On our tour along the channel coast, we have been to the Triassic and Jurassic, and now for the third part of the trifle: the Cretaceous. We leave the grey shale of Lyme Regis and jump a stonethrow back along the coast, to have a beer in Beer. Or, for me, coffee, since I do not like beer. But I like Beer. Because Beer has flint, white chalk and trains.
Almost every house in Beer has grey, spiky walls, covered by nodules of flint. Flint is a chert, made by silica from microorganisms, very hard and with sharp edges when it breaks. It was once a rock of choice for tool manufacture during the stone age. The flint is all around Beer, it makes the beach – a change from the pebbles – and in the rock walls around it.
Unlike the red Triassic and grey Jurassic, the Cretaceous’s so bright I gotta wear shades. Limestone, in the evening sun glowing white and perfect as the skin of a TV-commercial model, it is made up of shells of zillions of algae that once lived in the ocean. Bands of grey flint nodules dot the white chalk, as a drizzle of beauty spots. It formed in the chalk, after burial, when chemical processes concentrated the silica in holes, after the swamps or organisms with calcite shells, e.g. molluscs or sea urchins (this link has some really cool images of flint sea urchin fossils!)
Beer in the Cretaceous was likely far from shore, a sea little disturbed by influx of dirty clastics from rivers or the shore. But, just as the skin of supermodels, upon closer look, the rocks turn out to not be so perfectly even. Organisms living in the still fluffy bottom sediments ate their way, made tunnels, like marine mini-moles, and messed the sediments up, so at “sedimentologist-scale” – a.k.a. grinding your nose to the wall – the chalk looks like sloppily mashed potatoes, some days beyond last consumption date.
How come there are Cretaceous rocks between the Triassic and Jurassic? Blame my field of geology, tecontics, a.k.a. crash’n’bang geology. After the chalk deposited, a major fault opened between Beer and the neighbor town Seaton to the east, and the Beer side was thrown down, so a piece of the chalk lies preserved in the dump, winning the hide-and-seek from the later erosion.
We will have a closer look at the Cretaceous later, at the famous Seven Sisters. For now, just enjoy the white cliffs of Beer – and why not take a train trip while you are there?
In case you haven’t noticed, I am a nerd, and just like nerd-in-chief, Sheldon Cooper, I like trains. The Beer Heighs Light Railway at Pecorama drives real steam engines on real coal – I can confirm it smells just like the coal on Svalbard – and nice view from the puff-puff-trip around the chalk hills.
How to get there:
From what Britons call The Continent, most will fly to London, and go west by train or car. By train, Gatwick airport is the most convenient: Take a train towards London Victoria, and change there or at Clapham Junction (famous for being the busiest railway station in the UK, and nothing else), and another train to Axminster. Beer’s website has a section to talk you down the last
All on board!