bury's arguments. The present writer is least convinced by the third argument. The Tyneham stream has been rejuvenated recently as a result of rapid coast erosion and retreat of the point at which it enter the sea at sea-level. If a Pondfield stream flowed from the south it may have well have done so before the deepening of the ravine. The southward slope of the Pondfield remnant may be due to recent erosion by flood water after heavy rain flowing down into the cove. All in all the arguments are not totally convincing but the original diversion to the south of the Tyneham Gywle proposed by Henry Bury (1936) seems quite possible, but not firmly proven. What seems likely from some comparison of maps is that the rate of coast erosion of the Wealden strata here is like that of the similar, but more extensive, Wealden coast of the southwestern Isle of Wight. It may be of the order of about half a metre per annum, and was perhaps even more in the past before the pebble beach was so well-developed. When the Flower's Barrow hill-fort (now partly cut away by the cliff) was built on Rings Hill the Wealden cliffs would have been far to the southwest, and Worbarrow Bay would have had a different and more curved shape like a large Lulworth Cove. Perhaps the reader would like to consider these matters futher, making further comparisions between present and old maps. In any discussion bear in mind the prevailing southwesterly wind and erosion by waves from this direction. An important complication, not well-understood is that (as indicated by Prestwich) there was an Ipswichian shoreline and perhaps raised beach like that of Portland somewhere to the south of the present coastline. There also exists the possibility of faulting south of Arish Mell. All these factors need to be considered.

The Arish Mell gap in the Chalk Ridge seems to indicate a stream flowing southward across the Worbarrow-Mupe Bay area in the past. The Pondfield gap was considered by Bury (1936) to have been too narrow to have accomodated the Arish Mell stream. He suggested that this pursued a separate course and probably provided the gateway by which, during a phase of marine transgression, the sea entered the region of soft Wealden strata and so initiated Worbarrow Bay. Thus two stream gaps close to each other are suggested and there is a resemblance between this model and the present situation at Corfe Castle where two streams pass through the Chalk ridge a short distance apart. At Corfe, however, the streams are flowing in the direction of dip, not against it.

Go back to top

GEOMORPHOLOGY - Did the Corfe River once flow through the Worbarrow-Mupe Gap?

Arkell (1947) did not agree with Bury's (1936) hypothesis for the origin of Worbarrow Bay. He considered the situation at the 100 feet (about 30m) local river terrace level. This has not been accurately dated in this area but is clearly pre-Ipswichian (because of the raised beach) and probably from about the Wolstonian or Hoxnian part of the Pleistocene. For the purposes of this discussion the exact date does not matter; what is significant is that there is evidence for the late ice-age character of the Corfe River. This now flows from a short distance east of Tyneham eastward to Corfe Castle and then north to Poole Harbour (examine the Ordnance Survey map). Arkell (1947, pp. 330-331) described a considerable deposit of current-bedded gravel at Bucknowle, about 1.5 km southwest of Corfe Castle.

"In Purbeck only two small patches of Plateau Gravel [periglacial river gravel on terraces] are known. The more important, a couples of acres in extent, caps a small hill on the Wealden Beds between Bucknowle House and West Bucknowle, one mile south-west of Corfe Castle. The level top of the hill is 100 ft. [30m] above the flood plain of the adjoining Steeple Brook or Corfe River. A gravel pit shows 14 ft. (4.26m) of well-bedded, medium-grained, subangular flint gravel with seams of rusty-coloured coarse sand and loam. The finer gravel and loam are false-bedded [cross-bedded] towards the east, in the direction of flow of the present stream. There are occasional larger flints, and rare pebbles of quartz, Wealden grit, Upper Greensand, Purbeck Beds, and quartzite (one found, 1.5 inches [3.8 cm] in diameter). Coarse flint flakes believed to be of human making are not uncommon [it is interesting to note that this is about the same height as the Boxgrove-Slindon raised beach of East Sussex and Hampshire which has human remains]. It was the river of this stage that cut the platform in the Chalk north-west of Corfe Castle. The gravel suggests a river much larger than could be supplied by the catchment of Steeple Brook [or Corfe River]."

On the basis of this discovery, Arkell (1947, p. 320) made the very sensible point that "at the 100-foot stage a volume of water was passing eastwards in the direction of the Corfe gaps too great to have been supplied by the catchments of Steeple Brook and Tyneham Brook combined, and

probably derived from a much larger area of Kimmeridge terrain via the Worbarrow-Mupe gap in the Portland escarpment.

Do you, the reader, agree with this? Does it demolish the Bury argument? Note that Arkell's theory may well indicate the Hoxnian or Wolstonian situation, but bear in mind that the geography was different by the time of the Ipswichian transgression and formation of the now raised beaches. Bury was probably discussing the Flandrian Stage (Holocene) or at least the very late Pleistocene and two hypotheses may not be totally incompatible. Arkell's idea about the initiation of the old river gap is a sound one, but this fluvial break in the Portland Stone ridge need never have been much lower than about 40 m until the Devensian. What do you think has really happened here (possible clues - the breach in the Portland Stone ridge between St. Aldhelm's Head and Portland, the origin of the Weymouth rivers)?

Go back to top

STRATIGRAPHY - Chalk at Worbarrow Bay

High Chalk cliffs at Mupe Bay, just west of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th August 2019

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

Map of zones of the White Chalk at Mupe Bay and Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Arish Mell, a small embayment in the Chalk Cliffs, as seen at a distance from the beach near Worbarrow Tout, Worbarrow Bay, 15th August 2019, Ian West

It is convenient in this particular guide to commence with the younger strata and proceed down through the Upper Greensand and Gault, Lower Greensand, Wealden Group, Purbeck and finish with the Portland Stone. The geographical direction is thus north to south, from Cow Corner to Worbarrow Tout. No Tertiary strata is seen in the bay, unless there is a small amount of Tertiary debris is solution pipes under Flower's Barrow (for archaeological information on Flowers Barrow hill-fort and an aerial photograph see Francesca Radcliffe's aerial archaeology website ). We commence the geology of the chalk section with views of the impressive Chalk cliffs in the north of the bay.

View from below Flower's Barrow Fort to Mupe Rocks, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Walking to the Chalk at Cow Corner, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

A high Chalk cliff with large-scale, landslide collapse, Worbarrow Bay,  Dorset, 15th August 2019, Ian West

A split, fallen block of chalk with flints, shown with some labelling, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th August 2019, Ian West

At the northwestern end of the beach at Worbarrow Bay, although the Chalk is exposed in the cliffs only parts can be reached. There is also much fallen chalk debris here, and, it should be noted, risk of more falling! The Lower Chalk (Cenomanian Stage) and some of the Middle Chalk (Turonian Stage) is accessible. In general in Dorset the Lower Chalk is cyclical and rather grey and marly. It is about 27.4 m thick at Worbarrow Bay Arkell (1938a) . The Middle Chalk is usually nodular. Neither of these contain much flint (although there can be a small amount in places), unlike the very flinty Upper Chalk. Marking the boundary between the Lower Chalk and the Middle Chalk is a grey marl, softer than the surrounding chalk. This is known as the Plenus Marl (or Marls). The names Lower and Middle Chalk have been widely used in the older literature but most of the Chalk now has new member and formation names, based on subtle lithological differences (see for example: Mortimore and Pomerol, 1987) . The intention for this and associated webpages is to use both old and new names so that the units can be easily recognised.

Worbarrow Bay is a notable place for unusual facies and thickness changes in a relatively short distance in the Late Jurassic (West, 1975) and in the Cretaceous (Drummond, 1970) , (Nowell, 1996; 1997a, 1998, 2001) . This has probably been caused by penecontemporaneous faulting, of the phase known as Late Kimmerian ("intra-Cretaceous" in the old literature). Worbarrow Bay is a complicated locality through which runs some branch of the major structural boundary between the English Channel Basin to the south and the South Dorset or Wytch Farm High to the north. The main result of this is the variation in thickness of most stratal units exposed between Worbarrow Bay on the east side and Mupe Bay on the west where there are usually thinner successions. However, even at Worbarrow Bay there are differences between the sequence of Chalk seen high in the cliffs somewhat to the east and the sequence seen effectively a little further west but down at near sea level at Cow Corner (the northwestern limit of the beach).

Eastward, in the cliffs the Chalk commences as is usual in this area with a Basement Bed. This is distinctive bed, 1.2 m thick, of rather soft, brownish, sandy chalk with scattered dark green grains of glauconite. It lies on a pitted and phosphatised surface of the topmost Upper Greensand (C.W. Wright in Arkell, 1947) . In the pockets of this many white, clayey casts of small ammonites have been found. They includeCalycoceras newboldi (Kossmat), Mantelliceras mantelli (J. Sowerby), Calycoceras gentoni (Brongniart), Scaphites aequalis J. Sowerby and Scaphites obliquus J. de C. Sowerby.

Worn specimen of large ammonite in a fallen block of Chalk Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Above the Basement Bed the Lower Chalk becomes harder, less sandy and grey in colour. Wright found that at 1.8 m from the base (base of the Lower Chalk?) a number of large worn ammonites, the nuclei of which were determinable as Mantelliceras cantianum Spath according to 0 C.W. Wright in Arkell (1947) . The specimen shown above may be one of these but this is not proven.

The next 6 m or so consists of hard grey chalk with scattered black flints, some with a brown cortex, some passing gradually into the matrix. Fossils are rare. There then follows 15 or 18 m of blocky chalk with a little marl and few fossils. The Plenus Marl (high Cenomanian) is a good marker bed, 1.8 m in thickness and greyer and softer than the strata above or below.

