Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast

Beaches, Coastal, Family

Ammonite fossil

The incredible Jurassic Coast stretches from Old Harry Rocks in Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, tracing a winding path all the way down to Orcombe Point in East Devon.

Encompassing a variety of equally impressive landscapes it is a treasure trove of natural history, designated a World Heritage Site in recognition of its significant scientific value, but it's especially famous for its fossils.

Old Harry Rocks chalk stacks in Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Old Harry Rocks

You don’t have to dig deep to discover a world of intriguing natural history. The rock formations themselves read like a book and allow a rare glimpse into the making of the Earth as it is today. Built up in layers, the rocks have tilted due to movement of the Earth’s surface, exposing the oldest strata in the West to the youngest in the East.

The remains of animals and plants trapped within the layers are now found as fossils along the cliffs and beaches of the Jurassic Coast – and you don’t have to be a scientist to make your own compelling discovery.

The best beaches for fossil hunting

Charmouth

Cliffs at Charmouth Beach in Dorset

One of the best places to find fossils is Charmouth, where there’s a visitor centre and guided fossil hunting walks. Thousands of visitors come hunting for fossils here every year and yet the beach continues to yield a treasure trove of fossils to find. The beach at Charmouth also is perfect for families - with easy access and broad expanses of sand and rock pools, there’s plenty to keep little hands and minds busy!

Seatown

Cliffs at Seatown beach in Dorset's Jurassic Coast

The scouring tides that come and go at Seatown mean that a whole collection of ammonites can simply be picked up just from walking along the foreshore. Fossils, microfossils and minerals can all be found year-round at this pretty beach, which has a superb pub perfect for stopping for refreshments.

Burton Bradstock

Burton Bradstock beach - Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Cliff falls occur at Burton Bradstock once every two to three years, and when they do, there are tons of fossils to bring home from the cliffs' rich ammonite beds. Both the scree slopes and the rocks on the foreshore offer a variety of fossils, which include not only ammonites but also shark fins, brachiopods and more.

The Fossil Forest

Just east of Lulworth Cove is the curious Fossil Forest, offering another glimpse into the Earth’s past. The doughnut like rock shapes are the preserved remains of a cypress forest, which grew there in a swamp almost 140 million years ago.

Fossil Forest in Dorset's Jurassic Coast

During this period, conifers and tree ferns grew here. Later swamped by a lagoon, the trees died, and became encased in limestone by sticky mats of algae. These have created fossils known as 'algal burrs' - some of the most unusual fossils you'll find on the entire Jurassic Coast. To help preserve the forest, visitors are not permitted to collect fossils from the Fossil Forest, but these ancient remains are still fascinating to see up close.

Lyme Regis - the Jurassic Coast's fossil town

Lyme Regis in Dorset is perhaps the Jurassic Coast town most famous for its fossils. It plays a role in the history of palaeontology and earth sciences, as the first complete ichthyosaur was discovered here in 1811, starting a craze for unearthing prehistoric remains.

Fossil beach in Lyme Regis, Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Be sure to visit the surrounding beaches for a spot of fossil hunting, where there are a variety waiting to be found. The winter season is the best time to go, when there are both gales and high tides. Many are extremely large, meaning they have been left on the beach for others to enjoy - you may spot some of these during your adventure.

Elsewhere in the town you can also learn about all things fossil-related. Lyme Regis boasts its own museum, largely dedicated to fossils, and there are also walking tours of the town revealing its natural history. If you've been unsuccessful in your quest to find a beautiful fossil, you can even buy one to take home from the many fossil shops in the town centre. look at the lamp-posts and you'll see even they are fossil-themed!

Ammonite lamp posts in Lyme Regis, jurassic Coast, Dorset

Fossil museums

If you’re interested in finding out more about the geology and natural history of this extraordinary area, there are many museums and heritage centres dotted along the coast. The Lyme Regis Museum, Lulworth Cove Heritage Centre and Sidmouth Museum all exhibit fascinating fossils and bones collected locally, and the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre boasts the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the UK. The Lyme Regis Museum also runs guided fossil walks to help you learn more about the natural treasures to be discovered on the beach.

Start on your own fossil hunting adventure

Embark on a voyage of discovery to Jurassic Coast and dive head first into a world of fascinating natural history. Browse our beautiful Jurassic Coast cottages to find the perfect place to stay while on your fossil hunting holiday, with the scenic coastline of Dorset and Devon on your doorstep. 

Posted by Clare on 11th April 2018