Pebbles from Chesil Cove, Portland

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Chesil Beach pebbles: Dry pebbles from Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast

Dry pebbles from Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK – part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (1)

Chesil Beach is a great natural phenomenon – a huge shingle bank extending from Chesil Cove near Portland, Dorset, UK,  at its eastern end to Bridport in the west. Millions of tons of pebbles but it is strictly forbidden to remove any pebbles from the beach as they are now thought to be a basically unrenewable resource.   

Chesil Beach: View looking westwards along Chesil Bank from just below the promenade at Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (2)

View looking westwards along Chesil Bank from just below the promenade at Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK – part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (2)

It is difficult to capture in a photograph the sheer scale of this spectacular feature which extends for as far as the eye can see.

At first sight, the pebbles all look more or less the same, especially when they are dry and the surfaces are dull. However, once the stones become wet, their true colour, beauty and variety is revealed. So it is well worth going right down to the water’s edge to look at them more closely.  

Pebbles on Chesil Beach: Large wet pebbles from the easternmost end of Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (3)

Large wet pebbles from the easternmost end of Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK – part of the Jurassic Coast (3)

The pebbles of of the great Chesil Beach have been size sorted by natural processes so that the largest ones occur at the easternmost end of the shingle bank in Chesil Cove below the promenade. In the picture below you can see the size of the pebbles at this point relative to my walking pole.    

Chesil Beach pebbles: Larger sized pebbles from the eastern end of Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (4)

Larger sized pebbles from the eastern end of Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK – part of the Jurassic Coast (4) 

However, a mile further on as you walk along the top of the shingle ridge from Chesil Cove to Ferry Bridge on the causeway, the size of the pebbles is considerably smaller as you can see in the picture below. By the time you get to Cogden Beach and Burton Bradstock, the pebbles on the western tail of the shingle bank are just about pea size.  

Pebbles on Chesil Beach: Medium sized pebbles from the top of the shingle bank of Chesil Beach, one mile west of Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (5)

Medium sized pebbles from the top of the shingle bank of Chesil Beach, one mile west of Chesil Cove, Portland, Dorset, UK (5)

Looking at the wet pebbles, the different varieties can clearly be seen. The difficult part is identifying what sort of mineral or stone gives rise to the different colours and shapes.  However, 98% of them will be either flint or chert. I have compiled a gallery (below) of a selection of the pebble types that I saw washed by the surf at Chesil Cove.

As a very rough guide to recognising the some of the various sorts of pebbles, here is a list of the possibilities for each kind of colour – but remember that there is a greater chance than 9 out of 10 that a pebble will be just flint or chert:

White – could be quartzite from Triassic pebble beds at Budleigh Salterton in Devon; white outer layer – flint; white to grey Upper Greensand Chert; or bluish white chalcedony in Upper Greensand Chert.

Yellowish or yellow-brown  – could be quartzite containing iron oxides from the Triassic pebble beds at Budleigh Salterton – and this includes strange orange patterns on a lighter background.

Slightly brownish – could be flint from Upper Cretaceous chalk with a brownish outer layer.

Medium grey – could be flint from the Upper Cretaceous chalk.

Grey to brownish – could be flint from Cretaceous chalk.

Light bluish grey – could be chert from Upper Greensand

Black – could be chert from Portland Chert Series, chert with fossils from the Portland Roach; chert from the basal Purbeck formation; or tourmalinised rocks.

Pink or blue tinted translucent or clear – could be Lower Cretaceous, Upper Greensand chert.

Reddish or purple or liver-coloured – could be quartzite from Triassic pebble beds at Budleigh Salterton in Devon; porphyry from Permian breccia of Dawlish in Devon; or red chert from Cornish Palaeozoic rocks.

Mixed colours – could be vein quartz from Cornish Palaeozoic rocks; porphyry which has a combination of crystals and matrix with white, cream, greyish brown, and pink/purple parts; or granite with coarse grains of pink or white feldspar, grey quartz and black minerals such as mica.

Fossiliferous – could be chert from Portland series with fossil shells; flints with fossil sea urchins or cavities left by fossil sponges; or silicified shelly limestone from the Purbeck Beds.

If you are keen to learn more about the pebbles of Chesil Bank, you can do no better than consult Ian West’s web pages on Chesil Beach – Pebbles.