Chalk at Cow Corner, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

In the northwestern part of the Bay at beach level near Cow Corner, the base of the Cenomanian is different. It consists of dark glauconitic sand passing down into similar sand at the top of the Albian (C.W. Wright in Arkell, 1947) . Only a few ammonites have been found in the bottom 1.5 m of the Cenomanian and the junction has been drawn at the upper limit of Albian forms, 0.6 m above the nodule bed. Thus near the base of the Chalk at this locality the lithostratigraphic unit the Lower Chalk does not exactly correspond to the chronostratigraphic unit - the Cenomanian Stage. It is not abnormal that these do not coincide. It is abnormal that such a lithological change should take place in such a short distance.

The very top of the Cenomanian and the lower part of the Turonian Stage is represented here by the Ranscombe Chalk of Mortimore and Pomerol (1987). The Cenomanian part is the thickest exposed highest-Cenomanian in southern England and the thickening is probably again a result of local penecontemporaneous tectonics (at specific localities there were movements both up and down to a limited extent).

Nothing higher than part of the Middle Chalk, the Ranscombe Chalk, is accessible at Cow Corner. Chalk belonging to the "Inoceramus Labiatus Zone" and the "Terebratulina lata Zone" (these are part of the old "zonal" scheme of Rowe for dividing the Chalk and widely used in the past) can be examined on the wave-battered ledges at the point. They are not very fossiliferous but characteristic species have been found. Note that similar strata form the back of Lulworth Cove. On the beach there are boulders from higher parts of the Chalk, particularly the "Holaster Planus Zone". This is an old name for the uppermost part of the Turonian and is characteristed by rather softer chalk than that beneath and particularly by the presence of flints. This was classified at the lowest part of the Upper Chalk (although note that it isTuronian like most of the Middle Chalk beneath).

In terms of structure the Lower Chalk dips at 35° N. at the top of the cliff and bends down to 50° in a northward direction where it passes under the beach. Arkell (1947) mentioned that at the top of the Plenus Marl there is a mild Group 5 (of Arkell) fault, above which the basal beds of the Middle Chalk show the most remarkable development of fracture cleavage to be seen on this coast. The close-set cleavage planes, roughly vertical, have been etched out to perfection on the sea- and spray-washed cliff at the farthest accessible point of the bay (they have been figured by Arkell in Proceedings of Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society for 1940).

Go back to top


Upper Greensand and Gault

Slumped Gault at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Upper Greensand with Rotularia concava, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

The Gault Clay and the Upper Greensand are mostly Albian in age, and have a total thickness here of 57 m House (1993) . Slumped gault is shown in the left-hand photograph above, with perhaps some slumped Upper Greensand. The base of the Gault above the Lower Greensand is marked by a 0.3 m thick pebble bed of quartz and lydite (Palaeozoic black chert). The thin pebble bed may or may not be visible in the cliffs because of sliding of the Gault and associated strata. Furthermore because the area is within a firing range you may not be allowed to explore the upper cliff (where there could be tank shells). These rounded pebbles mark a plane of unconformity and represent the relics of an ancient pebble beach. On the basal pebble bed is a ferruginous, argillaceous stone band, 0.3 m thick (C.W. Wright in Arkell, 1947) , equivalent to the Benettianus Beds of Osmington. The main part of the Gault is a black and dark-green, glauconitic silty clay or loam. This dark-coloured, soft unit is responsible for many landslides at various places, and on the Isle of Wight it is known as the "Blue Slipper". It has caused landslides in Worbarrow Bay in the high cliff to the east of Cow Corner and fallen debris tends to obscure the exposure. The Gault contains Hoplites devisensis Spath and other ammonites. In the nodules ("doggers") of the landslips the echinoid Cardiaster latissimus has been found (C.W. Wright in Arkell, 1947) .

Upper Greensand - Chalk junction at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

The Upper Greensand consists of more massive sandstones and the exposure of this in the cliff is dependent on the the state of landslides. In the upper part is the Exogyra Rock, which at most localities on the Dorset coast is easy to find. This is a hard, rather nodular, sandstone, 1.8 m in thickness and it is full of the small brown bivalves - Exogyra conica, E. columba and other fossils. The familiar Upper Greensand, calcareous worm-tube - Rotularia concava (J. Sowerby) [Serpula concava in the older literature] is common throughout and also occurs in the Gault (see photograph above).

There is remarkable local variation in lithologies and thicknesses of the the Albian in this area. See Drummond (1970) for more information and for graphic logs.

Go back to top


Lower Greensand

The Lower Greensand (Aptian) is 25 m thick. It consists of grey and black sandstones with some ironstone and horizons of marginal marine bivalves (House, 1993) . The Punfield Marine Bed takes its name from Punfield Cove, near Ballard Cliff, Swanage. This is a fossiliferous ironstone with the bivalves Eomiodon and Cuneocorbicula (Casey, 1961) , and the gastropod Cassiope.

Go back to top


Wealden Group - General

Wealden of Worbarrow Bay, an overview from Worbarrow Tout, Dorset Part of the Lower Cretaceous Wealden strata of Worbarrow Bay

Wealden - old section diagram

Wealden of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset - general view from the beach

A diagrammatic sketch of the cliff section of Wealden strata at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, showing some of the stratigraphical units of Arkell (1947)

A view of the Wealden strata in the cliffs of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, as seen from Worbarrow Tout on the 15th April 2009, but shown with enhanced saturation

The Coarse Quartz Grit, a river channel sandstone in the cliffs of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, as seen from the beach, 15th April 2009

The Wealden strata are reddish, yellow with some cream and purple coloured sediments. They are Lower Cretaceous in age, late Berriasian, Valanginian, Hauterivian and Barremian. The facies is fluvial with coarse channel sandstones, overbank silts and clays and with some lignite beds. The latter sometimes occur in abandoned river channels. In terms of fossils there are some carbonised impressions of Equisetites (a horsetail) and some other foliage, and large logs of lignite that are common near the levels of the sand channels. Dinosaur bones have been found here but are relatively rare. Penecontemporaneous oxidation in the vadose zone (i.e. above the water-table) is responsible for some of the red and yellow colours. The water table was close to the sediment surface, though, and gley-type palaeosols are present.

Go back to top


Sequence of Strata

The Coarse Quartz Grit, and associated Wealden strata, as seen from the beach, 15th April 2009, with Arkell's subdivision numbers and some details added

A generalised succession of the Wealden strata of Worbarrow Bay is given below. This is modified and updated to some extent from a log of W.J. Arkell and C.W. Wright, originally measured in 1938, and published in Arkell (1947). The 35 units listed are useful, but there are not really sufficient subdivisions for the number and variety of beds actually present in the Wealden Group of Worbarrow Bay. However, it is a useful starting point for future, more detailed studies. The bed numbers of Arkell are preceded by "Ark". See also the vertical succession for the Wealden of Worbarrow Bay given by Strahan (1898), pp. 127-128.


(top - beneath the Lower Greensand)

Ark. 35. Sandstone, ferruginous, bright ochre and orange coloured, with an irregular surface. 0.25 - 2 ft, 0.076 - 0.6 metres.

Ark. 34. Sand, white with some white clay. 6.5 ft, 1.98 metres.

Ark. 33. Ironstone band, thin, blood red and purple, botryoidal, 2 to 3 inches, 5 - 7.6 centimetres.

Ark. 32. Sandstone, red, purple and orange. 18 ft., 5.5 metres.

Ark. 31. Sand, white and clays. 68 ft., 20.1 metres.

Ark. 30. Sands, red with blood-red and purple ferruginous bands. 33 ft., 10 metres.

Ark. 29. Gritstone bed, coarse. 1 ft to 2 ft. 0.3 to 0.6 metres.

Ark. 28. Clays, mainly slipped (a thick sequence that should be subdivided if possible). 214 ft., 65.2 metres.

Ark. 27. Sand, yellow. Approx. 10 ft., Approx. 3 metres.

Ark. 26. Clays, partly dark. 70 ft., 21.3 metres.

Ark. 25. Sand, yellow, cross-bedded. 6 ft., 1.8 metres. Ark. 24. Gritstone bed, coarse, ferruginous. 1.5 ft., 0.46 metres.

Ark. 23. Clay, sand and sandstone. 60 ft., 18.3 metres.

Ark. 22. Gritstone bed, dark, ferruginous and impersistent. 1 foot, 0.3 metres.

Ark. 21. Clays, mottled (palaeosols?). 30 ft., 9.1 metres.

Ark. 20. Gritstone, coarse, ferruginous ("rusty"), with lignite. 1 foot, 0.3 metres.

Ark. 19. Clays, mottled (palaeosols?). 30 ft., 9.1 metres

Ark. 18. Conglomerate, ferruginous, hard, impersistent. 2 ft., 0.6 metres.

Ark. 17. Clays, sandy towards the base. 60 ft., 18.3 metres.

Ark. 16. Ironstone Band. 1 foot, 0.3 metres.

Ark. 15. Clays, sandy, with jarosite, blackish to pale, passing irregularly into cross-bedded, concretionary sandstone masses.

Ark. 14. THE COARSE QUARTZ GRIT. Cross-bedded, conglomeratic ironstone, sand and interbedded clay seams. Maximum 20 ft., 6.1 metres.
(Total from the top of the Wealden to the base of the Coarse Quartz Grit - 701 ft., 213.7 metres)

Ark. 13. Sandstones and sands, pink, white and orange, some clay. 36 ft., 11 metres.

Ark. 12. Clay, sand and thin sandstones, with a thin impersistant grit in the middle (with lignite? - IMW). 115 ft. 35 metres.

Ark. 11. Ironstone, banded, conspicuous. 3 ft. 0.9 metres.

Ark. 10. Clay, largely red. 47 ft., 14.3 metres.

Ark. 9. Sand and grit, white and yellow. 24 ft., 7.3 metres.

Ark. 8. Clay, red, purple and mottled (palaeosol). 59 ft. 18 metres.

Ark. 7. Ironstone, hard, purple. 0.5 ft., 0.15 metres. Ark. 6. Sand and sandstone, coarse yellow and brown. 14 ft., 4.3 metres.

