Fossil Walks at Lyme Regis
Getting time off these days is a rare event but occasionally our occupation takes us to some pretty amazing places, take for example, our work with the Lyme Regis Development Trust and the annual fossil festival. We are very fortunate to be able to travel down to Dorset at least once a year, on a bit of what you might say is a “bus man’s holiday”, but it is a nice break and usually the weather has been lovely.
Lyme Regis itself, is a beautiful, old English sea-side resort. There has been some controversy recently with the coastal defence work that has been undertaken, but I think the new shingle beach and redeveloped cliff-top gardens have been created in keeping with the overall character of the town. Lyme Regis is in West Dorset, it is on what is called the “Jurassic coast”, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Quite rightly this part of the world has been granted World Heritage status as the unique stratigraphy of the area exposes a succession of rock formations that cover much of the Mesozoic (Age of Reptiles 248mya – 65 mya). The rocks in and around Lyme Regis itself date from the Lower and Middle Jurassic periods, they are approximately 180 million years old. These sediments are rich in marine fossils and the constant erosion exposes new material all the time.
It is a beautiful part of the world, thankfully not too over developed, the absence of rail links to London has helped protect this area but in the last few years we have noticed a lot more people have been purchasing second homes in this area so they can use Lyme as a bit of a weekend retreat. Who can blame them, it is a lovely place to visit.
If you go beach-combing you are bound to pick up fossils, bullet shaped belemnites and pieces of ammonite are common. If you are lucky you might spot the black concave discs that are Ichthyosaur vertebrae. I would advise that it is best to go on a supervised fossil walk, the tides in the area can catch out unwary beach-combers and the adjacent cliffs are almost impossible to climb, if you are not careful you can become cut off by the tide.
Some of the best fossil ammonites can be found in large nodules, it is remarkable how many people I see bashing away at rocks in the hope of finding a fantastic specimen. Often many of the day trippers are using the wrong tools, and even cracking open the wrong types of rock. This can be a dangerous activity, splinters of rock can fly up and cut you, if you were unlucky to get hit in the eye it would be very painful and you could lose your sight (hence my trusty goggles that I wear). We have made the mistake once or twice of walking across the beach in bare feet. After all the excavation, the shoreline can resemble a quarry with sharp, shards of rock strewn all over the place, it can be a bit of a tricky exercise to pick our way through it all.
The best tools for fossil hunting are your own eyes. If I am out with a group of friends I take them over to west of Lyme Regis to Chippel Bay or occasionally over to the other side of the bay on the Black Fen. You don’t have to scurry around the base of the cliff to find fossils, I just get everybody to choose their own section of beach, preferably one with a couple of rock pools and a large rock which can act as a display table for them to put their finds on. There is nothing more frustrating than building up a nice collection of ammonite parts preserved as pyrite (fools gold) only to forget where you put them.
If you are determined to go out on a fossil hunt try going on a supervised fossil walk with one of the local guides. There are a number who offer guided walks, and as well as taking you to some of the best fossil finding areas, they can explain about the local geology and discuss your finds. What is more, they will know the tide tables and ensure that you arrive back safely without having to get your feet wet.
One such local expert is Brandon Lennon. He has been conducting guided fossil walks in the Lyme Regis area for many years. He has found many interesting specimens and his enthusiasm and local knowledge can turn even the most sceptical into an ardent amateur palaeontologist, for an afternoon at least.
The beautiful coast ready for fossil hunters on one of Brandon’s supervised guided fossil walks.
You can find out more at Brandon Lennon’s website:
Of course you can always cheat, and purchase a fossil from one of the many specialist shops in the area. This area has become a haven for the amateur geologist/palaeontologist with lots and lots of fossil shops. Many selling specimens from all over the world not just those found on the Jurassic coast. You can get some fascinating and unusual items, they can be quite a conversation piece at a dinner party and could inspire old and young alike to take up fossil collecting as a hobby.
Brandon has his own fossil shop, it is well worth a visit: