Up close with the Jurassic Coast

Old Harry Rocks (jurassiccoastline.com)

Old Harry Rocks (jurassiccoastline.com)

Ski+board Deputy Editor Rosie Barcroft explores the dramatic south England coastline and discovers some of the stories surrounding the World Heritage Site.

The cave was a mash-up of noise. The sea crashed into the rocks, the gulls glided past calling and we, a group of kayakers, pulled our boats out the water, crunching along the pebbles.

Guy, one of the instructors, raised his voice above the din. “This used to be a smuggler’s cave”, he shouted. “They would store the goods in here before fastening them to a rope that was lowered down the cliff — which would transport the stolen items to the top.”

We were on a kayak tour exploring the Jurassic Coast with Studland Sea School, Dorset. The 11 of us  (plus two instructors) consisted of a mixture of sexes and ages, from 18-55 — all keen to see the Isle of Purbeck from a different angle, while learning the history and geology of the area.

Studland Sea School, founded in 2010 by Dan and Jade, started out as a little hut by the sea and four sea kayaks. Nowadays, it’s a thriving business with a small, qualified team covering snorkelling and coasteering too, eager to teach what they know. And this year, Dan and Jade have set up FORE/Adventure, a brand new company for more bespoke sessions.

Kayaking at Old Harry Rocks (studlandseaschool.co.uk)

Kayaking at Old Harry Rocks (studlandseaschool.co.uk)

“In the 18th and 19th century, Purbeck was a haven for smugglers”. continued Guy. “The marble quarries were a gift for the local free-trading population most of which was extracted by sea, so one or two extra boats could come and go almost unnoticed. Studland bay was particularly popular because of the safe, sandy bottom to sink tubs of tobacco, spirits and tea — and its secluded position.”

Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

Back on the water, we paddled against the tide towards three chalk formations, known as Old Harry Rocks, located at Handfast Point. “The chalk used to stretch between Purbeck and the Isle of Wight”, said Guy. “But hydraulic action (where air and water is forced into small cracks by the force of the sea) resulted in enlarging the breaks forming caves and then arches.

“Old Harry used to have a wife,” he added. “But after unrelenting corrosion and abrasion she was destroyed.” Personally, this constant changing skyline is what makes the Jurassic Coast so wild and beautiful.

Paddling back towards Studland we kept close to the cliffs, using them as a shelter against the wind, monitored closely by the yellow-billed cormorants.

Short-snouted seahorse (Wikepedia)

Short-snouted seahorse (Wikepedia)

“Studland Bay used to harbour Britain’s largest colony of seahorses”, said Luke, the second of the instructors. “Years ago, the eel-grass used to provide an ideal breeding ground for two types of endangered seahorses, the spiny and short-snouted species. But as the bay became more popular, an increasing number of boats dropped their anchors, snaring the grass and ripping it out when leaving. Only four seahorses were spotted last year. And none have been seen this year, so keep your eyes peeled!”

So we did, all the way to the beach. And although we didn’t spot any, it just means I have another excuse to go kayaking with Studland Sea School again.

For more information:

www.studlandseaschool.co.uk

www.foreadventure.co.uk

www.theseahorsetrust.org

Rosie Barcroft

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