Exploring England #4
Like many people, we visited Dorset’s spectacular Jurassic Coast for one reason. Well-trod paths over dramatic cliffs lead to pretty coastal villages but we weren’t looking up. With heads down and eyes on the ground we had one goal – to find fossils.
The 154 km stretch of coast between Exmouth and Studland Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage area, with geology spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Millions of ancient creatures and plants are preserved in the sedimentary layers of the cliffs, waiting to be revealed when the cliffs crumble away during wild weather.
At the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre we saw huge ammonites dating from the Jurassic Period. With high hopes we joined the crowds on Charmouth beach and, although we found many tiny treasures, there were no 185 million year old fossils lying around waiting to be discovered.
Continuing our search, we travelled west to Lyme Regis, a very busy town with very narrow streets. Avoiding the congestion and costly parking, we left the car at Charmouth Road car park. From the top of the cliffs it was a gentle downhill walk to the foreshore where a wide wall, built to protect the cliffs from erosion by the sea, doubles as a walking route into town. It was only 400 metres but we took our time, enjoying wonderful views of the English Channel, the Jurassic limestone cliffs and the stony beach connecting Charmouth and Lyme Regis .
Evidence of fossils was everywhere in Lyme Regis.
The Lyme Regis Museum houses a vast collection. Some fossils were collected by Mary Anning, who made her living finding and selling them in the first half of the 19th century, while others have been found by modern enthusiasts. Along with more beautiful ammonites, there were fossilised plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, sea creatures whose descendants include whales and dolphins.
Fossils are still sold in Lyme Regis but we didn’t want to find our first fossil in a shop. The best way to achieve our aim was to join one of the museum’s guided walks, led by paleontologists Chris, Paddy and Tom.
We met the our group outside the museum and, after a short explanation about the geology of the coast, our guides led the way to the beach, where early morning wanderers were already scouring the shore.
Paddy showed us how to look for signs of fossils in the stones and demonstrated safe techniques for breaking them apart.
Armed with a little knowledge and much anticipation the group spread out, and before long fossils were turning up everywhere.
Our guides made sure everyone ended the walk with a handful of history. Ours included a tiny ammonite encased in mudstone and two belemnites, distant relatives of today’s cuttlefish.
With our goal accomplished and our walk completed, our perspective changed. It was time to look at more than just the beach!
See more walks all around the world at Jo’s Monday Walks.
Lyme Regis Museum is currently closed for refurbishment but daily fossil walks are still taking place. Check the timetable for costs, dates and times.