Dorset, England
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Chesil Beach, Dorset, England         OS Map Grid Ref: SY603811
 The County of Dorset
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Chesil Beach, Dorset    


From Swanage in the east to the western border of Dorset just beyond Lyme Regis, the Dorset coast is characterised by cliffs. At Chesil Beach, the cliffs are brocken by the vast shingle bar which is Chesil Beach, so familiar from every textbook of geography.

 Chesil Beach and the Fleet

The beach is not a beautiful of pretty spot but possesses its own grandeur, particularly when the anger of the sea pounds it.

On a warm summers day the waters off Chesil Beach can be very inviting but the beach slopes into the waters at a very steep angle of about 45 degrees - the sea is six feet deep only six feet out! The undertow which enchants visitors by grinding the pebbles is also trecherous.


The eastern end of the beach is quite well defined at the neck of land which connects the 'Isle' of Portland to the mainland. Where it ends in the west is a matter of contoversy. Some authorities include all that portion of coast from Portland to West Bay including Burton Beach - that portion between Burton Bradstock and West Bay and Cogden Beach between West Bexington and Burton Bradstock. Everyone agrees, however, that the beach extends eastwards of West Bexington and particularly that portion of it which spectacularly forms the bar isolating the brackish Fleet from the sea.

If the greater extent of the beach is measured, from West Bay to Portland, it stretches a distance of 18 miles. The lesser portion, from West Bexington to Portland, is no less impressive at 13 miles. At its highest, the shingle bar rises 45 feet above mean sea level and, where it cuts off the Fleet behind, the bar is 600 feet wide. Disagreement on the shingle bar's western extent and in estimating the depth of the shingle make estimating the amount of shingle it contains a difficult task, but 50 million tons is a figure which has been mooted.

Legend has it that the beach was created in the space of a single long night by a mighty storm, the likes of which has not been witnessed since. The sea threw up the shingle bar so fast that it trapped a portion of itself behind it, the Fleet, and lost the Isle of Portland.

The word "Chesil" modestly derives from the Old English word for "shingle" - an aptly descriptive term, even if it does seem somewhat inadequate.

The grading of the shingle along the beach allows local fisherman to ascertain their position along its length quite accurately - this was of particular use to smugglers who landed on Chesil Beach in the dead of night.

The pebbles which compose the beach are far from uniform changing is size and nature along the length of the beach. At the western end they are small, cream oolite prodominating, eastwards the size of the pebbles increases and the grey Portland stone predominates. This grading of the material of the beach is created by the process more generally known as longshore drift, but locally known as the "Eastward Drift" along England's South Coast because of the south-westerly waves off the Atlantic Ocean which predominate in the English Channel. The same process, carrying material eroded from cliffs eastwards along the Channel from Land's End, is resposible for that other great shingle feature of the South Coast, Dungeness in Kent.

In 1757 the sea washed a "Mermaid" up on the shore. Today this might have caused considerable excitement but stories of mermaids and sea monsters still abounded in eighteenth century maritime communities and, though many people saw her, she caused little stir. Perhaps the lack of excitement was in large part due to the mermaid being described as "no beauty".

The vast shingle bar all but encloses an eight-mile-long and irregualr body of brackish water known as the Fleet whose only outlet to the sea is into Portland Harbour at the western end.

Beyond the Fleet is the village of Fleet, the "Moonfleet" of Meade Faulkner's novel of the same name. In it, Faulkner (who wrote it in 1898 when many beach rescue were fresh in his mind) writes of the two heroes, both smugglers, fighting their way against the undertow on the treacherous Chesil Beach towards their rescuers.

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The western part of the Dorset coast has always been hazardous to shipping since the first nautical records were kept.

As early as 877, an invading Danish fleet numbering possibly over one hundred longships foundered on the rocks off Swanage and was destroyed.

During the days of sailing ships, the huge arch of shingle which is Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland were most feared by mariners; if they entered West Bay driven by a south-westerly storm they had little hope of avoiding the roaring boulders of the great beach or of rounding Portland to reach more sheltered waters beyond.

Not only did the churning boulders of Chesil Beach rip the bottoms from under the unfortunate vessels which foundered there but, as with the southern flank of Dungeness in Kent, the shingle is very steeply shelved. The undertow here as the waves pound the beach is awesome and countless sailors and their passengers have drowned almost within the grasp of their would-be rescuers ashore.

The shingles of Chesil Beach have claimed many victims;-


Seven ships of Admiral Christian's fleet were lost and the sea claimed over two hundred souls.


Four ships were lost with all hands in a great storm known locally as "The Outrage".