[I thank Dr West to whose work I have referred in order to try and identify the types of pebble and make the information more accessible to the average reader of the posting – but any mistakes or misunderstandings that may appear in what I have written are mine alone].

Revision of a post first published 20 May 2009


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35 Replies to “Pebbles from Chesil Cove, Portland”

  1. Great post Jessica! A new perspective for a common place object……


  2. Thanks, Jan. I love pebbles. I would have picked some up to take home but it’s strictly not allowed – and they were quite large and heavy as pebbles go. I was intrigued that the local visitor centre had no information at all on what rocks and minerals were responsible for the different colours and designs – so I took lots of pictures and had a go myself – actually not so easy to identify the types without expert help.


  3. Thanks, Chris. What was it about your own pictures that you didn’t like? Your photographs on Welcome to Gower are superb and show the wide range of subjects you have successfully captured and the variety of styles you can adopt. I was interested in your recent post on Pwlldu – I don’t think I have ever been there – and I didn’t know there were any shingle banks like that in Gower. Anyway, it shows there are plenty of pebbles in Gower for you to practice on.


  4. If you were ever a fan of Jim Henson (of muppet fame) and his creature shop, the 80’s film with David Bowie playing a Goblin king is worth seeing. Ludo was a “monster” but he considered the rocks his friends and could call them to him.
    If rocks could talk, what stories would they tell?


  5. Hi, Viv. I was a fan of the Muppets and Fraggle Rock. I seem to remember something of the Labyrinth film from a long time ago. I must watch it again. Yes, if only rocks could tell of all they had seen or experienced. I have heard of some ‘ghost’ stories in which stones have ‘recorded’ tragic or disastrous events.


  6. It’s the basis essentially of crystal therapy, that rocks have a form of consciousness and memory. There is a Chinese proverb that says consciousness sleeps in stones, dreams in plants, dances in animals and wakes in humans(or something like that0
    I’ve done psychometry experiments with rocks brought to me from various places round the world and have managed to describe successfully details of the place where a rock was found that I could never have guessed. One friend now sends me rocks from wherever he travels, so I have a collection.
    Also given how old audio tape works, it’s not so fantastic to think that rocks can actually record events.
    It’s a shame that this area is so off-limits to real scientists exploring it with an open mind; it’s apparently the kiss-of-death to a career to dabble in the paranormal of any kind!


  7. I would hesitate to believe that rocks possess consciousness. However, it is true to say, not that they have memories but that they are the memories of past events.
    To the scientist, the wonder of rocks is the amount of information they contain. The evidence for both minor and major geological processes has been encapsulated in rocks; along with data supporting our theories for the development of the world itself and all within it.
    Your example of the old-fashioned magnetic tape recorders is a good one. If you have watched The Time Team, you may have seen how archaeologists are able to date old clay hearths by examining the difference between the direction of magnetic north as seen on a modern compass and the magnetic north given by the magnetised baked earth and stones. As the earth wobbles on its axis through time, the position of polar north has changed during earth’s long-term history. By finding out where magnetic north was at the time the hearth was being used, it is possible to date it.
    To me, that is just one example of the fascinating way rocks are memories of past events. They represent the end product of some intriguing and powerful phenomena.


  8. I think it also depends on a definition of consciousness which for certain cultures is very much more fluid than ours. The Native Amercians refer to rocks as The Stone People, for example. not scientific, I know, but an interesting thing to note. When you consider that it’s being discovered steadily that animals have far greater self awareness (for example) than had previously been thought, who’s to guess what other discoveries await us? It’s only about thirty or a bit more years since the general medical consensus was that babies didn’t feel pain in the way adults do, and some quite appalling medical procedures used to be carried out on babies without anaesthesia at all, even local. Only 18 years ago, I had to hold my best friend while the doctors lanced an abcess on her newborn, without even local anaesthesia.
    That animals can feel grief is beginning to be accepted by science, but I do recall something in Herodotus about it.
    So maybe rocks could tell us far more if we knew how to access those memories…Mind you, it could so easily be just millenia of tedium…


  9. Philosophers have been trying to define consciousness for hundreds of years. We really know very little about our world or our existence. New discoveries are being made every day and not everything can be described in scientifically verifiable terms. Maybe, what works for us is what matters. We all live in our own unique and precious world, looking for our own understanding of it. There is much to intrigue and give delight in the natural world and, when I take my photographs, I am trying to capture those happy moments of wonder.


