Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach /ˈtʃɛzɪl/, sometimes called Chesil Bank, in Dorset, southern England is one of three major shingle structures in Britain.[2] Its name is derived from the Old English ceosel or cisel, meaning "gravel" or "shingle". It runs for a length of 29 kilometres (18 mi) from West Bay to the Isle of Portland and in places is up to 15 metres (50 ft) high 200 metres (660 ft) wide. Behind the beach is the Fleet, a shallow tidal lagoon. Both are part of the Jurassic Coast and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The beach is often identified as a tombolo, although research into the geomorphology of the area has revealed that it is in fact a barrier beach which has "rolled" landwards, joining the mainland with the Isle of Portland and giving the appearance of a tombolo.[3]

The beach curves sharply at the eastern end, near the village of Chiswell, and forms Chesil Cove against the cliffs of the Isle of Portland, and this protects the low-lying village from flooding. It has been the scene of many shipwrecks and was named "Dead Man's Bay" by Thomas Hardy. The beach provides shelter from the prevailing winds and waves for the town of Weymouth, Dorset and the village of Chiswell on Portland.

Simon Jenkins rates the view of Chesil Beach from Abbotsbury along the coast to Portland Bill as one of the top ten in England[4].

Chesil Beach
Chesil Beach viewed from the Isle of Portland
Map showing the location of Chesil Beach
Map showing the location of Chesil Beach
LocationDorset, England
OS gridSY635784
Coordinates50°36′14″N 2°30′58″W / 50.604°N 2.516°WCoordinates: 50°36′14″N 2°30′58″W / 50.604°N 2.516°W
Official nameChesil Beach & The Fleet
Designated17 July 1985
Reference no.300[1]


Satellite view of Chesil Beach (linear feature in blue running diagonally NW-SE) from Abbotsbury to the Isle of Portland

The origin of Chesil Beach has been argued over for some time.[5] Originally it was believed that beach material was from the Budleigh Salterton pebble beds to the west and later from Portland to the south east. The differences between the pebbles on the beach and nearby sources is now put down to the Flandrian isostatic sea level rise, so the feature could also be considered a barrier beach or bar, that happens to connect the mainland to an island rather than a 'true' tombolo. Normally, tombolos are created due to the effects of the island on waves (through refraction) and to sediment transport, which usually produces a beach perpendicular to the mainland rather than parallel to it.


Chesil cove from west cliff portland dorset
Chesil Cove at the Portland end of Chesil Beach

There have been many shipwrecks on Chesil Beach, particularly during the age of sail. The beach was particularly dangerous within the English Channel, as it forms an extended lee shore during south-westerly gales. A ship coming up the Channel had to clear Portland Bill to be safe, but the wind and tide would be pushing it northwards into Lyme Bay.[6] When sailing ships were common, a strong string of coastguards were based along the beach, with lookouts and cottages at Chiswell, Wyke Regis, Chickerell, Langton Herring, Abbotsbury, East Bexington, Burton Bradstock and West Bay. At present there are no manned Coastguard lookouts along the beach, with coverage provided when required from the National Maritime Operations Centre based at Fareham. However, their observational role has been taken over by the National Coastwatch Institution, who have lookouts at Burton Bradstock (operational 2010) and Charmouth (operational 2016).

The local fishermen, particularly at Portland, developed a purpose-built vessel to withstand the sea actions of Chesil Beach. The boat, known as a Lerret, is a double-ended open fishing boat — 16–17 ft (4.9–5.2 m) long — used for seine net fishing. It is usually rowed by four people with a fifth to steer and deploy the net.[7]

Much of the villages Fleet and Chiswell were destroyed in the Great Storm of 1824.[8] Over the centuries Chiswell had battled with the sea and was regularly flooded during rough winter storms. In the storms the sea would pour through the upper part of the bank, and for this reason plans to drain the Fleet were abandoned in 1630. The great storm of November 1824 struck the village with disastrous results - an event from which Chiswell would never fully recover. Since then various defences have been set-up to aid the village, notably the sea wall and promenade which commenced work in 1958, and was completed in 1965.[8]

The Weymouth to Portland Railway line was opened in 1865, and built along the southern end of the beach. It closed to passengers in 1952 and finally closed to all traffic in 1965. The line included a viaduct across Ferry Bridge. Over the last 150 years there have been a number of proposals to build a line from Weymouth to Bridport running the length of Chesil Beach. A line was built from Upwey to Abbotsbury but could not be continued through lack of money. A line was also built from Maiden Newton to Bridport and then onwards to West Bay. A more recent proposal was to build a light railway between Weymouth and West Bay.[9]