The waves rolled over Chesil Beach and reached half a mile inland; Fleet church and village were wrecked and hundreds of bodies were left on the beach.

The sloop Ebeneezer was cast onto the crest of the shingle. Hauled into the Fleet after the storm, the Ebeneezer still floated sufficiently to allow her to be towed to Portland for repairs.


Another great storm utterly destroyed five ships on the shingle and not a single man of their crews survived.

The cargos of wrecked ships were invariably plundered by the locals but it should also be remembered that many of the same locals frequently risked their lives attempting to rescue the crewmen and sometimes passengers of stricken vessels along this trecherous coast - with all hands dead, the cargo was salvage. The same storms which brought the ships onto the beach also brought debris from elsewhere.

On the nights of the fiercest storms, the roar of the undertow through the pebles has been heard as far inland as Dorchester.

The advent of steam ships and later diesel power allowed vessels to fight the power of wind and tide by steaming their way off the beach. Nevertheless, a French trawler was still wrecked on the beach in 1963.

Where there was gain to be made, there were always the unscrupulous; in 1822, for example, Richard Bishop of Swyre was imprisoned for "unlawfully making a light on the sea coast".

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The margins of Chesil Beach are inhabited by groups of hardy plant colonists which are typical of such inhospitable shingle beds (see: halophytes); sea campion, sea holly, sea kale (a relative of the edible variety) and the yellow-horned poppy. Sometimes a hare might be glimpsed amongst the plants.

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Four-Leafed Allseed
Polycarpon tetraphyllum
The Mediterannean annual was first recorded at Smallmouth in about 1750 and, despite occuring in one place in Cornwall and on the Scilly Isles, has only been found here preiodically. Seen by Dr Coombs in 1946, he never sighted it again in 40 years of searching. It was last seen in 1991.

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Little Tern
Small fish such as the sand eel and goby from the Fleet lagoon form an important part of the terns' diet. The Little Tern is locally known as the "potter" because of the way it hovers around the shoreline to pick off unsuspecting fish by plunge diving.

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Omophlus rufitarsis
With no common name, this beetle is the rarest insect on Ferrybridge, being found nowhere else in the British Isles. It was recorded in 1926, and again in 1989 on thrift.

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There is a Visitor Centre, parking and telephone kiosk adjacent to the A354, Wyke Regis to Portland road near the eastern extremity of the beach.

Walking along the beach is a tiring affair as the pebbles constantly shift underfoot. It is possible to walk a circular route, returning to the eastern end of the beach from Abbotsbury along the the South West Coast Path (formerly the Dorset Coast Path) follows the northern shore of the Fleet faithfully from a point south-west of Langton Herring to the northern Side of Small Mouth where the path turns northwards a few hundred yards from the Visitor Centre and car park. The circular route is an outing for a whole day.

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All coastlines are temporary in the long scheme of nature, never static but constantly changing, either growing or being eroded away. Hard, unyeilding rock formations are eroded more slowly than the loose material of Chesil or its near-neighbour, Studland, which can be nibbled away remarkeably quickly by small changes or with brutal ferocity overnight (as shown by the great storm of 1824 which is thought to have removed twenty feet (6 metres) from the height of the pebble bank).

The recent storms have confirmed the theory that the days of the world-famous bank are numbered. There is nothing to stop the sea's eventual victory, and in the end the shingle of the bank will be scattered into Portland Harbour. Portland itself will become an island completely cut off by the sea.

  Dr W J Arkell of Sedwick Museum, Cambridge, an authority on coastal geology, in a letter to the assistant curator of Dorset County Museum

In Dorset, Devon and Cornwall local authorities have had to face ever-increasing coast erosion problems, which are getting worse each year, not only through changes in the coastline, but also through ever-increasing pressure of human numbers.

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This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
which you can view by clicking here or on the dates in the left-hand column.

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1795Seven shipsof a fleet commanded by Admiral Christian lost on Chesil Beach with the loss of over two hundred souls
1822Richard Bishop of Swyre in Dorset was imprisoned for unlawfully making a light on the sea coast
1824.Nov.22The Great Gale rages for 2 days, during high tides, battering the West Country and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake
The bad weather continued - a week later the Dutch vessel Leonora went ashore at Chesil Beach between Wyke and Portland, all her crew and cargo lost
1926The beetle Omophlus rufitarsis identified at its only known location in the British Isles - Ferrybridge at the eastern end of Chesil Beach, Dorset
1989The beetle Omophlus rufitarsis found again at its only known location in the British Isles - Ferrybridge at the eastern end of Chesil Beach, Dorset

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  Towns & Villages of Dorset

Links to Other Sites

. . . . . the inclusion of these links to other sites is for the interest and convenience of visitors to this site only and does not imply any endorsement of the products or services offered by the individuals or organisations involved nor the accuracy of the information contained therein . . . . .