  10. Hi Jessica – that pebbly bank in Pwlldu was created by all the quarrying on the nearby cliff and the huge amount of discarded rock from those days that has been worn down by the sea. If you haven’t been to Pwlldu then I would definitely put it on your “To Visit” list next time you are down this way.


  11. What an interesting thread of comments. I am very intrigued by the notion of consciousness. There is a belief, and one that I am quite open to, that consciousness is an independent entity – akin to a radio wave. Our brains are just like radios which pick up certain aspects of consciousness, filtering only certain aspects of it with the physical mechanics of its structure. Plants and even rocks pick up different aspects of consciousness. A great place to start a study of non animal consciousness is Druidism.


  12. Another way of looking at it is that consciousness is not an independant entity but just a way of decribing awareness – a quality that is generated by the sum total of experience and sensations of a living organism. In people, this is related ultimately to brain activity. For example, unconsciousness in a coma or death means that the brain is no longer aware of the body. That is, consciousness is dependant on the two things – life and an adequately functioning brain.
    Whilst generally thought of as a property of humans, it is enthusiastically debated whether consciousness applies to other animal organisms, and maybe also plants. If consciousness is indeed a separately existing entity, then perhaps it could apply to anything including rocks. How would you define consciousness?


  13. @Chris. I’m the sort of person who talks to plants and tries to listen to what they “say” in return. Have you ever come across a book called The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tomlinson and someone else? It’s a book entirely about work done to explore plant consciousness. From personal experience, as well as conviction, I believe plants to be far more “conscious” than people give them credit for. I remember going out the day after a biggish earthquake in the Uk about 7/8 years ago and putting my ear to treetrunks to listen to the sap. At that time of the year, the sap was slowing and the previous days I’d hardly heard anything. On that day, every tree, including some big oaks, had their sap thundering and thumping away erratically like someone’s heart after a nasty shock, quite unlike anything I’d ever heard before, even after 15/20 years of tree-trunk listening. I can only conclude they were upset. The quake had been severe enough to crack walls in my home.


  14. No, I haven’t heard of that book but I’m gonna try and make it my next book purchase. If trees do indeed have consiousness, would you say that had personality and, perhaps, heirachy?


  15. OOh yes, very probably both. But then I might also be hatter-mad! I have had many run-ins with yew trees, over the years always the female ones. I go near one, I get poked in the eye, i get stuff dropped on me…But they love my husband.
    It may be just humans seeing it this way, but if you look at the old tree alphabet and look at the info in that, it does seem as though there is very definite “tribes” among trees, and people have affinity with certain kinds.
    The Native Americans call trees The Standing People.


  16. Yew trees are remarkable – it is now believed that they marked sacred grounds and churches were built near them to get people to change from paganism to christianity – rather than what used to be believed that yews were planted in churchyards. I love trees, especially ancient ones. My favourite ever tree has to be the tree down in Betty Church, in North Gower. I’ll try and get a post published on early early next week :o)


  17. We had a massive one in our last garden; I reckon it was almost ten feet round the trunk. Couldn’t measure it as the garden fence was on one side of it stopping us.
    I posted a reply about Cat Hole cave on your blog but I think Blogger ate it; it was nice of you to pop over to my blog too.
    I can’t imagine when we’ll ever get to Gower again; the majority of my work comes in the summer and I have to work every day there is. But, I’m having an interview for a new job in a week or two, one which has holidays, so maybe I’ll be able to take summer hols again. If I get back to Gower, then Betty Church will be a stopping point as my husband adores yews(i rather like them too even if they don’t like me) as well as Paviland cave and a few other treasures.


  18. I always thought that yew trees were planted deliberately in churchyards. The wood from them was essential as it was used almost exclusively for making long bows. Yew berries being very poisonous if ingested, it was important that the fruits were kept away from livestock. Churchyards were the only enclosed places where cattle and sheep were not allowed to graze.


  19. Jessica – that has been the the theory for a long while but the remains of even older yews have been discovered in churchyards in areas that were known to be pagan sacred sites before Christianity reached our shores. christianity had trouble taking over from pagan religions and they used every trick in the book to sweep out the old religions, building churches on old pagan sacred sites, having Christmas in the middle of winter to taker over from winter solstice celebrations etc. yews are probably the most sacred trees in Britain.
    Viv66 – Don’t think there are any yews in Betty Church. The old medieval churchyards are your best bet of seeing them.


