'BUDE GEO-WALKS' & 'GEO-TALKS', CORNWALL, UK
2-hr guided geological walks on the beach & cliff path, for the general public, by Dr Roger Higgs (Oxford doctorate on Bude Formation rocks, 1982-86).
Enjoy the fascinating geology exposed in the cliffs along this glorious sector of the legendary South West Coastal Path (see photos below). Alternating beds of sand ('turbidites') and mud, together totalling about 1.3 km in thickness, make up the 'Bude Formation'. These beds were deposited in a giant 'Lake Bude' 300 million years ago (long before dinosaurs existed), when the UK lay far to the south near the equator (see 'continental drift' in Wikipedia). Meanwhile, strata containing peat (now coal, hence the 'Carboniferous' name of this geological period) accumulated in shifting tropical-forest delta swamps that intermittently covered much of Wales, England and Scotland. Among the few fossils found in the Bude Formation, the extinct fish Cornuboniscus budensis (photo below) is unknown anywhere else in the world. Lake Bude was the last vestige of a former 'Rheic Ocean' that was gradually consumed (by 'subduction') as the 'Gondwana' supercontinent, with France on its leading edge, converged with the 'Euramerica' supercontinent, with the UK on its trailing edge. These 'plate tectonic' movements eventually led to supercontinent collision (producing the 'Pangaea' megacontinent), causing mountain building ('orogeny') at the collision site, folding and uplifting the Bude strata just a few million years after deposition. The resulting 'Variscan' mountain range trended along the length of Cornwall and continued eastward into present-day Europe and westward into the USA (the Atlantic did not then exist). Deep inside the new mountains, compression squeezed the Lake Bude beds into spectacular zigzag folds (photos below). This same 'Variscan Orogeny' is responsible for the Cornish and Dartmoor granites and the related mineral veins, both of which formed deep (km) underground. The granites are now exposed, like the Bude beds, thanks to uplift and erosion of many kilometres of vanished overlying rock.
Many oil company geologists, geophysicists and engineers visit here, using the Bude Formation as an 'outcrop analogue', to gain insights into the likely internal architecture (bed stacking) of 'turbidite' sandstone oil reservoirs deep underground (therefore hard to visualise) onshore and offshore around the world, in order to assist with the selection of future borehole locations, thereby aiming to minimise expense (fewer 'dry holes') and maximise oil production. Bude is also popular with Earth Science departments of universities and colleges, for training students in 'structural geology' (folds, faults, etc.) and 'sedimentology' (genesis and composition of sedimentary rocks).
As a sedimentary geologist ('sedimentologist'), with decades of experience in the oil industry, Roger is well qualified to answer your questions on fracking, global warming and sea-level rise.
'Bude Geo-Walks' for the general public are offered every summer, on most Thursdays (subject to Dr Higgs' international consulting commitments), from 2 until 4pm, departing from Bude Tourist Information Centre (TIC), where there are public toilets and ample parking (Pay & Display). 25 tickets are available per walk, first come first served. Prices are £17 adult (age 16+), £15 concessions (65+), £10 child (7-15) ... the price of a meal out, for an event that will change your view on life! Tickets can be bought in advance by phoning or visiting the TIC (01288 354240, 10am-5pm); or on the day at TIC from 10am until 1.50pm or until sold out. Tickets are refundable if buyers give 48 hours notice of cancellation by phone or email (email@example.com) or in person; or if Roger cancels for any reason (it's never happened yet; note that Geo-Walks proceed in all weathers!).
Geo-Walks are not strenuous, but shoes with good grip are essential (e.g. hiking boots, trainers; no flip-flops), and adequate clothing to suit the weather. Regrettably, dogs and children under 7 are not permitted (except on private walks; see below).