Ark. 5. Ironstone, hard brown, in places 1 foot, generally -. 0.5 ft, 0.15 metres.

Ark. 4. Clays, jaositic (yellow) towards the base. 63 ft., 19 metres.

Ark. 3. Lignite beds. 5 ft., 1.5 metres.

Ark. 2. Clays and subordinate beds of sand to end of exposure. 190 ft., 58 metres.

Ark. 1. Gap, unexposed at the stream, then Wealden clays. 135 ft., 41 metres.

Total below the Coarse Quartz Grit - 692 ft., 211 metres.

Total Wealden strata in Worbarrow Bay - 1393 ft., 425 metres (Strahan (1898) gave 1097 ft., 7 inches, 334.5 metres).

Notes on the section log
by Arkell (1947)

"The section printed above was measured in 1938 with the help of Mr. C. W. Wright. After careful corrections for the dip and angles of measurement, the beds above the base of the Coarse Quartz Grit (701 ft.) emerge as only 30 ft. thinner than in Strahan's section (allowing for the transference of the highest 6 ft. of Strahan's section to the Lower Greensand; see below, p. 176). Below the Coarse Quartz Grit beds 9 to 13 (225 ft.) correspond to Strahan's beds 6 to 11 (253 ft.). Below this, however, Strahan has only 108 ft, of beds seen plus 140 ft. not seen (248 ft. total), whereas it is possible to measure in continuous section 332 ft. of beds, to which have to be added at least 135 ft. of beds not seen, making 465 ft. total. Hence the total thickness of the Wealden Beds emerges as 1,393 ft., some 250 ft. thicker than stated by Strahan."

Go back to top


Sequence from the Coarse Quartz Grit Downward

A partial log downward from the Coarse Quartz Grit in the Wealden of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

I measured up this succession from the Coarse Quartz Grit downward in about 1980. I have since redrawn it with some modifications. The cliff exposure will have retreated to some extent since the logging took place and, because of great lateral variation, there may be some minor differences now.

The succession shown is entirely fluvial with some overbank deposits, and notable lignite beds. Some of the latter contain whole trunks of coniferous trees.

Go back to top


Wealden Sandstones - General

The Coarse Quartz Grit in the cliffs of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, Dec 2003 The Coarse Quartz Grit high in the cliffs of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, Dec 2003

Coarse Quartz Grit, examined by students, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Many of the Wealden sandstones show channel-like features and are lenticular and laterally discontinuous. Coarse lag deposits may occur at the base, sometimes with lignitic logs. Lignite beds sometimes occur above the sandstones where they are probably fills of abandoned channels, perhaps oxbow lakes, with transported logs and plant debris. The most important sandstone in the Wealden sequence of Worbarrow Bay is the Coarse Quartz Grit, shown in the photographs. This is thicker and coarser than the others, is multistorey and is sufficiently coarse to be a pebble bed in parts. The cross-bedding of this body of sandstones is very obvious in the cliff.

Pebbles of the Coarse Quartz Grit, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Close view of pebbles of the Coarse, Quartz Grit, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

This is a very interesting pebble bed, a part of the Coarse Quartz Grit. You will notice that the pebbles are subangular to subrounded and mostly of vein quartz, with some fracture pits. Some of the quartz is stained by dispersed hematite, giving it a pink colour. Compared to later pebbles beds, like those in the Eocene or Pleistocene strata this is a strange deposit. It is notable that there is no flint. This is because flint has been formed in later strata, the Chalk. Now there is some black chert which is black. The chert is not obviously shelly and therefore does not resemble Portland Chert, although small quantities of the latter have been found in the Wealden. It is probably mostly a Palaeozoic radiolarian chert of a type which occurs in southwest England. Some black pebbles are not chert but tourmalinised quartzite or slate, also from southwest England (Arkell, 1947).

Thus much of the debris, and this may include a substantial proportion of the vein quartz, has probably come from the hard, Palaeozoic strata of southwest England. This is compatible with the fact that the Wealden deposits become coarser westward in Dorset. Not all the sediment may have come from the southwest England peninsula, though. Allen has found a sand grain in the Coarse Quartz Grit of the Lulworth area which has been dated as about 600 million years old . Thus, some of these hard, resistant debris may be as old as Precambrian. The nearest area of extensive Precambrian rocks in Brittany, northwest France, and, indeed, Wealden sediments have been found in the English Channel, offshore to the north of Brittany. It seems a likely source area, although the Grand Banks of Newfoundland has been suggested by Professor Allen.

Go back to top


Isolated Channel Sandstones

The Coarse Quartz Grit is a multistorey accumulation of lens or wedges of coarse river channel sandstones. In contrast, isolated channel sandstones, wedging out into finer argillaceous sand or into clay are also common in the Wealden cliff section of Worbarrow Bay. Some of these are shown below.

Anastomosing channels of a river entering Lake Eyre, Australia, shown for comparison with Cretaceous Wealden channels at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, England

These are the deposits of small anastomosing channels of a river entering a large lake like Lake Eyre in Australia. The Wealden lake was of about the same size as Lake Eyre, but at a higher latitude, probably 37 degrees North. Whereas Lake Eyre is relatively arid with a annual rainfall of 125mm per annum and has evaporites, the Wealden lake was in a wetter but still very seasonal environment, and the rainfall was probably above 400mm per annum. The small, isolated channels have probably been formed in brief flood events, which were sometimes strong enough to bring large tree logs into the area. Avulsion was probably common.

Reddish sandstone of probable channel origin in the Wealden of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

This photograph shows the purple channel sandstone, one of the lesser sandstones beneath the Coarse Quartz Grit in the Wealden of Worbarrow Bay. This particular one is clearly recognisable by its prominance and colour in the general cliff photographs above. Notice the channel architecture, with the obvious feature of wedging-out.

The location of an isolated channel sandstone, in the lower part of the Wealden Group, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th April, 2009

Isolated and wedging channel sandstones of the Wealden Group in the cliffs of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th April 2009

Go back to top


Lower Energy, Fluvial Sandstones

The Cow Sandstone, a low-energy, cross-bedded, fluvial, sandstone, above the Coarse Quartz Grit, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th April 2009

Above the Coarse Quartz Grit, in the northwestern part of Worbarrow Bay there is a fairly continuous sandstone of much finer grain size than the grit. This is seen when walking towards Cow Corner and it is here, informally called the Cow Sandstone, for convenience of recognition. It was hoped that this fairly even and continuous bed might be like the Barnes High Sandstone of the Vectis Formation (upper Wealden and lagoonal) of the Isle of Wight. However, closer examination soon showed that it has a cross-bedded and channeled architecture, rather like that of the CQG, but not so obvious. Presumably this is another fluvial braided river channel deposit, but formed in conditions of lower energy.

Note the iron cementation at the top and bottom of the bed. The base, incidently has a thin coarser band, presumably a channel lag deposit.


Go back to top


Lignite Beds in Wealden Strata of Worbarrow Bay
(with a hollow trees in the lake filled with multiphases of sediment - i.e. slow, multiphase, sedimentation)

Cross-section of a hollow log preserved as lignite in the Wealden strata of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, and containing several layers of sediment


Remains of fossil logs, branches and twigs are preserved in carbonised form as lignite in the Wealden. Some of this is non-porous and breaks with a shining, black, conchoidal fracture. This type of lignite is rather similar to jet. The Wealden lignite does not normally occur as beds of brown coal, as occur in the Eocene strata, but is dispersed in silt, fine sand or clay or a mixture of these. At Worbarrow Bay the most obvious lignite beds are in the succession below the Coarse Quartz Grit. In one of these impressions of horse tails and plant foliage have been found.

Cross-section of hollow log preserved as lignite in the Wealden strata of Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

The photograph above shows another cross-section through a hollow log preserved as lignite. This example is in a lignite bed a short distance below the Coarse Quartz Grit. The coniferous log seems to have rotted on the forest floor much like the beech log of the present-day New Forest, shown alongside. It is interesting that although there are numerous examples of silificified coniferous trees from the Purbeck Formation, mostly from the Isle of Portland, I know of no record of a hollow Purbeck silicified tree. There are indications of decomposition and erosion of tree stumps but no true hollow log. This may be some result of the semi-arid conditions of the early Purbeck compared to the sub-humid conditions of the Wealden (there is much evidence for this, including differences in clay-mineralogy and the absence of evaporites in the Wealden). Logs rotted in the damp Wealden forest in a manner like those in England today, but the behaviour of fallen trees in the dry Purbeck forests with associated salt-lakes was probably different.

Go back to top


Wealden Group - Dinosaur Print?

See also:
Brighstone Bay, Isle of Wight - Wealden with dinosaur footprints.

A possible dinosaur footprint filled with sand, and seen in cross-section, Wealden Group, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, 15th April 2009

Near the base of the Coarse Quartz Grit of the Wealden Group in Worbarrow Bay is a conspicuous depression into underlying muddy sand and clay with lignite. The depression is filled with well-sorted, medium sand, and there has been post-depositional goethite (iron) cementation within it. The structure might be a load cast but there is not a thick, unbroken sequence of sand above it. Instead there is a reactivation surface just a few centimetres above the top of the structure. However, this does not eliminate a load cast because a thick unit of sand above could have been eroded away, shortly after deposition. Other load casts were not seen nearby.

Probably a more likely explanation is that this is a cross-section through a large and deeply indented dinosaur footprint like those in the Wealden Group at Hanover Point, Brightstone Bay, Isle of Wight, although I cannot be certain. Such a depression into the muddy sand and clay with lignite is quite likely to have been formed by a passing dinosaur, and would not be unusual for the Wealden strata. (After the above notes were written, a short paper was published by Paul Ensom (2009) recording an actual tridactly dinosaur track on the a sandstone bed. He considered that it had probably come from Stuart's (1978) bed no. 7.)

