You are probably thinking I am mad talking about fossil hunting during the winter months, but it is the perfect time of year for it, as stormy weather churns up the beaches exposing the fossils from the rocks and the cliffs.
Dorset is famous for being the home of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site which stretches from Studland Bay in Dorset westwards towards Exmouth in East Devon, a distance of approximately 96 miles.
The coastline features outstanding geology with parts dating back over 185 million years. For this reason it is a hotbed for fossil hunting with hundreds of specimens having been unearthed from the cliffs and beaches, but not every beach along this stretch of coastline is good for fossil hunting.
When fossil hunting, it is really important to follow the Fossil Hunting Code to ensure the safety of your party, check the tide times as it is best to go fossil hunting during an ebbing or low tide to give your more time to explore and also check the weather conditions.
I would also recommend you take the following equipment:
- Tide times book – to see when it is safe to fossil hunt
- Sturdy plastic bags to put fossils in
- Old newspaper to wrap up delicate finds
- Mobile phone
- Safety glasses and geological hammer (optional – you can hire these at Charmouth Heritage Centre)
- A notebook and pen to record your finds
I have three favourite fossil hunting beaches in Dorset:
Charmouth & Lyme Regis
Perfect for beginners, Charmouth and Lyme Regis are world famous for fossil collecting and you have an excellent chance of finding fossils loose on the beaches in this area.
I highly recommended you visit the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre before you start your search as they are a mine of useful information and show you what to look out for and where to find it. They even have a video microscope available for you to examine your fossil finds and during school holidays and on some weekends, they also run fossil hunting expeditions for a small additional charge.
We always look for fossils trapped between boulders and among pebbles on the beach and once you know what you are looking for they are really easy to find.
Kimmeridge Bay is famous for its fossil finds which regularly fall from the unstable rock face and its unique geology means that it is home to many interesting marine creatures. It is here you walk along huge rocks and literally see huge ammonites appear under your feet.
It is important to remember that the cliffs are very unstable here, so it is advised that you do not search for fossils on or near them and you are not allowed to use hammers to crack stones either. Kimmeridge is also one the best places in Dorset to go rockpooling and has a recently opened Etches Collection Museum where you can see the fossils you have found brought to life with huge CGI projections on the ceiling of the building.
A short walk around Lulworth Cove, which is worth a visit for its perfect horse shoe shape in itself, you can visit the dramatic Fossil Forest, the petrified remains of a Cypress forest growing in a swamp on the edge of a warm lagoon in the Jurassic period.
It is a great walk for children and mine were fascinated by the rock formations, the fossil forest, as well as the chance to play on the shingle beach with its limestone and chalk spurs and boulders.
If visiting Lulworth, it is also worth mentioning that the spectacular Durdle Door is just a 5 minute drive away (or an hours hilly walk if you are feeling energetic), so well worth a visit too.
Have you been fossil hunting before and lucky enough to find anything?