A rifle range, built around 1907, is situated on Chesil Beach, near Ferry Bridge. It had 100 yard increments up to 800 yards, and some remains of this structure can still be seen today.[9] The Royal Navy operated a minesweeping trials range off West Bexington for many years following World War II. It was abandoned in the mid-1980s. The cables came ashore under the beach at the West Bexington car park, and today the range control building can still be seen behind the car park, while one of the theodolite stations is located near the entrance to the Cogden Beach car park.[7]

The Fleet Lagoon

From West Bay to Cliff End the beach is piled up against the cliff. At Cliff End a hollow forms behind the beach and at Abbotsbury a stretch of saline (or brackish) water called the Fleet Lagoon begins. This is up to 3m in depth.[2] The Fleet is home to many wading birds and Abbotsbury Swannery, and fossils can be found in the sand and mud. The Fleet connects to Portland Harbour at Ferry Bridge. Initially a ferry boat was used to connect Portland to the mainland, until the first bridge was constructed in 1839. An iron bridge replaced this in 1896, and this was in turn replaced with a concrete bridge in 1985.[8]

Both Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon are a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the view of the beach from Abbotsbury has been voted by Country Life magazine as Britain's third best view. The Fleet Lagoon and Chesil Beach feature in the novel Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner (1898), in which the village of Moonfleet is based on the real village of Fleet.

An arrangement of nets and poles to lure ducks into a closed area of netting is a duck decoy located within Abbotsbury Swannery. It was originally installed to provide food for the local monks, but is now used to catch ducks for ringing. It may be the oldest surviving decoy in England.[10] Located in the Upper Fleet, within Abbotsbury Swannery, is Bum Point, and adjacent to this is an artificial island known as Tern Island, which was created to provide a nesting site for common terns.[11]

The lagoon is a designated bass nursery area, and the species are frequently seen on an underwater camera connected to the Chesil Beach Visitor Centre. Accordingly, angling for the fish is only permitted in the lower Fleet area, from the Narrows to Ferrybridge, and only from the shore and even this has been discouraged by the Southern-IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) as a conservation measure.[11] A shallow draft boat, named the Fleet Observer, featuring a transparent bottom, takes visitors around the lower Fleet to observe the wildlife above and below the water.[8]

The main site of the Wyke Regis Training Area is found to the west of the Wyke Regis village, where it lies on the north side of the Fleet. This site, a bridging camp, was constructed in 1928 by Royal Engineers. Since then the site has been in continuous use for the training of Royal Engineers, amongst other armed forces, including both regular and reserve forces in the construction of both bridges and ferries, along with other types of military training. The Bridging Camp's inner training area allows Sappers to hone their skills on everything from raft building to familiarising themselves with state of the art weaponry. Due to the close proximity of the lagoon, water based training is held there.[11]

A commercial oyster farm is situated on the sandbanks on the north side of the lower Fleet. The species farmed is the Pacific oyster, rather than the local oyster, and the farm racks are always visible at low tide.[9]

At Seabarn, a 68-metre-high (223 ft) hill located in the mid-Fleet, between Butterstreet Cove and Herbury, is a disused control tower and landing pad for the navy helicopter firing range in Lyme Bay. The range was closed when the Navy left Portland in 1995. There are also the remains of an anti-aircraft battery from the Second World War.[6]

Fossils occur all along the landward shore of the Fleet and along the landward side of Chesil Beach from Abbotsbury to West Bay. The main site is at Burton Bradstock.[8]


Due to the bird nesting season from 1 April until the end of August, access along, and to all parts of the beach from the Portland boundary stone to Abbotsbury is not permitted. Additionally access to the Fleet slope of the beach from Wyke to Abbotsbury is not permitted at any time in effort to protect and conserve the delicate environment. The Upper Fleet has some parts restricted to protect sensitive habitats.[11]

The little egret, Egretta garzetta, once a rare visitor to the UK, but is now regularly seen along the shores of the Fleet.[7] The scaly cricket, a small insect, is only found at three sites in the UK, including Chesil Beach.[6] Two species of eelgrass are found in the Fleet: Zostera marina and Zostera noltii. These species both grow submerged in the shallow waters of the mid and upper Fleet, where large quantities die off in the early autumn.[12]

Chesil Beach is a popular location for sea angling, with access at Chiswell, Ferry Bridge, Abbotsbury, Cogden, Burton Bradstock and West Bay. Angling is also allowed in the lower Fleet from the shore. Commercial fishing, which often involved seine nets, has now virtually disappeared from Chesil Beach compared with the level of activity a century ago. Within the Fleet there is still a small controlled fishery for eels using fyke nets.[8] The grey mullet is a common fish of the Fleet, occurring in large numbers along its entire length.