Incidently notice how the lignite occurs as distribued lenticles within the sandy clay. It is very compacted and this is normal within the Wealden sequence. Most of the Wealden sediments have suffered major compaction, perhaps even up to 10 times in some cases. This contrasts with much of the underlying Purbeck Formation, where, although there is compaction in some beds, there is also much early cementation. Compaction of the Wealden will have taken place over a significant period of time, with some, of course, having been very early. The Wealden deposits may have been at least twice the total thickness until deeply buried under the Chalk. The Worbarrow Bay, basinal depression in the mid-Cretaceous probably contained at least 800 metres of Wealden, many times more than the small thicknesses at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. (It should be appreciated that Worbarrow Bay is in a more "basinal" facies than Lulworth, in the same way that nearby Kimmeridge idge has "basinal" facies of Kimmeridge Clay, much thicker than at Ringstead; this topic will be discussed more fully elsewhere - in simple terms Mupe Bay is on the intra-Cretaceous high and Worbarrow is in the intra-Cretaceous basin).

Go back to top


The Purbeck Strata (Jurassic-Cretaceous), Lulworth and Durlston Formations - Succession -

Worbarrow Tout, with Purbeck succession, seen from the north The Ensom Worbarrow Tout log, essential for detailed study

Parts of the Portland and Purbeck, Lulworth Formation, succession exposed as cliffs of steeply dipping limestones at western part of Worbarrow Tout, 15th August 2019, Ian West

The cliffs of Worbarrow Tout provide the best exposures here of the Purbeck limestones and shales. Much, but not all of the sequence is also visible in Pondfield Cove, nearby. The Purbeck sequence at the Tout has been carefully logged by Ensom (1985). His vertical log (see image above) is essential for any detailed study of the strata here. It is comparable and in the same style as the well-known Clements Log of the Purbecks of Durlston Bay. Ensom's diagrams provide not only provide considerable detail, but also are drawn in a manner that makes recognition in the field of individual beds quite easy. The casual geological visitor may obtain enough introductory information from this website, but the specialist will certainly need the log, and then should use these Ensom bed numbers (with subdivisions if required).

In addition, basal Purbeck details, particularly of the evaporitic Broken Beds etc., will be found in West (1975) and earlier West papers. These evaporite papers also deal with the Soft Cockle gypsum. See West (1965) on the enterolithic veins and nodules of the calcium sulphate. The older Portland Stone projects seaward at the southwestern end of Worbarrow Tout. Northeastwards from here there is an excellent exposure of the Purbecks seen as a sequence of steeply dipping beds. At low tide most of this is accessible, with a little scrambling over rocks. At high tide the lowest part of the succession may be difficult or impossible to reach and, in addition, the sea comes up to the foot of the northern slope, seen in the photograph here and access requires wading (this is not recommended especially when there are significant waves - this is a dangerous coast).

Go back to top

Upper Purbeck

Upper Ostracod Shales Member

(formerly " Upper Cypris Clays and Shales ")

Unio Member (Unio Beds)

Soft green, glauconitic shale full of Unio porrectus and Viviparus . Bands of hard limestone. " Beef " , shelly limestone and dark grey shales. These strata originated in low salinity, lacustrine conditions. The bones of turtles and crocodiles from this lake are preserved at Swanage.

Go back to top

Middle Purbeck

Broken Shell Limestone Member

Limestone, a biosparrudite probably mainly consisting of Neomiodon debris, with fish teeth, palates and scales (Pyncnodus). Gastropods include Viviparus . This is probably mostly of brackish-water origin but the gastropods indicate some very low salinities at times. Limestone (the Burr) from this horizon has been used for the construction of Corfe Castle.

Chief Beef Member

Dark soft shale with bands of hard shell-limestone (biosparrudite) with Neomiodon. Beef is diagenetic fibrous calcite formed under burial. As usual it is associated with lines of white, disintegrating, aragonitic Neomiodon shells. The organic rich shale here has preserved the aragonite to some extent, although elsewhere in the Purbeck Formation it has mostly been lost quite early. This is a brackish-water lagoon sediment.

Corbula Member

Shells include Neomiodon , a common bivalve of the Middle Purbeck Formation. The oyster of the Cinder Bed, Praeexogyra distorta also occurs in this unit as does a " Pecten ". This originated in nearly marine salinities.

Scallop Member Hard shell limestone (biosparrudite?). Usually sandy with Chlamys , a bivalve which probably suggests near-marine salinities. This unit indicates a significant marine incursion. Seawater entered the lagoon on a scale almost like that at the time of deposition of the Cinder Bed.

Intermarine Member

Beds of hard shell-debris (biosparrudite) limestones with about 1 metre of pyritic shales with some beef and jarosite in the central part (" mid-intermarine shales "). The clays are smectite-rich. This is one of the main parts of the Purbeck Formation where dinosaur footprints are preserved in extensive damp lagoon-margin flats of shell sediments. In the Swanage area the biosparrudite limestones (El-Shahat and West, 1983) of this form most of the Upper Building Stones, although they do not seem to have been much quarried at Lulworth where they are thinner. The shell beds are composed of debris from the brackish water bivalve Neomiodon . The shells were originally aragonite but have been replaced by calcite now.

This unit originated in a lagoon that had some influx of freshwater but generally remained brackish. The climate was less arid than that in which beds lower in the sequence were formed. This accounts for generally more sand, kaolinite clay, pyrite, plant debris and lower salinities than those indicated for the lower members. The subhumid conditions seem to have been favourable to dinosaurs, crocodiles and turtles.

Go back to top


Dinosaur Footprints

See also the:
Portland Dinosaur Footprint webpage.

Dinosaur footprint in the Intermarine Member of the Middle Purbeck Formation, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, old photograph

Dinosaur footprint in the Intermarine Member of the Middle Purbeck Formation, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, showing a possible general similarity with the print of a modern rhinoceras

[Note: As shown in an image above, the dinosaur footprints of Worbarrow Tout, Dorset might in some respects be similar to the footprints of a rhinoceras, which also seem to be three-toed. Unfortunately, although I have seen numerous dinosaur footprints in the Purbeck strata of Dorset, I have never studied the footprints of a rhinoceras or an elephant and am only speculating. However, there may be potential for comparative research here.]

Tridactyl dinosaur footprints in a brackish-water shelly limestone, or biosparrudite, a short distance above the Cinder Bed have been demonstrated on field trips to Worbarrow Tout for about the last 35 years, by myself and, no doubt, by others. They are in the top of bed WB 121 of Ensom (1985), a relatively thick limestone at the base of the Intermarine Member. I recorded them briefly in a Geologists' Association field trip report West, Shearman and Pugh, (1969), which gave an account of a field trip in 1966 with Professor Douglas Shearman and Mary Pugh. They were shown to Professor Kirkaldy, who used a photograph of them in a popular geology book.

They were recorded again, this time with a little more detail, by Delair and Brown (1975). Unfortunately, the authors, who were unaware that they were already quite well-known, listed them as from the basal Purbeck strata. Even though I drew attention to this, the error lasted through to the paper of Delair (1982), until finally being corrected by a precise record in the graphic log of Ensom (1985). The footprints are now quite worn and were in better condition originally. I have included some photographs below, some of these quite old, and, in addition, there is a sketch in the paper by Delair and Brown (1975), although I think that one print might be missing in that diagram. Delair and Brown considered the prints to be of Iguanodont type. They are interesting in representing multiple trackways.

Footprints in the Intermarine Member, 1995 Footprints in the Intermarine Member, Jan 78 Footprints in the Intermarine Member, Jan 78

Left: Footprints in shelly limestone above the Cinder Bed at Worbarrow Tout. A recent photograph (1995), slightly retouched to reduce the visual effect of a joint crossing the footprint.

Centre: A sketch from a photograph of the footprints in less eroded condition in January, 1978.

Right: A monochrome photograph taken in January, 1978, with Dr Yehia Ali, from Cairo. The footprints have been emphasised artificially by placing wet mud in them, but following as far as possible the natural outline.

Footprints in the Intermarine Member, Jan 78, oblique view Footprints in the Intermarine Member, Jan 78, detail

Left: An oblique view of the footprints in January, 1978.

Right: Details of one of the footprints.

Go back to top

Intermarine Member - Buildings Stones - Origin of the Shell Deposits

Origin of shell limestones

The Purbeck shell limestones (left) probably originated in shell beaches like those at the margin of the Coorong Lagoon in South Australia (right). Species of Neomiodon are probably the main components of the Middle Purbeck building stone, but in the Lower Purbeck Formation there are shell-beds that consist of the high-salinity tolerant bivalve - Protocardia purbeckensis. The Middle Purbeck Building Stones usually have the mollusc shells in crushed condition so the left part of the illustration is based on a Corbula Member shell bed from Durlston Bay, which also has some euryhaline gastropods.

Visiting bipedal herbivores such as kangeroos or Iguanodons may leave footprints in favourable circumstances.

(Right hand side of image modified from an excellent photograph by Peccinotti in Dutton, 1980)


Go back to top

Cinder Member

Cinder Bed, Worbarrow Tout Cinder Bed with small oyster, Stair Hole

Left Image: The Cinder Beds, at Worbarrow Tout as elsewhere, consist of bluish-grey shelly limestone with small oysters - Praeexogyra distorta . The Soft Cinder, is more argillaceous and overlies the Hard Cinder . This conspicuous unit is easily distinguished by its colour and its relative lack of jointing and a tendency to erode to a roughly rounded surface (unlike the blocky Flint Bed a little further down). Look for rare echinoid spines ( Hemicidaris purbeckensis ) in the Hard Cinder which show that conditions were normal marine for a short time. Difficult to see are bivalves which unlike the calcitic oyster were originally aragonitic. Diagenesis has rendered part of the original shell content almost invisible.

