On Saturday we woke early and by nine were already parked up in the small coastal village of Seatown in preparation for the days walk. Our destination was to be the top of Golden Cap, the tallest point on the south coast of England at 191 metres and a landmark that can be seen from miles around. Its name derives from the golden Greensand rock present at the very top of the cliffs which ‘cap’ the vegetation covered lower slopes. Unfortunately for us the weather was somewhat overcast but the steep climb up was brightened by two male Yellowhammers and a couple of calling Pheasants defending their territory. Much like at home the yaffling of Green Woodpeckers filled the air but it wasn’t until we started to descend on the opposite side of the summit that we finally saw one. At the summit itself the views in every direction were spectacular with uninterrupted sight lines along much of the Jurassic coast. The panorama below is taken looking towards Weymouth with Portland stretching out to the right.
From the top we continued to head west past the ruins of St Gabriels church and out onto the beach below, via what turned out to be a very steep set of steps. I have some great photos of Emma descending them but I fear my life would not be worth living if I were to put them up on here! The trees and scrub along the way were jammed full of Chiffchaffs, while out over the cliffs a Kestrel and two Ravens were patrolling the sky.
Our intention for the return leg was to walk back along the beach to Seatown in order to take in another of the areas fantastic fossil giving zones. The tide was still too high to reveal much of what we were after however so we took the opportunity for a spot of lunch. Despite the tidal range being relatively small in comparison to that which we experience at home, we could still visibly see the waters recede and it wasn’t long before we were on our way again. This is the view looking east and shows Golden Cap on the far left.
I’ll cover the fossils in another post because what really captivated us on that return leg was the sheer variety of life in the recently exposed rock pools. Seaweeds of every shape and colour provided the backdrop against which tiny crabs were scuttling for safety and an unidentified army of worms could be seen sporadically ejecting salty water from their burrows into the air. One much larger crab made a dash for cover but after some hunting I found an angle from which it was visible.
It is a Velvet Swimming Crab, so-called because of the fine velvety texture of its shell and its swimming prowess. Measuring up to 8cm across this is probably the largest crab I have ever seen in the UK and is definitely one of the most distinctive with those bright red eyes. It is also apparently quite an aggressive species and will attack almost anything that moves, something which we can certainly vouch for having placed a stick in the crabs vicinity and watched it being swiftly rebuked.
The next group of inhabitants we encountered were even more colourful and should be familiar to anyone who has ever explored rock pools. Sea Anemones were absolutely everywhere and resembled lumps of jelly where they had been left fully exposed by the retreating tide. Every now and then though we came across one still submerged such as this Beadlet Anemone.
This species can come in either green, red or brown forms, but all display a distinctive ring of bright blue spots once the tentacles have been extended.
The second species we came across could be a contender for the most spectacular thing I have ever found in a rock pool. They are called Snake-locks Anemones and feature green tentacles with purple tips. Unlike the Beadlet Anemone these cannot retract their tentacles and so are not usually found out of water. On top of that they are also one of the few anemones whose stings have been known to effect humans.
There is also a brown variety of the Snake-locks Anemone which we found to be equally numerous along the beach. The reason for this colour difference is currently unclear but it is believed to be as a result of a lack of algae with which the green form has established a mutual symbiotic relationship. The algae living within the protection of the stinging tentacles produces sugars as a by product of its photosynthesis which the anemone digests, whilst the algae in turn uses the carbon dioxide produced as a waste product of the anemone in its photosynthesis. This relationship has developed to such an extent that the anemone actively seeks out bright places to help increase the algaes rate of photosynthesis and hence its own food supply.
Our final beach find was a Green Leaf Worm, a species I’ve not seen since finding one at Sker Point a couple of years ago. It wasn’t in view for long before disappearing into a burrow.
The cliffs above provided good entertainment throughout the day with a Peregrine Falcon screaming at us from its high perch being a particular highlight. We also relocated the pair of Ravens from earlier in the day along with the nest they were building. I certainly hope that it lasts the season as if the numerous small rock falls we witnessed are anything to go by that section of cliff is anything but stable.