Geology of the Torbay area

The Torbay area is bursting with some amazing geological and local history, all for you to discover when you visit.


to-from to-from period
PRE-CAMBRIAN 4600 - 570 ma    
PALAEOZOIC 570 - 245 ma 570 - 510 ma Cambrian
    510 - 439 ma Ordovician
    439 - 408 ma Silurian
    408 - 362 ma Devonian - Kents Cavern Limestone formed
    362 - 290 ma Carboniferous
    290 - 245 ma Permian
MESOZOIC 245 - 65 ma 245 - 208 ma Triassic
    208 - 145 ma Jurassic
    145 - 65 ma Cretaceous
TERTIARY 65 - 1.6 ma   Chambers and passages of Kents Cavern carved out 2 mya
QUATERNARY 1.6 ma - 12,000   Ice Ages


Around 4600-570 million years ago the earth was a glowing molten cauldron of gases. The earth's crust began to form and some of the earliest rocks are created (found in Scotland). New rocks are created when the tectonic plates, which make up the earth's crust move, pull apart from each other.


We jump to the Palaeozoic era and into the Devonian period (named after the Torbay rocks during the 18th century), where the rocks begin to be formed around 400 million years ago. Before then the history of Torbay is non-existent.

Around 400 million years ago most of Britain was covered by a shallow tropical sea containing coral reefs and other marine creatures. The Devonian limestone of Kents Cavern and the surrounding area was formed by these first signs of life. By 260 million years ago the continents are being jammed together into one large land area known as Pangea! The Torbay rocks were crumpled, broken and moved, some were even turned upside down explaining some of the stranger and more interesting geological movements in Torbay! Plants and reptiles evolved from sea creatures and began to migrate. Britain became a desert wasteland. An extinction level event (E.L.E) ended the Palaeozoic era with around 95% of all life dying due the desert wasteland environment. This desert scorch explains why we find many red coloured rocks around Torquay and Paignton. Due to the intense heat the rocks were turned red and were once home to strange reptilian creatures.


Around 245-60 million years ago Britain once again submerged under the sea whilst dinosaurs roamed the planet. Fossils of sea life animals are still found today. Leaping into the Tertiary period Kents Cavern began to form around 2 million years ago with many of the major passageways being slowly hollowed out and then filled with water. (Check out the formation of the cave page to find out more). During the same era, the Cenozoic, another large mountain building event, occurs once more shaping the rocks along the Torquay coastline.


The move into the Quaternary period meant lots of life in Torbay. The climate changed often and the area saw frequent glacial and inter-glacial periods. Interglacial's were times where the climate was warm and vegetated with lots of signs of life, including our human ancestors. During the glacial periods Torbay was a cold winter land that would have been difficult to survive in, even though it wasn't under any ice sheet like the rest of Britain.

Warm interglacial animals included hyena, bison, hippopotamus and straight-tusked elephants; their bones were found in the local Buckfastleigh area, in Joint Mitnor cave. Glacial animals included cave bears, reindeer woolly rhinos and woolly mammoths.