A substantial amount of drilling fluid can invade a permeable bed during the drilling of an oil well. The presence of this fluid, often referred to as filtrate, can greatly influence the performance of instruments lowered into the wellbore for the purpose of locating these permeable beds. The invaded filtrate can also substantially alter the physical properties of the porous rock. For these reasons, it is of great interest to known where the filtrate goes upon entering the bed. The objective of this study is to quantify the influence of the difference in density between the filtrate and the naturally occurring formation fluid on the shape of the filtrate front as the filtrate invades the formation. This type of phenomenon is often referred to as buoyancy or gravity segregation. In this study, Part 1, we determine the behaviour of the filtrate as it accumulates (and spreads out) at a horizontal impermeable barrier within the formation. This is a combined theoretical and experimental study in which an X-ray CT scanner is extensively used to determine the appropriateness and limitations of the simplifying assumptions used in the theory. In Part 2, the flow of the invading filtrate within the entire bed will be presented. The problem addressed in Part 1 may be viewed from the broader, more fundamental, perspective, as a well-defined model fluid mechanics problem for flow in porous media. One fundamental issue infrequently addressed concerns the consequence on the dynamics of the fluids of heterogeneities, always present to some degree, in consolidated porous solids. The X-ray CT scanner enables the assessment of the appropriateness of modelling such porous solids as spatially homogeneous, a very popular assumption. This study also addresses the limitation of the small-slope approximation when a fluid–fluid interface occurs in a porous solid, an approximation which has enjoyed great success in free-surface fluid mechanics problems when no porous media is present.