In 1971, the Japanese seaweed, Sargassum muticum, arrived in Britain, where it first appeared in the Isle of Wight. However, in the following years it spread along the south coast to the Fleet. It soon dominated the environment despite a number of attempts to limit its impact. It has since died back to a much lower level of occupancy in the Narrows and lower Fleet, however the current amount of growth is often dependent on a number of factors and as such varies from year to year.[7]

Due to issue with litter, both natural and man-made, brought to the beach by south-westerly gales, regular litter picks are organised, which involves volunteers to help alleviate the problem.[7] A boom is in place at Ferry Bridge to minimise the impact on the Fleet of any oil pollution from within Portland Harbour.[9]

Second World War defences

Highball Bouncing Bomb at Abbotsbury Swannery Dorset UK
Highball bouncing bomb prototype, now on display at Abbotsbury Swannery

The beach and the Fleet were used as an experimental bombing range by the RAF before and during World War II because of the low population density of nearby areas, as well as their proximity to the naval base on Portland. The beach was also used for machine gun training and Highball bouncing bomb testing during the war.

A double row of anti-tank blocks divides the beach near Abbotsbury, where the Fleet Lagoon begins. Most of the seaward blocks have been destroyed, but the parallel lines of blocks on the landward side still survive in good condition.[13] Within the same spot are two remaining Type 26 pillboxes. They were constructed in 1940 and were situated within the Abbotsbury Defence area.[14] An anti-tank ditch was located within this area behind Chesil Beach.[15] An observation post still exists on the landward side of the Fleet, with the open front facing Chesil Beach.[16]

The portion of the beach to the east of the anti-tank division in front of Fleet Lagoon had no passive defences against a landing, whereas the beach to the west was protected with miles of Admiralty scaffolding, with anti-tank ditches and minefields and flame fougasse installations a little farther inland. There were many pillboxes.[17]

See also


Chesil Beach, the Fleet and the Isle of Portland, from the north-west over Abbotsbury

Portland Bill and Chesil Beach from the air


Looking west down Chesil Beach by Abbotsbury

Shingle on Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove

Shingle on Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove

Chesil Stones with shoe for scale

Large chert and flint shingle near the Portland (southern) entrance to beach

Shingle towards the northern end of Chesil Beach, Dorset

Towards the northern end, the shingle becomes much smaller


  1. ^ "Chesil Beach & The Fleet". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b A. P. Carr and M. W. L. Blackley, "Investigations Bearing on the Age and Development of Chesil Beach, Dorset, and the Associated Area" Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, No. 58 (March 1973) pp. 99-111.
  3. ^ [1] Archived 31 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^
  5. ^ The extensive literature was reviewed by W.J. Arkell, "the geology of the country around Weymouth,Swanage, Corfe and Lulworth," Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, 1947, and again, briefly, by Carr and Blackley, 1977.
  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ a b c d e
  8. ^ a b c d e f
  9. ^ a b c d
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^
  13. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 1426263". PastScape. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 1419108". PastScape. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 1442209". PastScape. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  16. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 1429656". PastScape. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  17. ^ Foot 2006, pp. 56-63.


  • Foot, William (2006). Beaches, fields, streets, and hills ... the anti-invasion landscapes of England, 1940. Council for British Archaeology. ISBN 1-902771-53-2.

External links


Abbotsbury is a village and civil parish in the English county of Dorset. It is in the Dorset unitary authority area and is situated about 1 mile (1.6 km) inland from the English Channel coast. In the 2011 census the civil parish had a population of 481.

The coastline within Abbotsbury parish includes a section of Chesil Beach, an 18-mile (29 km) barrier beach which is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site.

Abbotsbury is known for its swannery, subtropical gardens and surviving abbey buildings, including St Catherine's Chapel, a 14th-century pilgrimage chapel that stands on a hill between the village and the coast.

