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Chesil Beach viewed from the Isle of Portland
Chesil Cove at the Portland end of Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach, sometimes called Chesil Bank, in Dorsetmarker, southern Englandmarker is one of three major shingle structures in Britain. Its toponym is derived from the Old English ceosel or cisel, meaning "gravel" or "shingle".

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 Portland Bill, giving the appearance of a tombolo. The shingle beach is long, wide and high. The beach and the Fleet are part of the Jurassic Coastmarker, a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site, and the location for a book, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.

At the eastern end of the beach at the village of Chiswell, against the cliffs of the Isle of Portlandmarker, the beach curves round sharply to form Chesil Covemarker. This part of the beach protects the low-lying village from flooding. Westwards the shingle forms a straight line along the coast, enclosing the Fleet, a shallow tidal lagoon.

The beach provides shelter from the prevailing winds and waves for the town of Weymouthmarker and the village of Chiswell, which would otherwise probably not exist

Varying with the Bank's unbroken increase in height, to , above mean high water, the size of the flint and chert shingle varies from pea-sized at the north-west end (by West Bay) to orange-sized at the south-east end (by Portland). It is said that smugglers who landed on the beach in the middle of the night could judge "exactly where they were" by the size of the shingle.

The Fleet Lagoon

From West Baymarker 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. The Fleet is home to many wading birds and Abbotsbury Swannerymarker, and fossils can be found in the sand and mud.

Because of the low population density of nearby areas and their proximity to the naval base on Portland, the beach and the Fleet were used for machine gun training and bouncing bomb testing for Operation Chastise in World War II.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 origin of Chesil Beach has been argued over for some time. Originally it was believed that beach material was from the Budleigh Saltertonmarker 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.

See also


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

Image:PortlandBill&ChesilBeach.jpg|Portland Bill and Chesil Beach from the airImage:chesilbeachikenny.jpg|Looking west down Chesil Beach by AbbotsburymarkerImage:Shingle on Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove.jpg|Shingle on Chesil Beach at Chesil CoveImage:Chesil Stones with shoe for scale.JPG|Shoes show size of shingle near Portland entrance to beach (chert and flint)


  1. 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.
  2. The lagoon is 3m at its deepest (Carr and Blackley 1973:99.
  3. Portland history
  4. The extensive literature was reviewed by W.J. Arkell, "the geology of the country around WeymouthSwanage, Corfe and Lulworth," Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, 1947, and again, briefly, by Carr and Blackley, 1977.

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