Right Image: The Cinder Bed at Stair Hole, shown here to give a view of the small oyster shells that form a major part of this bed. The oysters have easily-recognised shells of bluish-grey calcite. The matrix is microsparite calcite. The rock could classified, on Folk's Classification, as a biomicrudite, but the matrix is coarser than micrite size because of some diagenetic recrystallisation. The rudite terminology is used because the shell components are larger than sand size.

This particular bed has been taken as the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary (in some older text-books you may find this listed as the boundary) but there are problems with this. It may well correlate with the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary in the Boreal Realm, that is the northern and Russian region, but not with the (now official) Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary of the south of France. The boundary is now believed to be near the base of the Purbeck Formation which is regarded as mostly Cretaceous. Nevertheless, the Cinder Bed is a very extensive and useful marker for the middle part of the Purbeck Formation.

The Cinder Bed indicates an incursion of the sea into the lagoon. It is the result of a brief marine transgression. In the shallow environment the water became just about marine enough for echinoids ( Hemicidaris purbeckensis ), but not for long. The marine conditions were not stable for long enough for ammonites to live in this area. The small oyster could tolerate lower salinities than truely marine and still flourished when the water became rather brackish. This was not the only marine incursion; there were about 37 others at least during deposition of the Purbeck Formation.

Cherty Freshwater Member

(Ready for additional material).

Go back to top

Marly Freshwater Member

Upper Soft Cockle and the Marly Freshwater Member at Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

The Marly Freshwater Member consists of marls and marlstones with low-salinity, lacustrine faunas. They are from closed freshwater lakes and contrast with the hypersaline beds beneath. They do not normally contain significant evaporites but do have anomalously high Mg in places. The Mammal Bed is one of these. This contains a good near-limnic fauna at Durlston Bay, and in it the famous mammal discoveries of Victorian times were made by Beckles and others. Mammal remains have not been found in the equivalent beds of Worbarrow Tout, but, of course, might be present and awaiting discovery. The Mammal Bed differs from the palaeosols or dirt-beds of the basal Purbecks. It is of marsh or lake origin and has not been significantly weathered. Had it been so the delicate molluscs would not have been preserved at Durlston Bay.

The Marly Freshwater Member is given as 4.25 m by Ensom (1985) . It was originally given as 3.73 by Bristow (1857) , but the Ensom figure is probably more reliable. Obviously much depends on precisely where the boundaries are taken. The upper one is fairly clear as chert occurs in WB 100, and this is typically of Cherty Freshwater Member facies. The base is not so certain, because WB 89 might be included by some in the top Soft Cockle Member. It might be worth checking on its dolomite content because WB 83 has about 82% dolomite and thus is similar to the top lacustrine dolomites of the Soft Cockle Member of Durlston Bay .

Incidently this part of the section at Worbarrow Tout is less well-known than the equivalent at Durlston Bay. The Purbeck sediment surface was exposed numerous times (supratidal sabkhas, mudcracks, dinosaur footprints etc.) but vegetation growth on the surface only rarely developed (GDB etc) at the sections observed in Dorset. North of the present Purbeck Hills, however, on the Wytch Farm High it was probably land and trees all the time.)

The danger here must be mentioned. Keep away from the foot of the cliff as far as is feasible, avoid lingering there and wear hard-hats. Look at the rocks on the shore and near the foot of the cliff and see whether there are any indications of recent falls of debris (freshly split rocks). If there are some then the cliff is in a hazardous state and it should be avoided for the present. It is likely to be most dangerous in wet, winter conditions, but melting ice or summer drying-out can also produce a particular risk. This applies not only to the Marly Freshwater section but also to other parts of the Purbeck cliffs here.

Go back to top

Soft Cockle Member

Cliff of Soft Cockle, Marly Freshwater and Cherty Freshwater Members, Purbeck Formation, Worbarrow Tout Upper Soft Cockle and the Marly Freshwater Member at Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

The top Soft Cockle dolomites with intraclast bed, Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Log of uppermost part of the Soft Cockle Member with salt-lake dolomites, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Intraclast bed in Soft Cockle Member, close view, Purbeck Formation, Dorset

The Soft Cockle Member is named from its soft marly character together with the occurrence of the small 'cockle' Protocardia purbeckensis , a euryhaline bivalve tolerant to some extent of raised salinity. The member consists largely of fairly thin-bedded, lacustrine, marls, with a limited, euryhaline fauna and some evidence of evaporites and hypersalinity. The fauna includes ostracods, isopods (Archaeoniscus brodiei), serpulids (Serpula coacervata, known from the German Serpulite) in addition to Protocardia . Insect remains are present as debris blown or washed into the lake of this semi-arid environment.

Fallen mass of contorted Soft Cockle gypsum, Worbarrow Tout, Dorset Late development of satin spar against overburden, Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

An early enterolithic vein of gypsum, Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

A specimen, 19.4cm long, of a small enterolithic veins in the Soft Cockle gypsum, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Enterolithic veins developing in muddy sand of Dukhan Sabkha, Qatar

Comparison of ancient and modern enterolithic veins

A general diagenetic classification of the Purbeck calcium sulphate evaporites of Dorset and Sussex, based on thin-section petrography

The gypsum, non-porous and porphyrotopic (i.e. with large crystals or porphyrotopes), is particularly interesting and is best seen just here. Petrography shows that the present, secondary, porphyrotopic gypsum is a replacement of anyhdrite (presumably of burial-diagenesis origin), and this in turn has replaced primary, porous, lenticular gypsum. Special features are early, sabkha-type, enterolithic veins and nodules, which are very well-developed.

Early enterolithic veins now preserved in late secondary, porphyrotopic gypsum, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Small entolithic veins showing details of growth, Purbeck, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Nodules, chicken-wire structure and enterolithic veins are all closely related. They are early displacive fabrics formed by continued growth of calcium sulphate from capillary water in sabkhas or salt-flats. Within them the sulphate is extremely pure because this displacive material has grown in place and contains hardly any sediment. The pure gypsum within nodules is known as alabaster and is used for carving. Enterolithic veins are over-developed displacive nodules of white soft gypsum or anhydrite which have burst out and pushed on into the associated soft sediment of a sabkha (West, 1965) . Their lithification into strong but soluble rocks is the result of later diagenesis, i.e. gypsum-anhydrite-gypsum or anydrite-gypsum.

Although some comparison is drawn between the Purbeck evaporites and those of with Middle Eastern sabkhas, it must be appreciated that this was a palaeoenvironment at about 37 degrees North, with forests growing in the vicinity; it was, of course, semi-arid and there is no evidence of sand deserts. The sabkha was of carbonate-gypsum type. The carbonate was usually pelletoidal and of silt-size, but it is not known whether is was aragonite or high-Mg calcite. It is low-Mg now. There is not much association of dolomite, although the mineral does occur higher in the Soft Cockle Member, particularly at Durlston Bay.

The gypsum - secondary anhydrite - secondary gypsum diagenesis has been described by West (1964;1965) . There is good petrographic evidence in the form of pseudomorphs. These are best seen not in the pure calcium sulphate but in the carbonate margins to the evaporites. The present secondary gypsum is largely alabastrine with easily-seen porphyrotopes, that have developed in the secondary anhydrite during late hydration.

An approximate date of this hydration is indicated by the fabric of satin spar. This, as usual, is a late diagenetic development and here it shows clear evidence for a post-tectonic origin. It is in a dipping sequence but has orientation of long axes of fibres (c-axes) against the present sigma 1, the maximum stress. This stress is now due to overburden. In other words the fabric is not normal to bedding, as might be expected in a pre-tectonic calcium sulphate development, but, as would be expected in a post-tectonic situation, is normal to the present horizontal. This forms part of the evidence for the diagenetic scheme of West (1964; 1975) . It should be noted that satin spar is an expansion phase which largely accounts for the volume change on hydration of the bulk unit of calcium sulphate. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the hydration of the porphyrotopic in situ calcium sulphate took place at the same time. The mined gypsum with anhydrite in Sussex (Mountfield and Brightling) supports this view that hydration was very late and within about 100m or less of the surface. The Purbeck calcium sulphate is gypsum at the surface but is usually found as anhydrite in oil industry boreholes (e.g. Arreton No. 1 on the Isle of Wight) Diagram showing postulated diagenetic history of nodular and other gypsum, Purbeck Formation, Dorset and Sussex, by Ian West, 1965

The above diagram showing the postulated history of development of calcium sulphate nodules in the Purbeck strata is from West (1965).

Go back to top


Hard Cockle Member

The projecting rib of the Hard Cockle limestones, upper part, Worbarrow Tout Depressions in evaporite bed beneath the Hard Cockle Oolite, Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Possible footprints? Possible footprints - larger view

Are these dinosaur footprints? These depressions are in Ensom's bed WB 29, which although listed as a pelsparite with hummocky surface, seems to be a calcitised evaporite bed with some small quantities of replacive silica. It has an irregular surface which may be explained by a process involving evaporites. However, the large depressions appear similar in some respects to the footprints of sauropod dinosaur (known in the Purbeck Formation in this region) and it is possible that they could be of this origin. Further study is needed.

Sea Slaters, ancient and modern, Cockle Members, Purbeck Formation, Dorset

Here is some continuity with the past. Sea slaters were quite numerous in the Purbeck lagoons at certain times, or more probably in certain intertidal environments. The ancient one was Archaeoniscus brodiei. It is interesting to find that their relatives are still on the Purbeck sediments as seen here on the Hard Cockle Member of Worbarrow Tout.

