Category Archives: Geopark

Kents Cavern and the English Riviera Geopark

Erosion of soft Red Sandstone in action at Babbacombe

Kents Cavern and the English Riviera Geopark

People who come to Torbay don’t think of it as somewhere with much history, and it’s true in some respects, but search a bit deeper and you’ll find that the area’s history goes back a long way – about 400 million years in fact – give or take a few million.

Explaining the planet’s history is really best left to the experts, but as one of the geological time periods is named after the county of Devon, I think it’s worth knowing how this occurred and how it all fits into the grand scheme of things.

To put it into some sort of perspective, geologists tell us that the earth was formed some 4,600 million years ago, with the oldest rocks in Britain being about 3,000 million years old (and found in North-Western Scotland).

From this we can see that Devon’s beginnings don’t go back quite as far back as they might first appear, so why was the Devonian Period so named?

We only need to go back to the 1830s to find the answer. Up until that point, scientists from the early 18th century onwards were trying to map and categorize different geological time periods, and Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick, two eminent members of the Geographical Society in London, had identified two separate eras which they called the Silurian and Carboniferous Periods.

This neat classification was thrown into some disarray when a colleague, Henry De la Beche, who was categorizing rocks himself in Devon, suggested there was also likely to be an intermediate period: The disagreement between the two parties led to the debate becoming known as the ‘Great Devonian Controversy’.

Paradoxically, it was Murchison who made the discoveries to prove that De la Beche was right all along. This intermediate era was determined to be between 359 and 419 million years ago, and was subsequently called the Devonian Period. (See the chart below).

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Thatcher Point to Anstey’s Cove

Thatcher Point to Anstey's Cove

It’s possible to walk the whole of this route, but it’s not a circular trail and includes a certain amount of road walking, so driving to each point of interest is an option definitely worth considering.

Between Meadfoot Beach and Babbacombe is one of Torquay’s most exclusive areas. Centred on Thatcher Avenue, the area is known locally as Millionaire’s Row, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy what is arguably the most interesting part of the Torquay coastline.

This area of Torbay is as good as anywhere to understand why the English Riviera was given status as a UNESCO Global Geopark, one of only seven locations in the UK.

The best place to begin discovering what all this means is Kent’s Cavern, but as I’ll be writing a separate post about it, I’ll just give a brief explanation as to why the area was deemed important enough to be added to the list.

Anyone who read my post Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth will be well aware that the Jurassic Coast is a great place to study geology and early life on earth, but the rocks around Torbay are much older.

The Jurassic Coast covers rocks formed over a period from 65 to 250 million years ago, but the geology around Torbay covers a period from 360 to 419 million years ago – give or take a few million years.

This different time period was discovered by geologists Adam Sedgwick and Roderick Murchison and endorsed by William Lonsdale, another geologist, who recognised that coral fossils found along the Torquay coastline were from the same era.

Although there was a lot of debate at the time, by 1840 it was generally agreed that there was indeed a new geological era between the already recognised Carboniferous and Silurian periods. Due to the studies made here this new era became known as the Devonian Period.

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From Beacon Cove to Meadfoot Beach

From Beacon Cove to Meadfoot Beach

The coastal footpath between Beacon Cove and Daddyhole Plain is known as Rock Walk and only about a mile long, but it affords some of the best views in the bay, and if you continue downhill for a short distance you will then come to the impressive Hesketh Crescent and Meadfoot Beach.

This is a walk that people who don’t know it could easily miss, but even though it starts from just behind the Harbour it’s not long before you leave the crowds behind.

Beacon Cove lies next to Living Coasts which is a coastal zoo and aquarium belonging to Paignton Zoo.  You can’t miss the ‘Hairnet’, as locals call it, and to find the footpath walk along the Victoria Parade side of the harbour and at the end turn up Beacon Hill, where on the right hand side is a brown tourist sign pointing the way to Beacon Cove.

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