Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Goat Island, World Heritage Jurassic Coastline, Devon

This enchanted place came into existence during what is known as the Great Landslip, when on Christmas Eve 1839 a huge chunk of the coastline broke away and slid towards the sea, leaving a massive chasm between it and the land. It quickly became famous, attracting many sightseers, and was especially noted as the first natural event to be studied and described by scientific means. William Conybeare and William Buckland, eminent scientists of the day, were on hand to observe, explain and provide insights, which are still useful to current research today.

The geology of this area consists of slopes of greensand and chalk on top of clay. Known as a blockslide, the landslip was formed by excessive rainfall lubricating the join between the clay and greensand, enabling the top layers to slide. This particular area comprised 15 acres and weighed an estimated 8 million tons. The front edge of the landslide was uplifted out of the sea and formed a reef, although it only lasted for a short while. At the time, however, consideration was given as to whether it could provide a port for the Royal Navy.

Goat Island became a huge attraction. It had been part of a wheat field and on the following year, in August, a ceremonial harvest was held. A procession was lead by four young maids in white dresses and carrying gold-painted sickles adorned with ribbons, followed by a brass band. The corn was cut (no doubt helped by refreshment of good Devon cider) and much of the crop was sold as souvenirs. Many people visited by paddle steamer, and thousands of visitors came to walk and see the unusual landscape, including Queen Victoria. Music was written about it and many delightful prints and engravings were made, providing a valuable record of how it looked at that time.

Today, it is quite isolated. It can be seen, in part, from the Undercliff path, but the access isn't generally known about, or part of the 'tourist trail'. Now very overgrown, it's a fairly strenuous walk to get to, but quite short, and once there it's a glorious haven with amazing views of the sea, Beer Head, the coastline and the chasm...although only the treetops can be seen now instead of the dramatic landscape after the landslip occurred.

Managed by Natural England, the grass is given an annual crop...much like the original crop of 1840, although there is no wheat there now.

Like the rest of the Undercliff it has it's own micro-climate, and because it's pretty isolated various rare plants thrive there, including several varieties of orchid.

I took these photos in June 2007 when I had a walk there with my friend who lives in the village of Axmouth. Interestingly, she told me that the guitarist John Renbourn named one of his compositions after Goat Island, which he knew about through regular visits to a musician friend of his who also lives in the village. I once met John when he was part of the group Pentangle, at a pop festival held in the grounds of Woburn Abbey in 1968. After the first day, my friends and myself bought drinks at a local pub, and as the pub was packed we took our pints to a small courtyard behind the building where we found the group. Two of my friends were excellent guitar players and they had a jam session with John and the others. I can't remember if I had my guitar with me or not, but in any case I certainly wasn't up to their level then to join in! Happy days. :)

Although not actually on Goat Island itself, this lovely old hedge stile overgrown with wild honeysuckle (below) is situated on the way.

There are a few more photos in the Photo Gallery album along with these.

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