Go back to top


Basal Purbeck Strata ("Cypris" Freestones, Broken Beds and Caps)

The petrographic lithology of the basal Purbeck Formation in Dorset shown in a series of graphic logs

Basal Purbeck succession with replaced evaporites, at Worbarrow Tout, Dorset Basal Purbeck, Worbarrow Tout and elsewhere

The basal Purbeck succession is shown diagrammatically above. The Broken Beds are evaporitic in the lower part and there is an interesting replaced evaporite bed with euhedral quartz crystals in a spongy porous matrix of replacive calcite. This bed (bed 15 of West, 1975 and shown in the accompanying diagram marked with 'E' s , and bed WB 10 of Ensom (1985) ) was wrongly thought by Victorian geologists to be some sort of tufa. They did not appreciate its evaporitic origin and it is actually an unbrecciated type of cargneule or rahwacke. The euhedral quartz crystals within it are comparable to "Bristol Diamonds" of evaporite replacement origin, but smaller. The very high porosity is the result of calcium sulphate having been present within the bed until very recently, and then having been dissolved by meteoric water. The secondary gypsum may still persist in this bed even only 10 or 100m beneath the surface, by comparison with evaporite residues on Portland, the Pyrenees and elsewhere. The Great Dirt Bed is brecciated, at this margin of the Lulworth shelf area and the English Channel Inversion (basin facies). Some celestite occurs in the (hypersaline) Hard Cap and there are also good cyanobacterial mats in this unit (as shown by Pugh, 1968 ).

As a matter of interest look at the evidence for movement overlying beds over the evaporitic plane of weakness of the Broken Beds (formerly an anhydrite-limestone breccia). Is the direction indicated the same as that at Bacon Hole or Durlston Head?

More details on these strata will be added later.

Go back to top


Portland Stone

Portland Stone rocks extending westward from Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

Numerous gulls at Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, in the part of the sea that is, to some extent,  sheltered from large waves by the projecting, Portland Stone, rocks of Worbarrow Tout

The Portland Stone is the most wave-resistant rock in the Worbarrow Bay area. It dips at near 45 degrees towards the north. It forms tough, resistant cliffs of the seaward side of Worbarrow Tout promontory (and at Gad Cliff, further east). At the western end of Worbarrow Tout there is a narrow, Portland Stone promontory, extending westward. This may provide some shelter from severe wave action to the southern part of Worbarrow Bay. Above, is a photograph from 15th August, 2019, which shows many seagulls that are presumably feeding on fish, in this relatively sheltered area of sea.

Go back to top

Pondfield Cove
(this is small cove in dipping Purbeck strata, close to the entrance to Worbarrow Bay)

Running down the short path into Pondfield Cove, adjacent to Worbarrow Bay

The curved embayment of Pondfield Cove, Worbarrow Bay, Dorset Pondfield Cove, adjacent to Worbarrow Bay, showing a Lower and Middle Purbeck succession

The northwestern part of Pondfield Cove, exposing strata of the Middle Purbeck, or Lulworth to Durlston Formations

The northeastern part of Pondfield Cove, adjacent to Worbarrow Bay, showing strata of the Middle Purbeck, or Lulworth to Durlston Formations

Pondfield Cove is just east of Worbarrow Tout and just west of Gad Cliff. At first site it looks superficially like a small version of Lulworth Cove. It is however, entirely within the Portland and Purbeck Formations. There are good exposures of the lower and middle parts of the Purbeck Formation in the accessible cliffs at the side. These cliffs can usually be reached even when high tide or stormy conditions make it difficult to get to the Purbecks on the west side of Worbarrow Tout. Like Lulworth Cove, the location of this embayment seems to be fault-controlled. Nowell (1997; 2001) found by careful measurement and construction of strike lines that an approximately north-south trending fault cuts through the back of Pondfield Cove at the gap in the cliffs. The exact direction is not known and broken lines show a range of possibilities. Clearly the sea will break through sooner or later and Worbarrow Tout will become an isolated rock, rather resembling the largest of the Mupe Rocks.

Lower Purbeck limestones, west side of Pondfield Cove

Lower Purbeck strata, including the Caps and Broken Beds, seen on the west side of Pondfield Cove, 15th August 2019

The generally lower part of the Purbeck succession on the west side of Pondfield Cove, near Worbarrow Bay, 15th August 2019

Do take care if you examine the sides of Pondfield Cove. Loose blocks of rock can fall at any time. You might also have some trouble and encounter some risk when crossing the large rather-rounded, boulders on the beach. Pondfield Cove shows the conspicuous breccia of the Purbeck Broken Beds and between this and the massive Portland Stone which forms the outer walls, the Purbeck Caps are exposed.

At low tide a particular calcitised anhydrite bed with euhedral quartz (common in evaporites - eg "Bristol Diamonds" etc.), also exposed on the west side of Worbarrow Tout (West, 1975), is accessible. This was not understood in the past and had been described (Davies, 1956 and earlier authors) as "a tufaceous limestone having cavities lined with quartz and yielding perfect quartz crystals when dissolved in acid". Thin-section petrography shows that it is not a tufa but been formed by the growth of calcium carbonate crystals (calcite) in a thin calcium sulphate deposit (originally gypsum but dehydrated to anhydrite under burial). The Broken Beds are a breccia of tectonic origin that developed at a plane of weakness formed by more calcium sulphate evaporites. They can also be seen on the west side of Worbarrow Tout, if you are able to scramble down there (although this is not recommended, and is unsuitable for older people).

Above the Broken Beds are the light-coloured, ripple-cross-laminated, ostracodal and pelletoidal limestones of the 'Cypris' Freestone Member. These originated in moderately hypersaline conditions, round about 70 parts per thousand (about twice sea-water salinity) that were favourable only for certain ostracods and little other fauna. There are minor traces of evaporites, such as casts of halite crystals and some small pseudomorphs after gypsum in this member at most localities. The Hard Cockle Member is sandy and with some quiet-water type ooids. This too indicates some hypersalinity and pseudomorphs after halite are the most obvious signs of this. The small euryhaline bivalve Protocardia purbeckensis occurs in this and in the overlying Soft Cockle Member, which is mostly of marls. Gypsum is conspicuous in the lower part of the Soft Cockle Member on the west side of Worbarrow Tout. It should be present at Pondfield Cove since it occurs in the next major coast section to the east at Durlston Bay. Higher in the Purbeck succession the Cherty Freshwater Member is obvious in the cliffs and fallen blocks can be seen on the shore. The footpath comes onto the beach at Pondfield Cove adjacent to some concrete World War 2 tank defences or "dragon teeth". Here you will see the Cinder Bed, a grey oyster bed, disintegrating in the soil into individual oysters, Praeexogyra distorta (the 'Ostrea distorta' of old literature). The succession does not go above this; the higher part of the Middle Purbecks is not exposed here but is clearly seen on the west side of Worbarrow Tout.

Go back to top


Gad Cliff (from the West)

Worbarrow Bay and Gad Cliff from the sea, with entrance to Pondfield Cove

View eastward across Pondfield Cove to Gad Cliff, Dorset Gad Cliff from the west, with major units labelled

When the Army Range footpaths are open it is possible to walk along the top of Gad Cliff to Kimmeridge Bay. There is no access to the undercliff, and although this may be a small inconvenience to the geologist, it makes the area a good nature reserve. If you need to study the Portland Sands which are exposed here you can visit them quite easily at St. Aldhelm's Head, Hounstout Cliff or on the Isle of Portland (West Weares and Clay Ope etc.). For further information refer to the older work of Arkell (1947) or for more detail Townson (1975) . Note that the latter paper is valuable for facies information, but uses a different terminology. The older work of Arkell fails to identify the dolomites and refers to them as the "Black Sandstones and Parallel Bands".

Go back to top


Information on the Great Gale at Worbarrow Bay and elsewhere is helpfully provided by John Runyard's Homepage at www.runyard.org:

Excerpts from the Diary of Henry Rolls (1803-1877). By Len Runyard. Letter from Len Runyard, Hordle, Hants. England, July, 1995, to Robert Donald Runyard, Huntington Beach, California. Extracts from the diary of Henry Rolls, shoemaker, of East Lulworth (born 5th April, 1803).

"1824 On 23.11.1824, a terrible hurricane, or gale of wind, caused a great deal of damage; the sea rose high along the coast [other records confirm this temporary rise in sea-level]. The gale nearly washed down Samuel Miller's house at Warebarrow [Miller's house was Sea Cottage, shown in several pictures in Legg (1992) Tyneham; Dorset Ghost Village, and with an etching of 1830 showing a severe storm and shipwreck at that location. The significance is that the height of the house above sea-level is easily determined and therefore there is specific data available regarding wave height in Worbarrow Bay in the 1824 storm.] and blew down two of the pinnacles of St. Andrew's Church, E.L. [East Lulworth], on the west side of the tower [confirming west or southwesterly winds]; it also rolled over one of the monument stones at Arishmell [Arish Mell is in Warbarrow Bay - what are the monument stones?] - and they used boats in the streets at the port of Poole [this is of interest because this again indicates the temporary rise in sea-level; Poole, in Poole Harbour, cannot be directly affected by storm waves] . It also did great damage at Weymouth, near Portland - and nearly everywhere."

Go back to top


I am very grateful to the various people who have examined the Worbarrow Bay cliffs with me over many years. I particularly thank Paul Ensom for discussing the Purbecks and dinosaur footprints. Rory Mortimore has helped with the Chalk. Members of the Open University Geological Society, Wessex Branch, have joined me in the field here. Several students have assisted in the past. I am grateful for the recent help of 4th year, M. Geology students, Nick Chapman, Jenny and Claire, who are shown in photographs above (2009). They are completing a project on the Wealden here and preparing new graphic logs.

Go back to top


Worbarrow Bay, the northern part in evening light, August 2019

Worbarrow Bay, walking southward and back to the track, in evening light, August 2019


Go back to top

References and Select Bibliography on Worbarrow Tout and Worbarrow Bay.

For more literature on the Purbeck Formation see Purbeck Bibliography. See also the Lulworth Bibliography.

