UNESCO Global Geopark
Did you know that the English Riviera’s breath-taking landscape has designated UNESCO Global Geopark status, one of only seven in the entire UK and 140 in the world?
A Geopark is an area of globally recognised, unique geological interest, designated by UNESCO. A place where you can touch a very special part of the Earth’s story and be amazed by the extraordinary landscapes, mountains, coastlines, places and people. UNESCO Global Geoparks share the story of our Planet.
Raising awareness of these spectacular natural landscapes and the cultural heritage of the area helps to preserve these precious and protected environments for many generations to come. The English Riviera’s dramatic scenery, exceptional coastline and rocks were formed millions of years ago at the bottom of a warm tropical sea and then scorched by the equatorial sun. We are very proud of our incredible local geology and rich cultural heritage and encourage visitors to explore this fascinating area.
The Global Geopark timeline includes:
Devonian – 400 million years ago
Grey and pink limestone rocks were formed in tropical seas south of the Equator when creatures sank to the sea floor. You’ll find examples of this at Berry Head in Brixham and Hopes Nose in Torquay, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Carboniferous – 310 million years ago
A period when limestone rocks were moved and crushed and formed part of a mountain range. The mountains no longer exist but you can still see examples of the crushed rocks if you take a boat trip from Torquay harbour to Brixham where you can see the folded over rocks at Berry Head, or look across to Orestone Rock near Hopes Nose.
Permian – 270 million years ago
Red rocks were formed in a desert and when storms created floods, rocks called breccia, containing broken bits of limestone were transported and dumped. Sand also blew across and settled into dunes forming rocks called sandstone, which was worn away by the sea, leaving pale red sand that we still see today. You’ll see fine examples of the Permian rocks across the English Riviera, including at Preston and Oddicombe Beaches.
Quaternary – 500,000 years ago
During this period dinosaurs and mammals existed. Rainwater and underground streams carved out caves in the limestone rocks in Torquay and Brixham. Travel back in time at Torquay’s iconic heritage attraction and Europe’s top Prehistoric Stone Age caves, Kents Cavern with its extensive labyrinth of caverns. Cavemen, mammoth and woolly rhinoceroses once lived here at this site and the remains of a human jawbone found here are now on display at Torquay Museum.
Discover the English Riviera Geo Sites
The designated UNESCO Global Geopark status stretches right across the entire 22-mile coastline of the English Riviera. There are many points of interest within the Bay and our designation status is currently based upon the international importance of 32 individual geo sites, covering a story of three geological time periods, all found within a compact area. Here is the current list of sites to explore on your next visit:
1. Babbacombe Cliffs: Marine Devonian
Take a delightful trip on the Babbacombe Cliff Railway, which was built between the gaps in the cliffs in 1926, and see the Permian rocks at Babbacombe and from Oddicombe Beach.
2. Barcombe Mews Quarry, Shorton
Geological and geomorphological features of this area are Permian breccia with large angular to subrounded clasts of sandstone and limestone.
3. Barton Quarry
This site, with limited access, is the source of rich late Middle Devonian faunas and of key historical importance.
4. Berry Head to Sharkham Point
The prominent limestone headland at Berry Head, a National Nature Reserve stands majestically at 60 metres above sea level providing spectacular views across the English Riviera and beyond. The site is unique in the South West region and of significant scientific value.
5. Black Head and Anstey’s Cove
The only significant outcrop of igneous rock of South West England is found here and can be seen from Hope’s Nose to Walls Hill.
6. Breakwater Quarry, Brixham
Middle Devonian limestones from the quarry were used to build Brixham Breakwater
7. Brokenbury Quarry, Churston Ferrers
Key to this area are the Variscan Structures of southwest England
8. Brixham Cavern
This is a key historical site on the English Riviera and a former source of rich Pleistocene vertebrate faunas. Access is currently restricted as the cave is privately owned.
9. Chapel Hill, Torre
Easily viewed and accessible from the road this site shows the relationship between the Devonian limestone and younger Permian breccia
10. Churston Cove / Churston Point
The area is of regional strati graphical importance as the type locality of the Churston Member of the Brixham Limestone Formation, and makes the final stages of carbonate sedimentation on the Brixham High. Take the Broadsands to Churston Circular walk which takes in the sights at Churston Cove. https://www.englishriviera.co.uk/be-inspired/top-10-ideas/top-10-walks
11. Crystal Cove
The remarkable 25m zone of crystalline calcite is a well-known geological feature in this area, close proximity to Broadsands and Saltern Cove.
12. Daddyhole: Marine Devonian
Daddyhole Cove has an alternating sequence of shales and limestones indicate local facies variations in the late Eifelian, important in interpreting the palaeoecology of the Middle Devonian limestones of the area.
13. Dyers Quarry
Here you will find the best example in South Devon of fossilised corals in their position of growth and the best section in South Devon of the upper part of the Daddyhole Limestone Formation (Late Eifelian).
14. Goodrington Quarry and Road Cutting
This site shows a valuable range of geological features and an exposure of Middle Devonian (Givetian) Limestone.
15. Hollicombe Head to Corbyns Head
The bright red cliffs can be easily viewed from Torquay Seafront and Livermead Sands. The sandstones and conglomerates of the Permian.
