Walk - Paignton Town Geology Trail
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- The walk starts at Paignton Railway Station. Come out of the railway station, cross the road and walk up through Victoria Street.
- In Victoria Street, stop to check out the plaque commemorating the opening of the shopping precinct.
This is made of “pink” limestone, similar to the cliffs on the Rock Walk in Torquay. In both cases, the colouring is due to mineral staining from the younger Permian red rocks under which the older limestones were once buried.
Cross at the crossing and go straight across to Palace Avenue
- When you see the HSBC Bank, stop and have a look at its walls.
The Bank is built of Portland stone, a much younger limestone, aged about 150 million years, from the Jurassic Coast whilst next door on the left, the walls are of Devonian coral limestone.
Using your magnifying glass, have a look at the limestone in the HSBC walls, and see if you can find the tiny circular markings in it. These are ooliths – small rounded tiny egg-like structures built of layers of calcium carbonate which was gradually deposited around a fragment of shell or a grain of sand as it was moved to and fro in a hot tropical sea This process is similar to the way lime is deposited in a kettle.
Going across to Lloyds Bank, opposite, you will see that it was built from Devonian limestone and Permian breccia. To the left of the right-hand window, and in many other places in these walls, you can see the oval shapes of corals in the limestone. This rock was laid down some 380 million years ago, when Paignton was somewhere south of the equator and coral reefs flourished in the warm seas.
To the right of the letterbox, you can see fossilised gastropods (like snails) and branching corals
Here and there the breccia has eroded, and the blocks have been replaced with blocks of sandstone; and if you look closely at the orangey-yellow sandstone in the pillars, you can see more current bedding similar to the structures you will see later down on the beach.
Cost always being an issue, the stone used for building reflects the budget available for the project, as does the way it is dressed – ie how the blocks are cut, and the kind of material used. Since medieval times the local breccia would have been the least expensive but most accessible building stone. The coming of the railways (1859 in Paignton) allowed building stone from further afield to be used.
Cross back to the other side of the road and walk to the right of the Palace Gardens.
Pause as you pass to look at the highly-polished granite pillar on far right-hand corner of building to your right at Coverdale Road. Note the black “heathens” in it: This a quarryman's term for ‘xenoliths’, material from deep within the earth’s crust that was ripped off into the molten material or magma from which the granite was formed as it was moved upwards towards the crust.
- With the Palace Theatre ahead to your left (with toilets), take the right-hand turning at the Methodist Church into Tower Road. On the corner of Tower Road, stop and look at the walls of the small church to your right.
The church too is built of breccia and the yellow current-bedded sandstone.
- Go right at the church and walk down Tower Road.
The wall on your left-hand side and the tower at the end are all that remains of the old Bishop's Palace. It is thought to date from the 14th century. You can see how old it is, from the rounded water worn boulders, poorly dressed and badly eroded, at the base of the wall. These have either come from a nearby river but more likely the beach. Have a look at the Devonian limestone in it: about halfway along the wall you will find some beautiful corals, clearly showing their structures and some discs like polo mints from the stems of the so-called sea lilies or crinoids..
- Turn left at the tower to go onto Church Path and then into the churchyard of Paignton Parish Church.
Pause in the gateway to have a look at the church wall ahead of you, above the extension. Again, the rounded boulders show its age, which may again date back to the 14th century. Compare the blocks with those used in the extension below it, which are probably Victorian.
The lower part of the church, around the entrance, is again very old. Note the badly eroded breccia, and the fine-grained sandstone (locally sourced) used for the archway.
To the left of this entrance there are some modern plaques, made from different igneous rocks. These have been chosen for their durability You will see characteristic granite, with glossy quartz, black mica and white feldspar crystals; and a pink granite. The feldspar crystals in this are pink, not white, which gives it its characteristic colour, reminiscent of granite from Brittany.
On the corner to the far left of the entrance are some fine examples of the ‘way-up’ of the blocks as determined by the size of the clasts within the rock, as we will see at the harbour. Note the different sandstones used for the entrance to the left around the corner of the church, and the benchmark (a horizontal line with arrow beneath pointing upwards), which surveyors use to mark height about sea level, for map-making purposes. (bottom left of the main entrance). As you head towards the gateway to your left, note a Dartmoor granite tub, with its big white feldspar crystals.
Go through the gateway and out onto Palace Place.
Turn left at gate for a quick detour as far as the corner of the churchyard, to read the information boards and to have a look at the old mediaeval lodging block on corner.
Return past the church gateway and cross the road to go down the steps opposite you to the left of St Johns Court.
Note the two old buildings on left.
- Walk down the road, past the road on the left-hand side saying “no access”, and take the footpath to the right of St John's Court
There is ancient wall on the right, probably fourteenth century, with the same undressed and rounded boulders. A little further on is the old mediaeval lock-up (the Paignton Clink). Note here how the breccia blocks are the wrong way up in places.