Allen, P. 1972. Wealden detrital tourmaline: implications for northwestern Europe. Journal of the Geological Society, 128, 273-294. Abstract: Wealden detritus in S. England and N.W. France suggests ultimate derivation from an ancient complex. This had affinities with present-day Cornubia, Armorica and NW Iberia, which apparently represents its relict flanks. Westward, lay a Cadomian-Caledonian core. Repeated tourmalinizations occurred from pre-Cambrian times onward. These were postdeformational and may have followed separate orogenies. Geographically the massif probably focussed on what is now the continental margin, over the Southwestern Approaches. Structurally, it was the Cadomian-Hercynian-Galician-Caledonian convergence. Eastwards the hills diverged to encompass a lowland depression, divided into northern and southern basins by the Cornubian island. After the first sediment arrived in the ?Permian there were important fluctuations of supply and composition during the late Trias/early Jurassic, late Jurassic/early Cretaceous and Hasting Beds/Weald Clay. These may have been related to movements of the massif generated by changes in North Atlantic spreading rates and opening of Biscay.


Ali, Y.A.E. 1981. Mineralogical, Geochemical and Sedimentological Studies on Recent Sabkha Sediments West of Alexandria, Egypt and some Upper Jurassic Evaporites from Dorset, England. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Southampton University. [This includes some work on sabkha cycles in the Lower Purbeck Hard and Soft Cockle evaporitic beds of Worbarrow Tout.]


Arkell, W.J. 1933. The Jurassic System in Great Britain. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 344p.

Arkell, W.J. 1935a. The Portland Beds of the Dorset mainland. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 46, 301-347.

Arkell, W.J. 1935b. Analysis of the Mesozoic and Cainozoic folding in England. Report of the 16th International Geological Congress, Washington, 1933, 937-952.

Arkell, W.J. 1938a. Three tectonic problems of the Lulworth district: studies of the middle limb of the Purbeck Fold. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London, 94, 1-54.

Arkell, W.J. 1938b. The Purbeck Broken Beds. Geological Magazine, 75, 333-334.

Arkell, W.J. 1940. Dorset Geology 1930-1940. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 61, 117-135.

Arkell, W.J. 1947 (and later edition). The Geology of the Country around Weymouth, Swanage, Corfe and Lulworth. Memoir of the Geological Survey, 386 pp. [This was the standard British Geological Survey memoir on the area.]

Arkell, W.J. 1940. Dorset Geology 1940-1950. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 72, 176-194.

Arkell, W.J. 1956. Jurassic Geology of the World. Oliver and Boyd.


Bury, H. 1936. Some anomalous river features in the Isle of Purbeck. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 47, 1-10. [by Henry Bury, M.A., F.G.S. There is no abstract]. "Two ranges of hills run from east to west throught the whole length of the Isle of Purbeck, the northern one being composed of Chalk, and the southern of Jurassic rocks (Purbeck and Portland). The latter ridge which has a remarkably even sky-line, attains its greatest altitude (631 ft.) about a mile to the east of Kimmeridge, and from there it slopes gently to the west, and still more gently to the east; but these slopes are largely tectonic, being an expression of the fact that the main anticline, which reaches its greatest elevation at Kimmeridge, diminishes in intensity towards the east and the west...." [continues]


Casey, R. 1961. The stratigraphical palaeontology of the the Lower Greensand. Palaeontology, 3, 487-621.


Damon, R. 1884. Geology of Weymouth, Portland and the Coast of Dorsetshire. (2nd ed). Weymouth.


Davies, G.M. 1956. The Dorset Coast: A Geological Guide. Adam and Charles Black. London. 2nd edition, 128 pages.


Delair, J.B. 1982. Multiple dinosaur trackways from the Isle of Purbeck. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 102 for 1980, 65-67. [See Fig. 4. Dinosaur trackways at Warbarrow Tout. There is a brief discussion, suggesting that they were formed by Iguanodont dinosaurs. It refers to them as impressed on the surface of obliquely inclined "Lower" Purbeck strata, but this is in error and they are in fact in Middle Purbeck limestone above the Cinder Bed. The stratigraphical error was in the 1975 paper and perpetuated. ]

Delair, J.B. and Brown, P.A. 1975. Worbarrow Bay footprints. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 96 (for 1974, published in November, 1975). [This a second, but more detailed record, of the footprints at Worbarrow Tout. They had already been mentioned first by West, Shearman and Pugh (1969, p. 338) in the Upper Building Stones of the Middle Purbeck Beds. This paper by Delair and Brown wrongly lists them as "basal Purbeck". Fig. 2 shows them to be the same tridactyl Middle Purbeck footprints illustrated in this webpage. There are other matters of interest in the paper, though, including the occurrence of dinosaur footprints in the Wealden of Worbarrow Bay. A single additional footprint from the Purbeck Formation was found loose, but although there is reference to a possible origin in the "Cypris" Freestone Member or the Broken Beds, because of the error with the main footprints, it is difficult to know whether this is correct.]

Delair, J.B. and Lander, A.B. 1973. A short history of the the discovery of reptilian footprints in the Purbeck Beds of Dorset, with notes on their stratigraphical distribution. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 94, (for 1972, published in June, 1973) 17-20. [This paper is not on Worbarrow Tout, but reveals the common occurrence of footprints at about the horizon of the Worbarrow, Middle Purbeck footprints.]
Drummond, P.V.O. 1970. The Mid-Dorset swell: evidence of Albian-Cenomanian movements in Wessex. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 81, 679-716.
El-Shahat, A. and West, I.M. 1983. Early and late lithification of aragonite bivalve beds in the Purbeck Formation (Upper Jurassic - Lower Cretaceous of Southern England). Sedimentary Geology, 35: 15-41. Abstract: Beds of euryhaline bivalves alternating with shales constitute much of the middle Purbeck Formation. They originated on "tidal" flats at the western margin of an extensive brackish lagoon. When these shell beds are thin and enclosed in shale they are often still preserved as aragonite and associated with "beef", fibrous calcite formed during compaction. In most cases, however, the shell debris has been converted by diagenesis into calcitic biosparrudite limestones. A compacted type has been lithified at a late stage, after deep burial. In this, pyrite is abundant and most of the shell aragonite has been replaced neomorphically by ferroan pseudopleochroic calcite. A contrasting uncompacted type of biosparrudite is characterised by bivalve fragments with micrite envelopes. Shells and former pores are occupied by non-ferroan sparry calcite cement, and there is little pyrite. These limestones frequently contain dinosaur footprints and originated in "supratidal" environments where they were cemented early, mainly in meteoric water. Once uplifted they were unaffected by compaction. This uncompacted type indicates phases of mild uplift or halts in subsidence. These shell-bed lithologies, and also intermediate types described here, will probably be recognised in other lagoonal areas. [This has mostly come from work on the Middle Purbecks of Durlston Bay, but applies to the shelly limestones of the Purbeck Formation and other similar strata, at other localities. It is largely based on the El-Shahat thesis of 1977 and uses Clements' bed numbers. With photographs and diagrams.]

El-Shahat, A. 1977. Petrography and Geochemistry of a Limestone-Shale Sequence with Early and Late Lithification: the Middle Purbeck of Dorset, England. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Southampton, 358 pp. [A thesis that is mostly on Durlston Bay but with some data on Worbarrow Tout and the quarries of the Swanage area. Much bed-by-bed data on trace elements, clay mineralogy, petrography (colour photomicrographs) etc. ]


Ensom, P.C. 1985. An annotated section of the Purbeck Limestone Formation at Worbarrow Tout, Dorset. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, Vol. 106 (for 1984, published in 1985), pp. 87-91. [Important graphical log of the Purbeck strata of Worbarrow Tout, in the style of the classic Clements' section of Durlston Bay. Essential for any serious study of the Purbeck sequence here. Paper by Paul Ensom.]
"Introduction. Research into the footprint faunas in the Purbeck Limestone Formation led to a number of discoveries of both footprints and other features in the section on the west side of Worbarrow Tout (NGR SY 869 196) near West Lulworth, Dorset. Unlike Durlston Bay where Clement's (1969) section can be used when recording such occurrences, Worbarrow Tout lacks and up-to-date published section. Ensom (1984c) alluded to this problem and reported that a section of these strata was being prepared.
Previous Work. The earliest section of the Purbeck Limestone Formation of Worbarrow Tout was that of Bristow (1857). This has proved impracticable to use for recording purposes. Woodward 1895) briefly refers to Worbarrow Bay. Strahan (1898, p. 99) described the sequence from the Unio Beds to the Wealden. West (1975) published a detailed section up the Broken Beds in a paper dealing with evaporites in the basal Purbeck Formation and has an unpublished draft of the whole sequence at Worbarrow Tout. El-Shahat (1977) in his Ph.D. thesis describes and figures sections from the Marly Freshwater Member to the Chief Beef Member (his definitions). Ali (1981) in Ph.D. thesis presents a section through the Soft Cockle Bed. Other researchers have recorded parts of the section to suit their particular needs. However, without a published section to which published information may be tied, much of the value of the data is lost.
This Section. The section present here is the result of field work carried out during 1983 and 1984 Exposure at this time was generally good, though the Upper 'Cypris' Clays and Shales Member was poorly exposed. In addition access to part of the Marly Freshwater Member was not possible and the section lacks detail at this point. The section has been drawn in a similar style to that of Clements (1969), showing an idealised weathered profile as seen on the cliff. The scale is the same as that used by Clements to enable comparisons to be made between the sections at Durlston Bay and Worbarrow Tout. The beds have been numbered from WB 1-209. These bed numbers do not correspond with those of Clements (1969) section of Durlston Bay or with those of West (1975) and El-Shahat (1977) for Worbarrow Tout. A correlation with these latter two sections is given in Table 1. Correlation of Bristow's (1857) section with the one produced here has proved impossible." [continues with a very useful graphic log on pages 88, 89 and 90]

Ensom, P.C. 1995. Dinosaur footprints in the Purbeck Limestone Group (?Upper Jurassic - Lower Cretaceous) of southern England. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, vol. 116 (for 1994, published in 1995), 77-104. [Catalogue and discussion of dinosaur footprints at Worbarrow Tout and elsewhere.]

