Explore Our geological history

Travel back in time more than half a billion years to discover how geology built and shaped Charnwood Forest


A story nearly 600 million years in the making

From rolling hills to crag-topped peaks, our landscapes are home to geological stories that have changed our understand of life on earth


A sunny day at Morley Quarry Local Nature Reserve

600 million years ago

Our story begins nearly 600 million years ago during a geological period called the Ediacaran. During this time Charnwood Forest would have been in the southern hemisphere, around 60 degrees south of the equator. The oldest rocks in the Geopark are found at Morley Quarry. Drilling there has revealed ancient lavas and ash layers that would have been erupted from a nearby volcano. This is one of a number of ‘hidden volcanoes’ in the region: we can find evidence they existed but don’t know exactly where they were. Mysterious!

Microscopic view of the crystals within the porphyr at Whitwick Quarry
A carton off a volcanic island surrounded by the ocean. There is an ash cloud with particles falling into the sea.
A reconstruction of the sea floor 560 million years ago, including representations of several fossils

560 million years ago

The Ediacaran aged rocks in Charnwood Forest are mostly sandstones and siltstones, deposited in the deep sea next to a chain of volcanic islands. It was during this time that the first large complex organisms evolved – including the first animals. Charnwood Forest is home to some of the oldest known animal fossils, including Charnia, found in rocks from around 560 million years ago. Originally, the rocks of Charnwood Forest were thought to be too old to contain fossils. The discovery of Charnia by two schoolchildren in the 1950s was the first conclusive Precambrian fossil to be found, and changed our understanding of how life evolved. You can learn more about Charnwood Forest’s fossils on our Discovering Charnia page.

A replica of the fossil Charnia masoni. The scale bar indicates the fossil must be around 21 cm long.
A cast replica of the fossil Hylaecullulus

530 million years ago

Around 530 million years ago, Charnwood Forest was likely a fairly shallow sea. Fine, muddy sediments were deposited into this sea, and – these will become the Swithland Slate. The Cambrian age of these rocks is confirmed by the presence of a fossilised burrow called Teichichnus. Quarrying Swithland Slate was a major industry up until the Victorian era, and it was used for everything from roofing to gravestones, cheesestones to clock faces!

a swithland slate gravestone featuring the engraving "Here lyeth ye body of Elizabeth the wife of Stephen Clarke who departed this life the 10th day of September 1717."
Included centimetre thick layers of rock, with out of focus green landscape in the background.

420 million years ago

Many of the older rocks in Charnwood Forest appear to split apart in a way that crosscuts the natural layers of sedimentary bedding. These planes of weakness are called cleavage, and were formed around 420 million years ago during the Silurian. It was during this time that the rocks of Charnwood Forest were tectonically squashed – pushing the rock into a giant fold, and causing the cleavage to form. 

A cartoon showing layers of geology that have been squashed to form a large fold.
The ruins of the priory at Grace Dieu

345 Million Years Ago

The north western corner of Charnwood Forest records an exciting glimpse into the Carboniferous world, around 345 million years ago. A small outcrop of limestone in Grace Dieu is Britain’s most southerly outcrop of the Carboniferous Limestone within the ‘Central Province’, and tells of a very shallow sea in the area at the time. The area around Thringstone is underlain by slightly younger Carboniferous rocks that contain coal that was deposited in coastal swamp-like environments.

A microscopic view of limestone from Grace Dieu
A cartoon of tilted layers of rocks being eroded into mountains by winds and sandstorms.

260 million years ago

During the Permian period, uplift of the land and erosion caused the removal of much of the previously deposited Carboniferous deposits, and the shaping of the Ediacaran and Cambrian rocks into hills. The areas of ‘Markfieldite’ were eroded into smooth-sided domes called bornhardts. England would have been around 15° north of the equator at this time, similar to the modern latitude of Timbuktu, Mali. No rocks are left from the Permian in our region – just the evidence of erosion, in the hills and valleys we can still see to this day.

A diagram showing the palaeogeography from 250 million years ago. There is one large supercontinent called Pangeo, with the UK highlighted near the centre of this.
A carton of red sediments deposited on and around mountains.

240 million years ago

During the Triassic, England would have been at the centre of the supercontinent known as Pangea. The climate was likely seasonal, with hot desert-like conditions and monsoon-type rains. Wind blown clay, silt, and sand began to fill the valleys created in the Permian, alongside further sands deposited by sporadic flooding events. These infilled valleys can be seen in spectacular fashion in many of our quarries. The majority of Charnwood Forest is directly underlain by Triassic sediments.

The banks of a river with outcrops of red sandstone.
An image of the side of Bardon Hill Quarry, showing a cross section through a large v-shaped valley, infilled with red sandstone.

450,000 years ago

During the Anglian Glaciation, Charnwood Forest would have been covered in ice, as glaciers reached as far south as London. These slowly crawling flows of ice would have continued to shape and sculpt our landscape, and have left behind some far-traveled evidence – pebbles of rock types not found in the Geopark, but are known from further north…

A collection of pebbles next to the £ coin for scale.
A carton showing inclined beds of grey rock capped by horizontal beds of red rock, covered in grass and trees, on which there are some people.


Explore Charnwood Forest today and you can discover evidence of all the events mentioned here – hidden in the rocks of the Geopark.

Reconnect with nature in Charnwood Forest Geopark

There are many ways you can help and support Charnwood Forest Geopark – discover the one that works for you.

A view of Bradgate Park. The vegetation is very green. Old John Tower is at the top of the hill.