Tag Archives: erosion

Mind the Gap

8 Aug

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Towns have names, villages have names, headlands have names, hills have names, in fact most things have names……but how often is a gap given a name? It is just an empty space after all, so why would it need a name? But on the Dorset coast, there is a gap and it has a name. The gap I am referring to is the empty space between the mainland coast and the next bit of land which has become an island, and it has a somewhat unusual name too. This is St Lucas’ Leap.

St Lucas’ Leap

Sunrise at Old Harry Rocks

Handfast Point and St Lucas’ Leap at Sunrise

In fact there are numerous names surrounding this area. Overall it is known as The Foreland or Handfast Point but it is more commonly referred to as Old Harry Rocks. In fact, Old Harry refers to one particular rock, a stack that has separated from the mainland. It stands beside the remains of Old Harry’s Wife who crumbled decades ago. And they both stand seawards of a much larger ‘island’ of rock which has in fact split into two separate parts, which is known as No Man’s Land.

I think it is fairly clear where No Man’s Land got its name, but that is not the subject of this post. This blog post concerns the gap between it and the mainland because that gap has been given the name St Lucas’ Leap. So who was St Lucas? Well the first thought might be that he was some great saint who did wonderful things centuries ago, maybe set up a monastery in the area, Lucas being a form of Luke. But as far as we know that is not the case. St Lucas was in fact………a dog! Hmm, dogs seem to be a bit of a theme in my blog at the moment.

Old Harry - up close and personal!

No Man’s Land

So why name a gap after a dog? Well it is a sad story but it seems that St Lucas was a pedigree greyhound and when he was being walked on the coast path, he took off after a rabbit and not being aware of the dangers of clifftops, he plunged off the end of Handfast Point and fell to his death on the rocks beneath. Since that day, the gap between the very tip of Handfast Point and that huge stack of rock known as No Man’s Land has been known as St Lucas’ Leap.

I’m not sure if the name was intended as some kind of tribute to a loyal friend or whether it was some kind of joke since it was hardly a leap, more a fall, and a sad one at that! Actually, thinking about it, who names these places anyway? Was this named by some civil dignitary who stood up in a council meeting and spouted, ‘I decree that hereafter and from hence forward, in recognition of fine service given during his life, this place shall be known as……’? Or was it some local joker who started it off one day and it just caught on 🙂 ? I’m guessing the latter and that it just became local custom.

old Harry - up close and personal!

St Lucas’ Leap with No Man’s Land beyond

Now one of the interesting things about St Lucas’ Leap, besides its name, is actually reaching it. If you time it right and know your tides well, you can reach it along the shoreline, but that is a post for another day. You can, or maybe that should be could, reach it from the clifftop but that required a serious head for heights as it meant walking a tightrope of a very narrow ridge of chalk with sheer drops on either side. Even when I walked it some years ago, you wouldn’t have attempted it on a windy day. Today, you would have to be very foolhardy to attempt this short walk at all as a cliff fall a year or two back has eroded the ‘path’ away almost completely.

A Sharper Knife

The Ridge Leading to St Lucas’ Leap

You might say, ‘Why walk there at all as it doesn’t go anywhere’, but I guess my response would be, ‘Because it is there’, and also perhaps because not many people have been there. It is a kind of inviting path and you just get the feeling that you want to see what is down there. I still get that feeling even though I have already been there several times but age and wisdom prevents me from making that walk again. Besides which, there really isn’t much to see that can’t be seen from the main clifftop, apart perhaps from getting a different view of the coast as you climb back up that narrow, exposed path.

Old Harry view

Looking Back from St Lucas’ Leap 

So, tribute to a dog, or sick joke? Who knows! I’m glad I’ve been there several times and captured these shots but if I feel the need to repeat the experience, I’ll buy a drone and have a virtual walk along the ridge! I think St Lucas can keep his leap for himself!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.