Ensom, P. 2009. A dinosaur track from the Wealden Group (Lower Cretaceous), Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, southern England. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, Natural History Reports, pp. 233-234.

"While leading a field trip for the Open University Geological Society (South West Branch) in October 2008, the cast of a single, indifferently preserved, apparently tridactyl track was found on a fallen and partially buried block of fine-grained, pale sandstone at the foot of a cliff at Worbarrow Bay (NGR SY 86949 80313). In addition a second track is hinted at with a single putative digit preserved on one edge. .... The conclusion reached was that Stewart's Bed no. 7 was probably the source, the in situ bed exhibiting some structures similar to the fallen block. ..."


House, M.R. 1993 (and an earlier edition in 1989). [by the late Professor Michael House]Geology of the Dorset Coast. Geologists Association Guide No. 22. 2nd edition, 164 pages plus plates. ISBN 0 7073 0485 7. (This inexpensive, conveniently small, paper back guide should be carried in the field as a very useful source of information by all seriously studying the geology of the Lulworth area or other parts of Dorset. It is full of detailed information and is concise and accurate. There is now a later edition.
Legg, R. 1992. Tyneham: Dorset's Ghost Village. Dorset Publishing Company at the Wincanton Press, National School, North Street, Wincanton, Somerset, BA9 9AT. 128 pp. with numerous monochome photographs of various dates. Hard cover. By Rodney Legg. ISBN 0948699 30 2. [This is not geological but has much topographic and historic information and numerous excellent old photographs in monochrome. It is very informative and a key work for historic information on the area.]
Example extract from page 4, regarding the military taking over the area in 1943, including Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay.
"Southern Command
In order to give our troops the fullest oportunity to perfect their training in the use of modern weapons of war, the Army must have an area of land particularly suited to their special needs and in which they can use live shells. For this reason you will realise the chosen area must be cleared of all civilians.
The most careful search has been made to find an area suitable for the Army's purpose and which, at the same time will involve the smallest number of persons and property. The area decided on, after the most careful study and consultation between all the Government Authorities concerned, lies roughly inside of the square formed by EAST LULWORTH - EAST STOKE - EAST HOLME - KIMMERIDGE BAY.
It is regretted that in the National Interest it is necessary to move you from your homes, and everything possible will be done to help you, both by payment of compensation, and by finding other accomodation for you if you are unable to do so yourself.
The date on which the Military will take over this area is the 19th December next, and all civilians must be out of that area by that date.
A special office will be opened at Westport House, WAREHAM, on Wednesday the 17th November, and you will be able to get advice between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. from there on your personal problems and difficulties. Any letters should be sent to that address for the present.
The Government appreciate that this is no small sacrifice which you are asked to make, but they are sure that you will give this further help towards winning the war with a good heart.
C.H. MILLER, Major-General i/c Administration, Southern Command. 16th November 1943."
Mansel-Pleydell, J.C. 1888. Fossil reptiles of Dorset. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club , 9, 1-40. [Reported dissociated dinosaur footprints in the Wealden at Worbarrow and Swanage.]


Melville, R.V. and Freshney, E.C. 1982. British Regional Geology: The Hampshire Basin and Adjoining Areas. British Geological Survey (formerly the Institute of Geological Sciences), London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office. 146 pp.
Mortimore, R.N. and Duperret, A. 2004. Coastal Chalk Cliff Instability. Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology, Special Publication, 20, 173pp. [Not specifically on the Dorset area, but with much content that is relevant to the Dorset Chalk cliffs. Particularly see fig. 1 on page 4 in a paper by Mortimore et al. on Coastal cliff geohazards in weak rock: the UK Chalk cliffs of Sussex. This fig 1 is a very useful table correlating traditional Chalk stratigraphy, stages, key marker beds etc and newer formation and member names. Researchers on the Chalk will need this or a similar diagram for translating terms.]

Mortimore, R.N. and Pomerol, B. 1987. Correlation of the Upper Cretaceous White Chalk (Turonian to Campanian) in the Anglo-Paris Basin. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 98, (2), 97-143. [See fig. 9 on p.111 - Dorset and Isle of Wight field sections compared with the Marchwood and Winterborne Kingston Borehole Logs. There are logs with some lithological details for Ballard Head, Mupe Bay and White Nothe, Dorset.]


Mottram, B. 1972. Some aspects of the evolution of parts of the Dorset coast. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, 94, 21-26.
Nowell, D.A.G. 1996. Faults in the Purbeck - Isle of Wight monocline. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 106, 145-150. Faults at Arish Mell and Corfe Castle in Dorset and at Freshwater Bay and Shide, Newport on the Isle of Wight cut the Purbeck - Isle of Wight monocline. Evidence for these hitherto unrecognised faults is based on outcrop displacement and differences in: (a) outcrop widths either side of the faults; (b) strike and dip of the strata; and (c) the direction of the axis of the monocline. These faults developed above offsets in large normal faults beneath the subsequent monocline and were active growth faults during deposition of the Chalk. During the later Alpine tectonic episode which formed the Purbeck - Isle of Wight monocline these faults were reactivated so displacing the boundary between the Chalk and the Reading Beds. The faults locally weakened the chalk ridge and allowed south to north drainage to develop through the ridge.

Nowell, D.A.G. 1997a. Structures affecting the coast around Lulworth Cove, Dorset and syn-sedimentary Wealden faulting. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 108, 257-268. Pre-Albian northwest-southeast faults have been inferred along the coast between Durdle Door and Worbarrow Tout. From the westward increase in the thickness of Wealden units between Mupe Bay and Lulworth Cove followed by the dramatic thinning across the cove it is suggested that these faults were synsedimentary growth faults during the early Cretaceous. Also the Wealden is shown to contain two main quartz grit bands, only the lower of which is seen in Lulworth Cove due to increasing westwards Albian erosion which mainly explains the westward thinning of the Wealden. These faults may have continued to be active throughout the rest of the Cretaceous. During the later Alpine formation of the Purbeck monocline, southward dipping faults also developed. Their alignment may have been controlled by the reactivated northwest-southeast faults. To the west of Lulworth Cove much of the succession between the Portland Stone and the Chalk is cut out by these east-west thrusts.

Nowell, D.A.G. 1997b. The geology of Lulworth Cove, Dorset. Geology Today, 13, 207-210.

Nowell, D.A.G. 1998. "Structures affecting the coast around Lulworth Cove, Dorset and syn-sedimentary Wealden faulting" by Nowell (1997): reply. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, London, 109, 239-240. This is a reply to a discussion of Nowell's 1997a paper by Jon Radley of Reading University. Radley, J.D. 1998. "Structures affecting the coast around Lulworth Cove, Dorset and syn-sedimentary Wealden faulting" by Nowell (1997): comment. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 109, 237-238.

Nowell, D.A.G. 2000. The geology of Worbarrow, Dorset. Geology Today, Vol. 16 (2), 71-6.
Phillips, W.J. 1964. The structures in the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks on the Dorset coast between White Nothe and Mupe Bay. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, London, 75, 373-405


Pugh, M.E. 1966. The Petrography of the Lower Purbeck Limestones of Dorset. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis, Chelsea College, London.

Pugh, M.E. 1968. Algae from the Lower Purbeck limestones of Dorset. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, London, 79, 513-523. [Microbial mat limestones in the Hard Cap of Worbarrow Tout - photograph.]


Strahan, A. 1898. The Geology of the Isle of Purbeck and Weymouth. Memoirs of the Geological Survey. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London. 278 pages with a map.
Stewart, D.J. 1978. The Sedimentology and Palaeoenvironment of the Wealden Group of the Isle of Wight. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Portsmouth Polytechnic (now Portsmouth University).


Woodward, H.B.1895. The Jurassic Rocks of Britain. Vol 5. The Middle and Upper Oolitic Rocks of England (Yorkshire excepted). Memoirs of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom. 499pp. [See pages 254-255 on the Purbeck strata of Worbarrow Tout.]


West, I.M. 1964. Evaporite diagenesis in the Lower Purbeck Beds of Dorset. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 34, 315-330. [Worbarrow evaporitic strata, lutecite, celestite, pseudomorphs etc.]

West, I.M. 1965. Macrocell structure and enterolithic veins in British Purbeck gypsum and anhydrite. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 35, 47- 58. [Nodular and enterolithic evaporitic structures from Worbarrow Tout and elsewhere. These were recognised as early displacive features at a time when they were not understood and they were subsequently found to be similar to evaporite structures, such as nodular anhydrite and gypsum of modern sabkhas. The word "macrocell" did not receive general use, and should be replaced now by nodular or chickenwire structure.]

West, I.M. 1975. Evaporites and associated sediments of the basal Purbeck Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Dorset. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 86, 205-225. [This shows the distribution of evaporites (now calcitised) in the basal Purbeck Formation and discusses the role of evaporites in the origin of the Broken Beds. Details of Worbarrow Tout evaporitic basal Purbecks are shown, and evaporitic facies discussed.]

West, I.M. 1979. Sedimentary Environments and Diagenesis of Purbeck Strata (Upper Jurassic - Lower Cretaceous) of Dorset, U.K. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Southampton University, 181 p.

West, I.M., 1979. Review of evaporite diagenesis in the Purbeck Formation of southern England. In: Symposium "Sedimentation Jurassique W. Europeen." A.S.F. Publication Speciale, No.1, March, 1979. 407-416.

West, I.M., Shearman, D.J. and Pugh, M.E. 1969. Whitsun Field Meeting in the Weymouth area, 1966. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 80, 331-340. [The Worbarrow Tout section was visited and the gypsum, satin-spar, enterolithic veins, the calcitised anhydrite rock, the celestite and the dinosaur footprints were seen.]


(In addition, please see the Lulworth References for more related publications.)

Go back to top

|Home and List of Webpages |Field Guide List |Lulworth Cove

Copyright © 2019 Ian 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 cancel 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.

Go back to top

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.