English Riviera Geopark -
one of Earth's extraordinary places
In September 2007 the English Riviera received international recognition for its rich geological, historical and cultural heritage, as one of Earth's extraordinary places, it became one of just 140 areas around the World to be endorsed by UNESCO and welcomed into the Global Geopark Network.
This means our history from the beginning of the Earth, way before dinosaurs is evident throughout the area for all to see so you can explore the area and see how the earth we live in today was created, formed and developed through the ages.
Devon even has a geological period named after it from 400 million years ago when our grey and pink limestone rocks were formed from dying corals and creatures that lived in the tropical seas that covered the area at the time. Berry Head is made of limestone, and limestone pebbles and fossils can be found on our beaches. Hopes Nose is also an example of limestone.
310 million years ago the land was changing and the rocks were forced together as the continents moved, causing creasing folds in the rock. Examples of this can be seen if you take one of the boat trips round the bay or maybe go kayaking. if you're feeling more adventurous.
By 270 million years ago, this area had turned to desert and the red sand eventually formed sandstone which are the red cliffs you can see in places like Oddicombe bay. This is much softer than limestone, hence it breaks up more easily and erodes with the force of the sea - and you'll see the destruction of the cliffs for yourself if you take the Babbacombe Cliff Railway down to the beach (which itself was built on a gap in the rocks created by a geological fault line). If there's bad weather, you can sit and enjoy a coffee or meal at Cary Arms pub whilst watching the rough sea which has turned red with the sand it's whipping up.
It wasn't until relatively recently, 500,000 years ago that dinosaurs had appeared. Rainwater and underground streams carved out caves in the rocks which is how Kents Cavern was created. The caves became home to wild-animals like sable-toothed tigers and later early man. Ancient bones and tools have been found in the caves and as well as at Kents Cavern, more are displayed at Torquay Museum. An upper jawbone fragment was found and carbon dated proving it to be the earliest anatomically modern human fossil yet discovered in north western Europe. In comparison, Stone Henge is only 5,000 years old making it relatively modern!
Man then started to populate the Earth, and used the natural resources around him to create a home. The sheltered aspect of Torquay made it a good settlement and in 1196 the monks used the rocks nearby to build the original Torre Abbey which can still be seen in the red sandstone structure. Even before this, Saxons built in Cockington out of sight of invaders in a fertile valley using traditional thatched roofing techniques which are still evident today. The shape of the Bay provided the naval fleet safety during times of crisis and thus was a catalyst for the building of the Napoleonic Forts while its sheltered natural harbours led to the growth of what, at one point, became the UK's largest fishing port.
When the Victorians made Torquay the most fashionable place to visit in Britain, they brought railways and trams, the harbour was built up and the Royal Terrace gardens became the place to be seen promenading. This itself is a sheer cliff face of a major fault line that runs across Devon. Here it emerges and then runs out to sea. This influx of visitors also led to the exploitation of its geological resources in the form of extensive limestone quarrying, in addition to the marble and terracotta industries.
The local temperate micro-climate creates a unique environment for many rare species of plants, insects, birds and animals, many of which can be seen at Berry Head Nature Reserve.
Come and see this varied and beautiful landscape for yourselves.