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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Fossil Hunting On The Jurassic Coast

When I was younger, I had several camping holidays/weekends away with my mum down on the Jurassic coast in Dorset. We spent most days on the beach searching for fossils & I have so many happy memories. So mum & I wanted to take the boys, now they are a little bit older, and can walk a bit further on their own. I cant believe Daniel is almost 4, where has that time gone??

I'm not brave enough to camp with the boys yet, maybe for a night when daddy is with us... So we opted to stay in a static caravan, with all the things we would need to make things easier. There are several holiday parks in the area, but we decided to opt for West Bay. As a child we stayed in either the Lyme or Charmouth areas, but decided on West Bay after seeing it on the popular Broadchurch drama.

The holiday park there is run by Parkdean, however we booked ours through West Bay Caravan Hire who hire out several privately owned caravans. Booking through them worked out cheaper & even more so as we didn't have to purchase entertainment passes. They offered a great service answering my questions very promptly, & our deposit was returned within the week. Its great to know exactly which caravan you are booking & see pictures of that exact van, we could also enter form 2pm which is earlier than any other holiday I've been on.
The famous east cliff at West Bay in the background

In the end we didn't end up spending that much time in West Bay! We went exploring on the first day and the working harbour is picture perfect. To the west there are a couple of pebbly coves however we couldn't walk along any further presumably due to cliff falls. The beach to the east has lots of fine shingle with sand at the waters edge.

We spent our 1st full day at Charmouth, we headed down the east beach (stonebarrow) as this was always the beast for finding fossils in the past. Go on a falling tide as that way you are among the first to see what fossils have uncovered. It is also important to know the tides as the beach is often cut off at high tide. Neither mum or I ever had any success splitting rocks with a hammer & chisel, as even when we found fossils they would be broken or the flattened variety's. Its worth noting that hammering at the cliffs is not permitted & is also dangerous. The best fossils are found lying on the beach.
The view to the east at Charmouth

Along this beach amongst the sand (the black sand is a good place to look) shiny fools gold (pyrite) ammonites can be found. Trace ammonites can also be spotted on the pebbles. We were lucky enough to find one near perfect ammonite & one tiny one that was a little squashed. We also found several belemnite fragments. Other fossils can be found on this beach but these two are the most popular. When I was a child I was lucky enough to find a fossil sharks tooth & my mum found an Ichthyosaur vertebrae. Like these I often find the best fossils are the ones you find when your not really looking!
Pyrite Ammonites

After our day on the beach, we took time to visit the Charmouth Heritage Centre. Its a fantastic free visitor centre with lots of fossils & information. The boys really enjoyed brushing sand away to find fossils & the 2 fish tanks set up to show the sea life found in the rock pools. If you haven't been fossil hunting before take a visit first so you know what to look for, they also offer guided walks (for a fee).

On the second day we enjoyed the playground on the holiday park & then had an early lunch in the caravan. In the afternoon we decided to visit Seatown, just to the east of Charmouth. Its down a small country lane & has a car park (£2 a day) & a popular pub The Anchor. When we visited they were in the process of renovating the pub, but we were still able to enjoy a lovely ice cream as they are still running a small kiosk.

We headed to the west beach & were lucky straight away finding a rock with traces of ammonites in it. We found several others as we walked further up the beach, we also found several belamite fragments when looking through the shingle. We had a lovely afternoon and found the small pebbles easy to walk on and so much cleaner than sand. Please tell me I'm not the only one who's not keen on sand?? At low tide there are some areas of fine shingle & sand.

In fact we enjoyed our afternoon on Seatown beach so much we went again the next day! Again on the west beach we walked further up the beach,carrying Daniel some of the way, before we made 'camp'. One of the things the boys love to do is make a marker so they can tell how much the tide has changed. We used a big stick & held it upright with a few stones. It's a great way of showing the boys how much the sea moves when the tide goes out. We found lots more fossils that day, Trace ammonites, ammonite fragments, belemnite fragments, crinoid fragments & fossil shells

After a picnic lunch Joseph & I walked further up the beach to see what we could find at low tide. Even though we found lots of pyrite we were unlucky in finding a pyrite ammonite at Seatown. We did however find the belemnite bed which had been exposed. It was great to show Joseph how the sea washes the rock away & the belemnites end up on the beach. Its amazing how many there are in each rock.
Belemite bed at Seatown

On the last day of our holiday, after we had packed, we headed to Lyme-Regis. There are several museums to visit there, but as we only had a couple of hours we had a look in a few of the fossil shops. We enjoyed a local pasty for lunch sat on the sea front. We were talking about how unlikely it would be to find a fossil on that part of the beach with so many people there etc, and on our way back to the car park we found one on the last metre of the beach!

Ammonite fund at Lyme Regis

It was a great holiday, with some lovely new memories created for us all!

x Jo x

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