Much of Abbotsbury, including Chesil Beach, the swannery and subtropical gardens, is owned by the Ilchester Estate, which owns 61 square kilometres (15,000 acres) of land in Dorset.

Chesil Cove

Chesil Cove is a cove situated at the most southerly part of the 29-kilometre (18 mi) long Chesil Beach in Dorset, England. Chesil Beach itself is one of three major shingle structures in Britain, extending from West Bay to the Isle of Portland, the latter acting as a large groyne holding the beach in place. It also provides shelter from the prevailing winds and waves for the town of Weymouth and the village of Chiswell. It forms part of the Jurassic Coast.

Chiswell Walled Garden

Chiswell Walled Garden is a community walled garden, located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is found in the village of Chiswell, close to Chesil Beach, within the remaining ruins of an old Jacobean house. The garden was created between 2001-06 by the Chiswell Community Trust, with funding from Countryside Agency under their Doorstep Green Initiative. It is maintained by volunteer members of the trust and is open to the public.

Gore Cove

Gore Cove is an inlet cove in the Fleet lagoon behind Chesil Beach, on the south coast of Dorset, England, located on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.Herbury is a small peninsula jutting out into the Fleet by Gore Cove. The Moonfleet Manor Hotel is located close by. To the east is the coastal town of Weymouth. To the southeast is the Isle of Portland.

Great Storm of 1824

The Great Storm of 1824 (or Great Gale) was a hurricane force wind and storm surge that affected the south coast of England from 22 November 1824.At Sidmouth, low-lying houses along the Esplanade were inundated, and cottages at the exposed west end were destroyed. The 40 feet (12 m) sea-stack at Chit Rock was destroyed.It destroyed the esplanade at Weymouth; it broke across Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon, almost destroying the villages of Fleet and Chiswell.

In Lyme Regis it topped the Cobb, and destroyed about 90m of its length.The ferry between the Isle of Portland and the mainland was washed away.The quays at Weymouth were overcome and most properties on the seafront and much of the lower part of the town were flooded by the deluge. The pier at the entrance of the harbour also sustained considerable damage, whilst boats and vessels were carried into the streets by the waves, where they drifted helplessly.

Ingenious Media

Ingenious Media (styled as INGENIθUS) is a division of London-based Ingenious Capital Management Limited, also known as Ingenious. The company was founded in 1998 by Patrick McKenna.

Productions funded by Ingenious Media include:

· Avatar, 2009

· Life of Pi, 2012

· Carol, 2015

· Brooklyn, 2015

· On Chesil Beach, 2018

· Adrift, 2018

. Blinded by the Light, 2019

In July 2014, Ingenious Media was investigated by HMRC for promoting tax avoidance schemes. In October 2014, HMRC sent "accelerated payment notices" to people who had invested with Ingenious Media, demanding payment of substantial amounts of tax. Ingenious has appealed the ruling from the tribunal and the case is ongoing.In 2018, Ingenious media partnered with Solstice Studios, to produce and distribute theatrical feature films.

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach is a 2007 novel/novella by British writer Ian McEwan. The novel was selected for the 2007 Booker Prize shortlist.

The Washington Post and Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Jonathan Yardley placed On Chesil Beach on his top ten for 2007, praising McEwan's writing and saying that "even when he's in a minor mode, as he is here, he is nothing short of amazing".

On Chesil Beach (film)

On Chesil Beach is a 2017 British drama film directed by Dominic Cooke (in his feature directorial debut) and written by Ian McEwan, who adapted his own 2007 Booker Prize-nominated novella of the same name. It stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle and tells the story of virgin newlyweds, Florence and Edward, and their first disastrous attempt at having sex. The initial experience and their differing responses to the failure have lifelong consequences for both.

The film had its world premiere in the Special Presentations section at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2017, and was released in the United States and United Kingdom in May 2018.

Portland Cenotaph

The Portland Cenotaph is a war memorial located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is situated at New Ground, looking down to Underhill of the island and overlooking Chesil Beach, as it sits in front of Portland Heights Hotel. The monument is dedicated to the local soldiers who died during both the First and Second World Wars. It has been a Grade II Listed Monument since May 1993.