- Carry on down to the left, and keep going left until you reach Littlegate Road. Turn left and stop when you come to Kirkham House.
This is one of the best late mediaeval houses in Devon, and was built in the 15th century and 'modernised' in the 16th. Note that it was built mostly breccia. The base is of rounded boulders, but the stone is more dressed higher up the walls indicating a later date for its construction.
Return back to Littlegate Road and follow it down to the main Torquay road. Reaching the main road turn right, then walk the very short distance to the traffic lights. Cross the main road at the traffic lights into Hyde Road and make your way for about 500 metres to the railway station. Before you reach the railway station bear left toward the level crossing.
- To continue to the beach go over the level crossing and walk down Torbay Road crossing Esplanade Road. Cross the Green onto Eastern Esplanade and turn right.
Walk around the harbour, through the boat park and around into a little crescent of sandy beach known as Fairy Cove. The red sand and shingle shoreline is bordered by rocks, with interesting rockpools at low tide. The local bedrock is part of the Torbay Breccia Formation. Looking out across the sea you can see Thatcher Rock and the Ore Stone on the other side of Tor Bay.
- Look for some steps that lead up to the Cliff Road car park
On the beach, stop and have a look at the rocks on the right. Note the layers in the Permian aged red sandstone. This is a sedimentary rock formed on the Earth’s surface. The red colour indicates that the iron in the rock was oxidised in hot dry conditions.
Now turn back and head towards the steps, but stop at the rocks to your left as you approach them. There are red layers here, too; but notice that this time they have a lot of angular fragments embedded in them. These rocks were laid down in the Permian period, approximately 280 million years ago, when Paignton was just north of the equator. The evidence in the rocks tells us that the landscape was desert similar to the Sahara today. This kind of rock is known as breccia, and the fragments are bits of older rock broken up by heating and cooling then swept away by flash flooding and later compressed into rock.
The angular fragments, or clasts, embedded in the breccia here are Devonian limestones from when coral reefs thrived in the tropical, warm seas hereabouts about 100 million years before the Permian deserts. If you look closely at some of the larger limestone clasts on the wall here, (for example by the third step), you can see the faint oval markings of coral fossils.
Note how the beds on the right-hand side contain big pebbles in one band of rock; and the same band of pebbles appears a lot higher in the left-hand beds. This is due to a fault, where the earth's movements have caused the rocks to move and the left-hand rock to settle lower than the right.
Notice how the pebbles in the sandstone get progressively finer as you look higher in each bed. This is called ‘fining up’, and it is a way of telling the ‘way up’ of the layers. Can you work out how ?
On the sixth step up, note the fine layers of rock running in diagonal lines. This is called current bedding, and is a sign that the sediment was laid down in flowing water, before they were compressed into rock. Note the fine grains in the sandstone, and the way they are still graded, with the bigger grains towards the bottom.
Turning back to the beach, see how the rocks are sloping or dipping gently towards the sea as a result of earth movements. If you look across at the cliffs to your right, you can see a wave cut platform, where the sea has in the past eroded across the dipping rocks regardless of the angle, before sea levels dropped. The ancient marine feature is now well above sea level. There is evidence of a similar feature across the bay, on Thatcher Rock and at Hope's Nose. Over there beach material with marine fossils can still be found about 9 metres above the sea.(see the Hope's Nose walk)
Go back down the steps and retrace your steps into the boat park and carry on around the harbour.
Pause to read the information board about bottlenose dolphins, peregrine falcons and 19th century shipwrecks, as well as a brief note about the headland's geological past.
- Reaching the harbour toilets, stop to have a look at the gatepost.
You'll realise that this is the same kind of breccia that we have just observed by the steps. See the limestone clasts in it. As we have already seen, the Permian sandstones and breccias have been used extensively for Paignton buildings.
- Carry on along Roundham Road and turn right by the Paignton Club to the sea wall along the Eastern Esplanade.
Here is the breccia again, cut into blocks to build the sea wall. Note the huge limestone clasts in it, and see how badly some of the blocks have been eroded, even needing to be replaced here and there, where newer limestone blocks have been cemented in. Do you think the breccia makes a good building stone?
Go left by the shelter before the cinema, by the mini golf, and cross the road, to go up Adelphi Road, opposite.
You can see the breccia again, in the older buildings on the corner. Note, too, that where Torquay was built close to the coastline, Paignton is sited much further back.
- Go right at the rugby and cricket ground onto Queen's Road.
As with the rugby ground in Torquay, here too, it is sited on building land that was low lying near the sea and cheaper, because of its more vulnerable position.
- Left onto Torbay Road, crossing the level crossing, and back to Paignton Railway Station.