16. Hopes Nose to Wall’s Hill: Marine Devonian
A locality with unrivalled exposures in the Torquay Limestone
17. Hopes Nose: Mineralogy of SW
A nationally important site for mineral structures where hydrothermal fluids led to the formation of gold and rare palladium minerals
18. Hopes Nose and Thatcher Rock
Visit this popular spot to study the Quarternary stratigraphy and sea-level change evident.
19. Hopes Nose South
This area provides an excellent example of Variscan structures of the South West.
20. Kents Cavern: Quaternary of South West
A multi award-winning tourist attraction, with prehistoric caves which were once home to humans for over 500,000 years.
21. Long Quarry: Marine Devonian
Long Quarry is unique in displaying development, growth and form of a stromatoporoid reef. In the past quarrying dramatically changed the face of many sections of the coastline.
22. Lummaton Quarry: Marine Devonian
The site where the Lummaton Shell beds within the Devonian limestone led to the naming of the Devonian Period. Arguably the most important single fossiliferous locality of Devonian age in Britain and possibly the world.
23. Meadfoot Sea Rd: Marine Devonian
Take the Beacon Cove to Meadfoot Beach walk which incorporates Meadfoot Sea Road and examples of Marine Devonian. https://www.englishriviera.co.uk/be-inspired/top-10-ideas/top-10-walks
24. New Cut: Marine Devonian
A unique palaeontological locality and Site of Special Scientific Interest at Lincombe Drive.
25. Oddicombe: Permian-Triassic
At Babbacombe Cliffs you will see the Oddicombe breccias of Permian age, faulted against the Devonian Limestones of Petitor
26. Petitor, Maidencombe
This area exposes both the Middle and Upper Devonian with Permian deposits resting unconformably on the Upper Devonian. Marbles quarried from here were very much in demand during the Victorian era.
27. Quarry Woods Quarry, Cockington
Marine Devonian examples are visible here.
28. Roundham Head: Permian Triassic
From this site Permian sedimentary environments including palaeowind and directions of fluvial transport can be observed. The diagonal patterns in the sandstone show evidence of 270 million-year-old sand dunes.
29. Saltern Cove: Marine Devonian
Saltern Cove is a local nature reserve which extends 376 metres below the low water mark. Situated along the South West Coast Path, south of Goodrington Sands in Paignton, this is one of the most important Upper Devonian localities. Saltern Cove and Waterside Cove display extensive sections of both Upper and Lower Devonian beds.
30. Saltern Cove: Permian Triassic
A regionally significant unconformity where Permian rocks rest on top of Lower Devonian.
31. Sharkham Iron Mine
Walk the route from Berry Head to Sharkham Point to observe the former mine workings which reveal a form of mineralisation, unique to this region.
32. Shoalstone: Permian-Triassic
Take in the stunning views at Shoalstone, onwards to Berry Head and Sharkham Point in Brixham to discover the wave cut platform which exposes two sets of red sandstone filled dykes, some lined by large calcite crystals.
Follow in the Footsteps of Stone Age Man
Across the English Riviera you can take a voyage of discovery, following in the footsteps of stone age man at internationally renowned sites including Kents Cavern prehistoric caves, home to humans for over 500,000 years.
Kents Cavern is one of the most important Stone Age sites in Europe and one of Britain’s best show caves! On your visit you’ll go back to a time when the cave was home to ancient humans, sheltering from extreme weather, making fires, shaping tools and hunting Ice Age animals. As you walk through the extensive labyrinth of caverns, you’ll be surrounded by 400-million-year-old rocks and spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.
Open all year Kents Cavern is a very popular and all weather fascinating tourist attraction providing world class guided tours of the underground caverns. All tours start in the Vestibule Chamber, and as you enter the cave you’ll feel the temperature at a constant 14c. Your tour guide will lead you through the Long Arcade to reveal how the caves were formed 2.5 million years ago and how stalagmite floors formed, sealing in the evidence of Ice Age occupations.
Explore Berry Head
Berry Head National Nature Reserve is a gateway to the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark with spectacular views, headland walks and is home to a variety of protected wildlife from seabirds to bats. This stunning landscape with its iconic lighthouse and Napoleonic Forts, is surrounded by water on three sides and offers exceptional views across the English Riviera and beyond. You can enjoy some superb coastal walks along the South West Coast Path, spot rare wildlife on land and sea or simply relax at the multi award-winning Guardhouse Café.
Discover the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark from the Sea
One of the best ways to experience the English Riviera Global Geopark is from the sea. Take a boat trip or cruise and take in the sight of the majestic Devonian limestone headlands and the magnificent red Permian cliffs that have inspired so many, including the world-famous crime writer Agatha Christie.
A walk along the South West Coast Path and take in the sea and the majestic scenery.
Have a go at kayaking or coasteering with Reach Outdoors to get an even closer look or back on dry land you can uncover more at our local museums. The Geoplay Park on Paignton’s seafront is a children’s play area with a difference. Themed around the amazing geological story of the English Riviera it provides free entertainment for the whole family.
UNESCO Global Geopark Promotion
If you would like to celebrate and promote the fact that the English Riviera has been designated an UNESCO Global Geopark you are encouraged to download the official Global Geopark Logo and to upload this on your own website.
The Official Guide to the English Riviera Global Geopark is available to purchase online, from the English Riviera Visitor Information Centre in Torquay or by calling 01803 211211.
Visit the official English Riviera Geopark website for further details.