Portland Raised Beach

Portland Raised Beach refers to small raised beaches on each side of Portland Bill, on the Isle of Portland, part of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. The main one is known as the West Pleistocene Raised Beach; nearby is the East Pleistocene Raised Beach.They exhibit multi-type erosion and deposition during a warm spell in the last Ice Age in the inter-tidal zone show signs of tide and wave impact during more recent millennia. For some depth, sandy and shelly pebbles predominate. A factor in the higher than average speed shore erosion is the weight of the ice which covered the north of Britain and beyond in the colder spells that caused the British Isles landmass to tilt (see post-glacial rebound) and prevailing south-west currents and breeze, a pace which results in the relatively little water-eroded cliff-based fossils, stones and pebbles along Chesil Beach. Tidally caught fine material (sand) is deposited on most great bays facing the deeper western half or so of the English Channel and only at narrowings along the increasingly shallow eastern half.

Royal Adelaide (1865)

The Royal Adelaide was an iron sailing ship of 1400 tons built by William Patterson at Bristol in 1865.She was wrecked on Chesil Beach on 25 November 1872, while on a passage from London to Sydney with a crew of 32 and 35 passengers. In bad weather, the ship tried to reach the shelter of Portland Harbour, but was forced into Lyme Bay from which there was no exit in a storm. The anchors were lowered to try to prevent the ship being blown onto Chesil Beach. However, the anchors dragged and the ship began to break up on the beach. All but seven on board were saved.

A large crowd gathered on the shore to help with the rescue and the salvage of the cargo, part of which was gin and brandy. By the end of the night four of the wreckers had died from exposure, having spent the night on the beach after becoming drunk on the cargo.

She now lies at 50°34.65′N 2°28.50′W OSGB36.

The Cove House Inn

The Cove House Inn is an 18th-century public house on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is situated within the village of Chiswell, and alongside Chesil Beach on the esplanade. The Cove House Inn remains one of Portland's most popular pubs, and has been reputed to be one of the best inns for panoramic views in the area. The pub has been a Grade II Listed Building since May 1993.

Tied island

Tied islands, or land-tied islands as they are often known, are landforms consisting of an island that is connected to land only by a tombolo: a spit of beach materials connected to land at both ends. St Ninian's Isle, in the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland, is an example of this; it was once an island but is now linked to the Mainland. Other examples include: Maury Island, Washington in the Puget Sound, Coronado, California and Nahant, Massachusetts in the U.S.; Barrenjoey, New South Wales in Australia; and Wedge Island in Western Australia.

The Isle of Portland is also described as a tied island, although geographers now believe that Chesil Beach (which connects the island to the mainland) is a barrier beach that has moved eastwards, rather than a tombolo, which would have been formed by the effect of the island on waves.

Paniquian Island (also known as Isla Boquete) is a tied island in Puerto Galera, a popular tourist destination in the Philippines. The island is connected to the main island of Mindoro by a small tombolo that is only submerged a few times per year.


A tombolo, from the Italian tombolo, derived from the Latin tumulus, meaning 'mound', and sometimes translated as ayre, is a deposition landform in which an island is attached to the mainland by a narrow piece of land such as a spit or bar. Once attached, the island is then known as a tied island. A tombolo is a sandy isthmus.

Several islands tied together by bars which rise above the water level are called a tombolo cluster. Two or more tombolos may form an enclosure (called a lagoon) that can eventually fill with sediment.

Victoria Square, Portland

Victoria Square is a public square on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. Developed in the 19th century, it is situated at the entrance to Portland, close to Chesil Beach, Osprey Quay, and the small fishing village of Chiswell.

West Bexington

West Bexington is a village in south west Dorset, England, sited just behind the Chesil Beach about 6 miles (9.7 km) southeast of Bridport. It forms part of the civil parish of Puncknowle. The coast here is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site.

Weymouth Bay

Weymouth Bay is a sheltered bay on the south coast of England, in Dorset. It is protected from erosion by Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland, and includes several beaches, notably Weymouth Beach, a gently curving arc of golden sand which stretches from the resort of Weymouth. Weymouth Bay is situated approximately halfway along the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Wyke Regis

Wyke Regis is a village in south Dorset, England. The village is part of the south western suburbs of Weymouth, on the northern shore of Portland Harbour and the south-eastern end of Chesil Beach. Wyke is 15 kilometres (9 mi) south of the county town, Dorchester. The village has a population of around 5,500.

Unitary authorities
Major settlements
Settlements and areas
Beaches and coastal features
Lighthouses, Daymarks and NCI
Buildings and houses
Working and disused Quarries
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