The Geology of Devon and Cornwall, England

With over 400 million years of history recorded in the rocks, the far southwestern counties of Devon and Cornwall, England share some of the most interesting geology found in the British Isles. The counties boast coastlines along the English Channel to the south and the Bristol Channel to the north. Spectacular shorelines, misty moors, peat bogs, outcroppings of granite, and ancient mines are just some of the geologic features found in the area.

Starting in east Devon and continuing into Dorset, the Jurassic Coast follows the shoreline of the English Channel. Named for the geologic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth, this rugged coastline is composed of cliffs containing rocks from all the periods during the Mesozoic Era. The Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous rocks are sedimentary, recording 180 million years of ancient earth’s history. This stretch of coastline is a World Heritage Site, one of only two completely natural wonders with this designation in the United Kingdom. Frequently visited by geologists and paleontologists, the area abounds in fossils from the period. The cliffs offer a fabulous exposure of the rocks of this intriguing geologic era along with incredible scenery that has developed along the rugged coast. An interesting marker, the Geoneedle, is located at Orcombe Point near the western edge of the Jurassic Coast at Exmouth in Devon. Made from a variety of stone representing the major rocks in the sequence exposed along the Jurassic Coast, the Geoneedle was presented at the time the coast became a World Heritage Site. Climbing to Orcombe Point allows the visitor a glimpse of the millions of years of natural history represented by the sedimentary rocks. Evidence of a dynamic environment is recorded in the cross-bedded sandstones that contrast with the siltstones deposited in much quieter seas. From Orcombe Point, the visitor can view the portion of the South West Coast Path that runs along the Jurassic Coast in one direction and on through Devon and Cornwall in the opposite direction, paralleling the coastline.

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Following the South West Coast Path to the southwest takes one through the western coastal area of Devon and on to Cornwall. Rich estuaries, where rivers meet the sea, are home to sea birds and other wildlife along the western coastal areas of Devon. Bluffs, cliffs, sand spits, and villages dot the coastline.

Cornwall is an interesting mix of granite intrusives, metamorphic rocks that formed next to the intrusion, Devonian period sedimentary rocks, and a very rare area of uplifted and exposed oceanic crust. Stretching to the furthest west point of Britain, Cornwall has been heavily eroded along the coasts by the massive strength of the waves and winds, leaving spectacular rocky cliffs. The north coast of Cornwall along the Bristol Channel has the most rugged coastline. Cliffs reaching heights of over 700 feet are found here interspersed with sandy beaches. This area is a rich source of tourism income due mainly to the geology. One of the most spectacular areas is found at Lands End, the point furthest west in England, where rocky cliffs meet the sea. Up until the 20th century, the geology of the area also brought wealth to the area for its rich metal and mineral deposits.