Fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast: Lyme Regis
The first opportunity to pack the dog (and this time my mother) and get away for a dog-friendly weekend arose at the end of March. Both my mother and I are avid Geologists, and after checking for recent storms and landslides (which mean a higher likelihood of finding fossils), the Tide Time Tables and the last minute availability of dog-friendly B&Bs, luck was on our side, and we drove down to Lyme Regis slowly (road works EVERYWHERE) one Friday night.
Lyme Regis has World Heritage Site Status and can be found along the Jurassic Coast in the South West of Dorset: Lyme Regis was famous for its Jurassic fossil beds made famous by Mary Anning in the 18th and 19th Century. You could find a whole ichthyosaur or plesiosaur (marine reptile fish lizards and long necked creatures much like Mythical Nessie from The Famed Scottish Loch) just like the ones she did, but this is extremely rare! The surrounding coastlines and countryside is breathtakingly beautiful. But it is its fame for its geology and fossil finds that attracted my mother and I.
On the Saturday, we booked a Fossil walk with Brandon Lennon, a local Professional fossil collector, who runs guided fossil walks and tours along the Lyme Regis coastline.
After meeting Brandon at 10am, he took us on a walk along the coastline, pointing out historical buildings, museums and the best place to get fish and chips whilst still in the town, but as we moved along the beach, he showed us the fossil collecting sites along Lyme Bay’s famous Jurassic Coast.
Lyme Regis is one of the few places I have visited (as a budding Geologist!) where you can not possible walk along the beach WITHOUT finding a fossil. Walking along Monmouth beach, you find yourself walking along an Ammonite graveyard – large fossils paving your way! As previously mentioned, the coastline is prone to land and mud slides, and although dangerous and gradually eating away at our coastline, these events allow fossils to be washed out from the cliffs. As we foraged in-between the rocks and stones, we found:
- Ammonites: An extinct relation to the modern day Nautilus
- Micraster (Echinoids): An extinct form of Sea urchins or urchins
- Belemnites: An extinct animal similar to the modern day squid.
- Gryphaea: An extinct form of oyster
- Pentacrinus: Extinct sea-lily stems
- Crinoid: A distant relation of the starfish, known locally as a “sea lily”
We also found “Sun Stones”: These large round rock nodules, often as large as one metre in diameter, have been washed from the 190 million year old Jurassic clays and dumped on the beach for us all to see. They have been christened ‘sunstones’ because, on their upper surfaces, they have fiery streaks of the mineral ‘beef’ calcite radiating out from their centres. Visitors have likened the effect to that of a Pagan drawing of a Sun or even a Van Gogh painting.
Walking back along the beach, laden down with tons of rock (slight exaggeration!), we enjoyed ice-creams along the sea front and soaked in the sun (!). After dumping our finds back at the B&B we returned into town, where we all (dog included) enjoyed lunch at one of the local cafes, which was dog friendly too. Cream Teas are a given, here – yummy!!!!!
The remainder of the day was spent browsing the small shops in Lyme Regis – the majority of which allowed well-behaved dogs.
Fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast: Charmouth Beach
With our expertise picked up from Brandon on the previous day, we headed off first thing to Charmouth beach, in the hope of getting there early ….. Unfortunately, we were WAY to early, and the tide was not far enough out to allow us to make our way along the coast, so we went for a cup of coffee and a bacon butty at the café below the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, which is just at the beach car park.
Entrance to the Heritage Coast Centre is FREE, and so we went to look around.
This is a great place for children and adults alike. It houses:
- interactive computers
- hands-on displays
- information on
- fossil hunting
- local wildlife
- a “Jurassic Theatre” showing a short film on ‘Finding fossils at Charmouth’ or ‘Black Ven; life on the edge’
- a video microscope to enable you to examine anything you find on the beach in greater detail.
- a small shop stocked with relevant books, toys and souvenirs.
The staff are very friendly and accommodating, and welcome any questions, and will also very happily identify anything you find on the beach.
The centre also organizes a wealth of activities along the local coastline for the whole family (and your dog!) including:
- guided fossil hunting expeditions
- rock pooling walks
- countryside discovery walks and activities
- marine discovery walks and activities
After examining what we were likely to find along the beach, we went fossil hunting for a couple of hours, returning with a wealth of Ammonites, Belemnites and (unfortunately) soaked hiking boots, as we got caught by a rogue wave! (Tip of the day, no matter how eager you are to get out there and get fossiling, if it involves running round cliffs between waves, just leave it until the tide is further out – not only will you get wet, but this can be very dangerous)
And so we returned to Lyme Regis, to dry off, find food and pack ready for our journey home.
I would recommend this destination for anyone, whether or not you are interested in the fossils that can be found there. There are many coastal walks to be had, an Aquarium, diving, fishing, bird watching and even water sports (if you are willing to brave the cold waters in March!).
- Fossil Walks with Brandon Lennon: http://www.lymeregisfossilsforsale.co.uk/fossilwalks.htm
- Lyme Regis: http://www.lymeregis.com
- Charmouth: http://www.charmouth.org/heritage-coast-centre/
- Information on Dog-Friendly activities, accommodation, holidays and tourism: http://www.dogfriendly.co.uk
- Learn more about Mary Anning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Anning
- Where to find fossils in the UK: http://www.ukfossils.co.uk
- IMPORTANT: Tide time tables for Lyme Regis for the coming week: http://www.ukho.gov.uk/easytide/easytide/ShowPrediction.aspx?PortID=0028&PredictionLength=7