Just imagine the tremendous forces of nature that work from the sea to transport tens of thousands of tons of pebbles across a beach, to separate or mix the sizes, and to develop new seashore shapes and contours. And of the onshore gusts that stunt, bend, break or trim the cliff-top vegetation into leaning living sculptures.
When I visited Ringstead in early March, the heavy seas had shifted the beach components to reveal surprising and rarely glimpsed expanses of sandy beach in some areas. In other places the shingle was heaped up into undulating banks lying at right angles to the tide line rather than the usual parallel ascending ridges up the shore.
At the water’s edge, the now merely-lapping waves followed the contours of the newly carved beach so that, depending on your perspective, the white wet line either formed a long serpentine curve winding into the distance or a neat regular scalloped border as if the sea was taking bites out of the shore.
Atop the low, soft crumbling cliffs, the still bare branches and twigs of trees and bushes revealed their true structure leaning permanently away from the prevailing blasts; the tips snipped to create shapes offering less resistance. The long dried reed-like grasses lower down the slope remained standing; and being more pliable bent in the opposite direction and into the wind. Looking up from the beach, the result resembled a series of layers one on top of the other – and of screens one in front of the other.
On the more western reach of the shore, approaching the point where Ringstead becomes Osmington Bay, rock beds and boulders are exposed from a complex and interesting geology which includes many different, often fossil-laden, strata. There is a red uneven stone pavement at one point. The colour is, as far as I can make out, caused by the oxidation in air of a dull, green earthy iron and potassium silicate in the rock (glauconite). Many rocks and the rock platform that extends out from the shore are crowded with fossils – such as the Trigonia Beds that are easily recognisable with their numerous characteristic fossil bivalved mollusc shells (Myophorella clavellata).
Ringstead is a fascinating place, as is the entire Jurassic Coast, difficult though it may be to fully understand its geology, palaeontology and coastal processes. It is, however, always a joy to visit and will provide me with a lifetime of learning opportunities.
Revision of a post first published 19 March 2010
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