Chesil Beach, Dorset - Geology Field Trip Guide
Chesil Beach
  Dorset Countryside Volunteers
Chesil Beach
  The South West Coast Path
Chesil Beach Fishing
Fleet Study Group
Chesil Beach
Some Chesil Beach Shipwrecks
Fishing the Chesil
  by Martin Nash
Chesil Beach Fishing Venues
  by Sean Taylor
Littlebredy from Abbotsbury
  Walking Britain, edited by Lou Johnson
Chesil Beach - Diving
  John Lidiard
SS Pervezza
  Weymouth and Portland in Old Postcards and Photographs (Eddie Prowse)
G.P.S. POSITIONS For Wrecks within Portland Harbour

The RNLI is funded entirely by voluntary donations and legacies. For it to continue to save lives at sea and fund its plans for the future of this invaluable service, it needs your help - please support it - for details click on the picture below.


  Royal National Lifeboat Institution
    The RNLI in the South-West


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  Dorset, England
4.7 km NE
  Dorset, England
5 km SW
  Dorset, England
3 km SW
Langton Herring
  Dorset, England
1.7 km NW
  Dorset, England
4.5 km N
  Dorset, England
4.9 km SW
Wyke Regis
  Dorset, England
7.1 km SW

The Fleet
  Dorset, England
Animportant aquatic habitat on the Dorset Coast, protected by the unique Chesil Beach
0 km
Maumbury Rings
  nr. Dorchester, Dorset, England
The Late Neolithic henge became a Roman ampitheatre, and Civil War fort. The last witch executed in Britain was burned here and 13,000 attended the execution of Mary Channing
12.3 km NE
High West Street
  Dorchester, Dorset
The display rooms tell the story of local wildlife, rocks and fossils, archaeology, and Dorset writers including Thomas Hardy. In the atmospheric Victorian gallery you can see the story of Maiden Castle and walk on Roman mosaics.
12.7 km NE
Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park
Kingston Maurward, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8PY
Edwardian Gardens, amongst 35 acres of classical 18th century parkland with a 5 acre lake from the from the Georgian house built for George Pitt in 1720, include a croquet lawn, r
12.7 km NE
Old Crown Court & Cells
West Dorset District Council,
Stratton House, 58/60 High West S
Located within the offices of West Dorset District Council, the Old Crown Court is famous for the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Judge Jeffreys Bloody Assize. Experience four centuries of gruesome crime and punishment in a setting little changed over
12.7 km NE
Teddy Bear House
Antelope Walk, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1BE
A visit to Teddy bear House is in fact a visit to the home of Mr Edward Bear and his large family of human-size teddy bears! Here in a quaint old house in Antelope walk, in the picturesque town of Dorchester, these unique bears live and work and would lov
12.7 km NE
The Dinosaur Museum
Icen Way, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1EW
Acclaimed as one of Britains top hands-on attractions, the Dinosaur Museum is unique. The incredible world of dinosaurs comes alive in a new way that visitors of all ages will love and enjoy. Actual fossils, skeletons and life-size reconstructions combine
12.7 km NE
The Keep Military Museum
  The Keep, Bridport Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RN
This modern military museum has computers and creative displays to tell stories of courage, humour, tradition and sacrifice of those who served in the Devon and Dorset regiments for over 300 years. Spectacular views from the battlements.
12.7 km NE
The Tutankhamun Exhibition
High West Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UW
This internationally acclaimed exhibition spans time itself. Extensively featured on television throughout the world. Full school service plus specialist Egyptian shop including books.
12.7 km NE

Public Houses
Victoria Inn
Knights In The Bottom, Chickerell, Dorset   DT3 4EA
3.1 km SW
The Turks Head Inn
6 East St, Chickerell, Dorset   DT3 4DS
4.2 km SW
The Kings Arms
2 Front St, Portesham, Dorset   DT3 4ET
4.5 km NW
Swan Inn
Rodden Row, Abbotsbury, Dorset   DT3 4JL
4.6 km NE
Alexandra Inn
408 Chickerell Rd, Weymouth, Dorset   DT4 9TP
5.4 km SW
The Marquis of Granby
Chickerell Rd, Weymouth, Dorset   DT4 9TW
5.7 km SW
The Albert Inn
2 High St, Wyke Regis, Dorset   DT4 9NZ
6.8 km SW


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