Author: Helen B
Fossil Hunting in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast
Dorset. Thomas Hardy country. If your first impression of the county brings up images of quaint thatched cottages, then you need to step back much further in time to discover something awesome! Dorset is home to part of the Jurassic Coast. This is England’s only UNESCO World Heritage site and stretches along the coastline from Exmouth in East Devon to Swanage in West Dorset. My husband and our 7-year-old son headed down there to spend some time fossil hunting, something we had wanted to do since we visited Durdle Door last year.
Charmouth – Part 1 – Fossil Collecting in the UK
Our first stop was Charmouth in Dorset, situated a few miles from the Devon border. The beach car park was easily accessible by car. Access to the beach was over a small footbridge over a river.
There is a small cafe cabin directly over the footbridge which was closed given that it was Good Friday. Charmouth beach, as you might expect is not your traditional sandy sunbathing spot. Inclement weather aside, the cliffs are grey unstable shale formed during the Jurassic period 200 million years ago. Because of the rain, every so often we would see mud and rock clumps sliding down the cliff faces. Be sure to wear sturdy, waterproof footwear on the beach and keep little ones from going too close to the cliff faces.
But would we find any fossils? Every so often we would hear the tap, tap, tapping of a geological hammer on a rock. I brought a small hammer but the pieces of shale I broke didn’t reveal anything of prehistoric interest. Our boy had fun hammering away at a few pieces, but it was on the way back that I found a tiny grey ammonite amongst pebbles. Happy days!
Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre
While we didn’t visit the town of Charmouth itself, we did visit the Heritage Coast Visitor centre on the seafront. It is a two storey building on the seafront along to the side of the car park. Access is by stairs but there is a disabled access ramp at the rear. It is free to enter and we were pleasantly surprised by the displays on show.
On one wall was the Charmouth dinosaur, a skeleton of a scelidosaurus and on the other side was the ichthyosaur named ‘Attenborough’s Sea Dragon’ from the tv programme.
In some floor, mounted cases were fossils which came from the beach. There were plenty of children’s activities to do here. For a small charge, you could watch a film about how fossils were formed and how to find them, do a brass rubbing plate of fossils, sweep sand away in an archaeological ‘dig’ pit or polish a real ammonite.
You could book online on to one of the fossil hunting walks which happen regularly throughout the season. The centre also offers hammer hire so you can break open rocks at your own risk!
Below the visitor centre is a fossil shop which sells a huge variety of locally found and imported fossils and gemstones.
Pop in to take a look at the huge ichthyosaur skull in the glass case at the far end wall. It’s a whopper! We visited Charmouth again two days later, and armed with some knowledge about fossil hunting, we found scores of belemnites (a prehistoric squid which looks like cylindrical or bullet-shaped pieces of rock and are quite easy to spot), fragments of large ammonites and more tiny ammonites amongst the pebbles.
We drove to Lyme Regis next. Apart from going into a couple of fossil and gemstone shops, we didn’t have enough time to visit the Lyme Regis Museum. Plus we were hungry! Cobb Gate Fish bar is a tiny takeaway situated at the bottom of the hill on the seafront with some seating. Luckily it wasn’t full so we enjoyed our food at leisure. In the height of summer though, the takeaway could get very busy.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Travelodge Ilminster as a base for our trip because of the value for money and we didn’t want to risk travelling down not being able to guarantee a family room for the night. Charmouth was a 45 minute trip from the Travelodge. Yes, we did see quite a few ‘Vacancy’ signs down in Lyme Regis and places nearer to the sea, because it was a poor Easter weekend weatherwise, it could have been a different story had it been sunny!
The Travelodge was exactly what you would expect. Roomy, clean, quiet with a bath and shower, towels and tea-making facilities. In fact, we were so cold by the end of Friday, we couldn’t wait to get there and warm up.
This is one part of a three-part feature on Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast. For more places to visit to find fossils please check out part 2 and part 3 as well – Visiting Seaton on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and Kimmeridge Bay Dorset Fossil Hunting – Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.
Thank you for reading Helen B’s post. I hope that you will find it useful. Fossil collecting on the Jurassic Coast is most certainly on our family bucket list. Is it on yours? Have you ever found any fossils? Please comment below, we’d love to hear.
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