Private Geo-Walks can be arranged at any time of year for 1-25 people (dogs & infants allowed), timed to suit you. Walks last for three hours and cost £140 for up to 6 people (adults or children), plus £17 for each additional adult, £10 each extra child (age under 16). A very popular itinerary is the 'round-trip' from Bude to Northcott Mouth (1 mile each way), walking north along the beach (barefoot if you like!), discussing the marvellous folded beds in the cliffs; and returning south along the clifftop South West Coast Path, with stunning views up and down the coast. Adding a fourth hour (extra £40) allows us to extend this walk to Sandy Mouth (2 miles each way). There are seasonal cafeterias at both Northcott Mouth and Sandy Mouth. Alternative localities are Millook Haven (see 6th photo below!) and Widemouth Bay. Payment is in advance at the TIC (see above); fully refundable with 48 hours notice. To arrange your desired time and itinerary, please email Roger at
Gift certificates for a public or private Bude Geo-Walk make unique and interesting Christmas, birthday or anniversary presents for relatives and friends.
Tailored walks & field trips for schools, colleges & universities by arrangement (75 German high-school students came in 2013!). Commentary in fluent Spanish if required. Please email
For further information on Bude Geo-Walks and on Bude's geology, please see:-
...TripAdvisor Reviews Weblink
...Bude Tourist Information Centre, 'Geology Walks' webpage Weblink
...Bude Tourist Information Centre, 'Bude's Geology' webpage Weblink
...Bude Geological Walks poster
(download pdf 872 KB)
...Geological publication 1 (download pdf 2.0 MB)
...Geological publication 2 (download pdf 6.1 MB)
'Bude Geo-Talks' are 1-hour lectures for schools, colleges, universities & other interested groups. Four talks are currently offered (others can be prepared on request),
in English or Spanish:
1. "The Bude Formation: 300-million-year-old sand & mud beds deposited in a giant tropical lake inhabited by a unique fish"
Bude Canal & Harbour Society (2012)
Bude Heritage Day (2012, 2013)
U3A Bude division (2013)
Old Cornwall Society, Bude division (2013)
Marie Curie High School, Bad Berka, Germany, 75 students (visited Bude in 2013)
2. "Geological evolution of Cornwall: pre-dinosaur mountains formed by collision of England & France"
U3A Bude division & U3A Barnstaple geology group (2014)
3. "Global warming and sea-level rise: natural and unstoppable"
4. "Fracking explained by a petroleum geologist"
Lectures can be given at your premises (anywhere in the world), or at one of several hireable venues in Bude. For prices & details, please email
Cliffs and wave-cut platform at low tide, looking north toward Bude. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Maer High Cliff, near Bude, beautifully exposing steeply dipping sandstone & darker mudstone (shale) beds of the Carboniferous-age Bude Formation, about 300 million years old. Note syncline (downfold) at right-hand side. For scale, note two people on cliff edge at centre. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Cliffs and wave-cut platform, looking south toward Bude. Note seaward-plunging zigzag folds at centre-right, seen in plan view. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Syncline (downfold) in the Bude Formation, Pearces Cove. For scale, note man and child standing on cliff edge, top right. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Anticline (upfold) in the Bude Formation, Upton. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Crackington Formation (slightly older than the Bude Formation) at Millook Haven. For scale, note group of people (red jacket) on beach, near cliff base, below magnificent cascade of zigzag folds. Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Cornuboniscus budensis, an extinct fossil fish about 300 million years old (much older than the oldest dinosaur), globally unknown outside the Bude Formation, on display in the museum at Bude Castle Heritage Centre, on loan from the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. This specimen (mirror-image impressions inside a split nodule) is only about 6 cm long. Note that the specimen tapers from the head (at right/top) toward the tail, and is kinked at about 3/4 of the way along. For a downloadable close-up photo (scale in mm), from the NHM website, go to Weblink
Two kinds of "trace fossil" made by fish swimming in contact with the muddy bottom of "Lake Bude". Type 1 consists of paired sinuous grooves made by a fish's tail fin and belly fin. Type 2 is a nearly straight, shallow trough (made by fish's breast) with superimposed zig-zag "flick marks" made by the tail (two examples visible). Were these fish hunting? Photo copyright Roger Higgs.
Roger Higgs and HRH Prince Charles at Bude Castle Heritage Centre, 15th July 2013, discussing Bude's geology and its unique fossil fish, Cornuboniscus budensis.