  20. Sorry, I misread about your favourite ever tree being at Betty Church! I’ve had a nasty cold plus sinusitis for ten days and it’s getting me down.
    I am really rather fond of the Major Oak in Sherwood forest, but for me Lime trees are my favourites; there’s plenty of evidence that they can live almost as long as yews.
    Many years ago i worked as an education officer in a reserve in the North east and we had some ancient yew woodland, plus around the site, a probably equally ancient badger sett, complete with clan. I had the great joy of badger watching many evenings, and found myself with a big boar sitting only a few feet away one night, watching me in return. It was one of the best times of my life.


  21. Hope you are feeling a bit better today, Viv. What a wonderful job that must have been on the nature reserve. Sounds just fantastic to have been able to watch the badgers. You must have been very quiet indeed for the wild boar to have made an appearance too.


  22. Ah, I meant a badger boar! But even so, yes, we were very quiet. Plus, I don’t know exactly why but I’ve had a lot of encounters with wild animals approaching me without apparent fear. If you go into my archives and find a post in Wildlife entitled Weasel Words, you’ll find one such account of a very close encounter indeed. It was a wonderful wonderful job; once in a lifetime I suspect.
    I had the very odd experience last weekend of having a wild chaffinch in Dunwich forest follow me. the forest is not a place where people go and feed the birds, but this one came very close to me a few times and then when I called to it, it came closer still and then followed me at a distance for a few hundred feet.
    I’m feeling much better physically now, but it’s been a hard week in many ways. I’m finding work issues very upsetting and frustrating. I have a first interview for a new and better job next week, followed, if successful with a second interview next Friday. I really need to get out of my current job before it’s too late and my health is damaged, not to mention my sanity!


  23. You seem to have a real affinity with wildlife and nature. That is a very precious attribute. How great a consolation is that to you when times are tough?
    I wish you every success with your interview/s next week and hope this may be a turning point for you. It sounds like your current work situation is difficult and affecting you adversely.
    I always describe my photographs as ‘capturing the happy moments’. This connection with nature has sustained me through some very tough times in the past.


  24. Yes, it is a consolation indeed. It means when I have no money I can take a walk and find and see something that lifts my spirits all day; it means I look for the beauty and love in the whole landscape. I often visit cities, which are NOT my natural habitat at all, and find nature in the cracks and crevices. London in particular is packed with little green spaces. It also helps me when I feel despair about climate change and other issues; seeing that certain creatures and plants are thriving that only a few years ago were almost extinct is a green shoot of hope.
    It also means I take the little things like composting and responsible living generally seriously, and aim for a garden that is largely aimed at wildlife.
    Oh and we’ve just bought two beehives and are taking a course on beekeeping. Exciting, isnt it.
    Work, well, that’s just work. I shall try to keep it at bay!


  25. You obviously keep busy and keep positive in a process that intimately connects you with the natural world – whether at home, in the country, or in urban situations. Have you discovered the blog The author has some interesting things to say about keeping positive – including a theory called The Happiness Formula. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours beachcombing at Ringstead Bay topping up my own happiness levels!


  26. Hi winderjssc
    Would be very interested in using your photo of Dry Pebbles at Chesil Cove for a property brochure we are currently designing.

    Would like to know if you are intrested in letting us use for a fee to be agreed.

    Doug Saunders


  27. In the Triassic part of Devon where the cliffs are reddish, I find a few pieces of well-worn red pebbles on the beach. Some of these could be man-made bricks that have been turned into pebbles by wave action, but I’m not sure. I think they could equally be lumps (scientific ones) of rock that have fallen from the cliffs and tumbled to create these lovely rounded forms.


  28. Hello, Ian. Just looking at your lovely photos via the weblink, I think most of your reddish pebbles are more likely to be water-worn fragments of brick – the ones that are more orange in colour with small inclusions. I find these on Dorset beaches too sometimes.
    However, one of your pebbles which is darker and more red in colour looks like it could be from your local Triassic rocks.
    I’ve got some pictures of red Triassic pebbles from Charmouth Beach in Dorset on my other website ( Although one or two of the pebbles in that series of images has a coarser texture than the others, I think they are derived from genuine rock. I’ll see if I can find some of my brick pebbles to photograph and send for comparison.


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