Part of the cliff here is known as “Burning Cliff”, named after it spontaneously combusted in 1973, turning the rocks red. The cliff caught fire as it contains a rich layer of oil shale called Blackstone. A shaft to one of the many Blackstone mines is also located in this area, but is now inaccessible as the cliff has fallen away, denying any entry. In times past, the point was used as a landing place for boats by the Clavell family who once owned the Smedmore Estate, but post holes in the rocky ledges are all that remain. At low tide you can walk past this point and continue eastwards along the beach, but be warned, this area can also be impassable if the tide comes in and there is no way up the cliffs or any exit further east.
While fossils can be found around Kimmeridge, they are often not very good for collecting as the rock in which they formed is very crumbly. The best specimens are found in the exposed ledges on the shore line. It is definitely not a good idea to look for fossils in the cliff or, as some people do, sit or sun bathe beneath them. These cliffs are very unstable and you only have to stop and listen for a short while to realize they are falling all the time. Occasionally large sections of cliff crash onto the beach without warning, so beware!
Some of the rocks at Kimmeridge have a very high oil content and in the winter of 1973, a section of cliff spontaneously combusted with such ferocity that it turned the cliff red and burnt for several weeks.
Measured by scientists at a temperature over 500 degrees centigrade, it is not surprising that this area has since been called, Burning Cliff.
Since then in the summer of 2000 a cliff section fell onto the beach and caught fire. This too lasted for several weeks before it burning itself out, leaving behind crystals of Sulphur.
The Kimmeridge Ledges are Limestone fingers of rock that formed from fine silts during periods when the Jurassic Sea here at the time was deep. The ledges are clearly seen in the cliff and show the fall of the cliffs to the east. The ledges reach from the cliffs down onto the shore and far out to sea and have been responsible for numerous ship wrecks along this stretch of the Jurassic Coastline.
Coastal Visitor Centre
Kimmeridge Marine Centre
Town/Village or Area:
Tourist Info Centres
in this Area: Rock Pools
The Kimmeridge Ledges provide the best rock pooling to be had anywhere along the Jurassic Coast. The size of the area that is accessible at low tide is immense, and it is essential you time your visit with a low spring tide to make the most of your visit here.
Interest: Blackstone Mining Industry, Cement Stone
Cement stone was once mined here by the Medina Hydraulic Cement Company, based on the Isle of Wight, to build breakwaters and coastal defences in France, but like the Blackstone mining operations before it, this too was short lived.
Blackstone Mining Industry
The oil rich Blackstone, Kimmeridge Coal, has been collected and burnt for centuries. A convenient source of fuel, the Romans used it to boil seawater in large urns in the production of food preserving salt. Later in the 1600’s, Sir William Clavell, then the owner of the Smedmore Estate, used the oil shale to heat the furnaces of his glassworks within the bay. By 1848 the Blackstone was being mined on a commercial scale for refining into paraffin wax and lamp oil, which was exported as far a field as France to light the streets of Paris. Cottages built next to the stream at Gaulter Gap housed the minors, who hand dug 7 foot by 7 foot (2 meter by 2 meter) shafts into the cliff sides to extract the 75 cm (30 inch) thick band of Blackstone. Tram tracks were laid and piers built to load the stone onto barges for transportation to the refineries, but with the advent of cleaner burning, sulphur free fuels shortly afterwards, the industry collapsed. Even so, over a mile (1.5 km) of tunnels had been dug, when all mining ceased in 1890. Remnants of tram tracks stick out of the cliff near Clavell’s Hard. These once reached down to the beach, but now act as an indication of how fast these unstable cliffs are eroding.