The destination for history

Human history and geology at Dorset’s World Heritage Coast


People visit the Heritage Coast to see its spectacular geology, but they are also surrounded by evidence of its human history, often without realising it. Dorset’s World Heritage Coast by John Beavis is for those who want to enrich their experience through an encounter with the archaeological traces of that history.

The author engages the reader in a forensic conversation about grass covered mounds, banks and ditches, brick and concrete: the stuff of landscape archaeology. They consider what might reasonably be inferred from the visible evidence about prehistoric fields and farms, Bronze Age burials, Iron Age fortifications, Second World War coastal defences and the industrial archaeology of radar and stone quarrying. So, it is also a guide to the basics of landscape archaeology of all periods.

The subject matter unfolds as it follows the coast path from Studland to Lyme Regis, so it is not encountered in neat chronological order. This presents an interesting challenge to the time detective, but to help with the historical narrative the book includes a summary of the prehistory and history of the Dorset coast, which links the features on the ground to their place on a historical time-line.

Although the content of Dorset’s World Heritage Coast has not been updated since was first published in 2004, the crucial parts of the content – the examination and analysis of visible evidence – have been largely unaffected by this interval. A few sites now have improved access and interpretation, notably, Fort Henry at Studland, and the Rotor Radar bunker at Ringstead; both are in the care of the National Trust. In a few places landslips and erosion have had minor impacts on the descriptions, but the reader should be aware that some parts of the Heritage Coast path have been temporarily closed because they are considered to be unsafe for walkers. An example of this is the closure of the section between Houndstout and Kimmeridge. This prevents examination of the 19th century bituminous shale mining cliff adits at Clavell’s Hard, but there is much evidence relevant to this topic which is still accessible at Kimmeridge Bay. 

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