Quirky Dorset – Part 16

18 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

OK, so I lied yesterday 🙂 ! I’ve decided that I will continue this series a little longer, and today we visit a real icon of Dorset and something that is almost unique. This is an amazing feature that stretches for 18 miles along the coast and one that is mysterious and that has some quirky features. This is the Chesil Beach.

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach from West Cliff above Chiswell

Chesil Beach, also known as Chesil Bank, stretches 18 miles from Chiswell at its south eastern end to West Bay at its north western end……..although some would say that it doesn’t actually end there, since the beach continues beyond that point. It takes its name from the old English word for shingle because this is a shingle beach, and a shingle beach of the finest order. It is between 150 and 200 meters wide and between 12-14 meters high, with that height increasing towards the south east, and it is said to comprise some 180 billion pebbles.

It is described as a Tombolo, that is a narrow strip of land that is formed by the tide to join an island, in this case the Isle of Portland, to the mainland. Some would disagree with that description, stating that this is more of a giant sandbank or Barrier Beach because it runs predominantly parallel to the coast rather than perpendicular to it. Either way, this is the largest such feature in the UK, and one of the largest in the world.

Fleet View

Chesil Beach and The Fleet from Abbotsbury Castle

Chesil is thought to have its foundations way back at the end of the last ice age when the previously dry English Channel was flooded by melting ice. The gradually rising water level washed sediment towards the land forming a sandbank which increased in height as it moved landwards, eventually rising above sea level, trapping seawater behind it. This trapped water became known as The Fleet, a now brackish lagoon. The ‘sandbank’ was then further increased in size by stones and rock being washed over from the crumbling cliffs along the west shore of Lyme Bay, with these being driven over the top of the sand and silt to create a pebbled shoreline.

One of the interesting features of Chesil Beach is that the size of the pebbles varies along its length, being fist sized at Chiswell but reducing gradually to pea size at West Bay. There are various theories put forward to explain this phenomenon, one being that the predominant tides coming from the southwest hit Portland and then effectively bounce back westward again along the shoreline gradually reducing the size of the pebbles by attrition. Another suggests that in fact the southwesterly winds and tides wash the pebbles eastwards along the shore and that the larger pebbles simply move quicker and override the smaller ones that then get left behind.

Whichever of these theories is correct, it is said that fishermen or smugglers landing on Chesil Beach at night could tell exactly where they were simply by the size of the pebbles.



The bank is not smooth as it appears from a distance but is in fact ‘shelved’ by the action of the sea and weather as you can see in the picture above. The shingle is multi-coloured because of the different types of stone. For centuries, although the shingle beach itself was being eroded, it was being replenished by more debris washing across from the west. However, erosion all along this coast has caused some headlands to become more prominent, effectively blocking this resupply chain. In addition, human interaction has also had an effect since gravel extraction used to take place here.

Interestingly, whist lateral movement has virtually ceased, the shingle bank is still very gradually moving inland and a rate of 15 cm per annum has been suggested at the Portland end. It is probable that some distant day it will either be breached, or it will join the mainland. In fact there have already been occasions when the sea has breached Chesil, notably in 1824 when much of Fleet village was destroyed.


Stormy Seas off Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach is a truly amazing place and usually there are many fishermen, especially in the more western parts where it can be reached without too much walking. Swimming, however, is a dangerous occupation all along its length because of the steeply sloping shingle and very strong undertow. The shingle actually continues to drop steeply to some 18 meters below sea level at 300 meters out to sea!

In any event, because this is a conservation area, access is extremely restricted in parts, with no access being permitted at all along great lengths during the nesting season, or along the landward shoreline at any time at any time of year.

The Fleet shoreline

Chesil Beach and the Fleet Viewed from the Mainland Shore

The Chesil Beach is a wild and special place that has inspired novels! It is certainly a place that inspires me and one of my ambitions is to walk along its length simply because it is there, and because not many people will have done it. Well, trudging along 18 miles of shingle is not easy, especially when there is an easier path along the mainland shore. Whether I will achieve it or not, time alone will tell 🙂 !

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.