Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Needles, Durdle Door, and Start Point – How did these sea-related geological features get their names?

The Needles prior to 1764, showing Lot's Wife still standing.
The other day my local news ran a feature about The Needles Lighthouse which stands at the western-most point of the Isle of Wight. If you’re not familiar with The Needles, they are three chalk rocks that stretch into the Solent, with a lighthouse on the end of the furthest rock. But how did these chalk rocks get their names when they look nothing like needles, and perhaps more like, as a follower mentioned to me on twitter, a row of teeth?

The Needles' name orginated from a fourth rock called Lot’s Wife, which was both thinner and taller than the rocks we see today. Islanders and fishermen, who saw this tall chalk stack, believed it represented a needle, and the name stuck even after Lot’s Wife collapsed in a storm in 1764. At low tide Lot’s Wife can be seen under the water.

Another spectacular geological site is Durdle Door which is a natural stone arch in Dorset and a feature of the Jurassic Coast. ‘Durdle’ derives from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘thirl’ which is a pierced hole or opening – the sea eroding a hole until the rock became an arch making Durdle Door what we see today.
And finally, another place I visisted this year was Start Point Lighthouse, which is further west along the coast, in Devon. Again, the Anglo-Saxons are responsible for its name as ‘start’ is Anglo-Saxon for 'a tail’. If you visit or see Start Point, you'll see the lighthouse sits at the end of a piece of land/cliiff that is shaped like a tail, as it viciously juts out into the sea. As  was the case before The Needles lighthouse was built, Start Point claimed many ships before the lighthouse was built in 1836.

So three geological features that have interesting stories behind their names.