Not only is this 95-mile stretch of coast one of the most spectacular and unspoilt in Britain, through rocks, pebbles and fossils it tells the story of 185 million years of the Earth’s history – spanning the age of dinosaurs, giant reptiles and the first frogs and mammals.
The time-travel adventure begins at the westernmost point of the designated site, Orcombe Point at Exmouth. The red rocks were formed 250 million years ago, at a time when the area was a desert in the centre of a super-continent called Pangaea.
Fast-forward to 65 million years ago – the youngest rocks at the coast’s easternmost point, the white chalk stack of Old Harry Rocks, was formed when the Atlantic Ocean emerged, and America and Europe were two separate continents. En route, between 200 and 195 million years ago, Lyme Regis and Charmouth’s limestone originated at the bed of a deep, tropical sea, with an abundance of fossils from ancient swimming beasts.
More than a dozen visitor centres and museums along this coast display findings from the past 200 years, but visitors are encouraged to make their own discoveries. The best time to go fossil-hunting is after a storm, when the forces of nature disturb and uncover prehistoric booty through wave erosion.
The iconic Durdle Door – a natural rock arch – is a sight near Lulworth, while the 28km-long shale trail of Chesil Bank, a barrier beach connecting Portland to the mainland, is the debris left by a landslide 20,000 years ago. The Jurassic Coast is on the move again after a major landslide in 2008, so visitors are urged to take extra care in particularly fragile places. And remember, the rollercoaster ascents and descents of the South West Coast Path can make it demanding for the most seasoned rambler.
Not only are Olympic sailing events taking place off the Jurassic Coast this summer, but Weymouth and Lyme Regis are the focus of an Earth Festival from May to September, which includes a simulated flight with pterodactyls and also a simulated swim with pliosaurs and ichthyosaurs.