Lyme Regis Beach – The Fossil Hunter’s Paradise

About Lyme Regis Beach

Located on the Jurassic Coast between Weymouth and Exmouth, the area around Lyme Regis Beach features both sandy and pebbly areas.

The whole of the Jurassic coast, which stretches 95 miles (including Lyme Regis Beach), has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This gives it significant legal protection from potentially damaging activities.

Lyme Regis attracts visitors year-round, with people hoping to discover the fascinating fossils this area is famous for.

Types of Fossils at Lyme Regis Beach

Ammonites

Ammonite from Lyme Regis Beach

A wide variety of fossil types are regularly found up and down this stretch of coastline. But the most easily recognized are certainly ammonites. These are the fossilized outer shells of ancient sea creatures, similar to the nautilus or squid. The ammonite’s size can range from just a fraction of an inch to more than 6 feet! The majority of these are found as limestone fossils, but on occasion, ammonites are discovered preserved in iron pyrite (fools gold). Often found with tremendous detail visible, making them the favorite of many fossil hunters, young and old.

Belemnites

Like ammonites, belemnite fossils are the preserved remnants of a prehistorical sea creature, again similar to the squid of today. These shape of these fossils often resemble a bullet and originate from a part of the creature’s tail used to aid with buoyancy. Belemnites are most often found as a fragment, but many whole specimens are out there to be found by those with a keen eye. These are fairly easy to spot on the beach, once you know what you are looking for, so keep an eye out!

Ichthyosaur Vertebrae

These are pieces of backbone belonging to a monstrous sea-dwelling reptile of the ancient world. These vertebrae look like flat cylinders, up to 10 cm in size, and may be found still “stacked” together. Unlike ammonites and belemnites, Ichthyosaur Vertebrae are very tricky to find. They usually require an experienced fossil hunter and a whole heap of luck.

Brachiopod Shells

These fossilized shells are very similar in size and shape to the typical sea shells of today. These are often very well preserved, with their internal volume taken up by very hard calcite. It is this that makes them very durable. Brachiopod Shells are reasonably easy to spot due to the radiating channels across the surface.

Why Are There So Many Fossils at Lyme Regis Beach?

Since the ancient past, the area now called the Jurassic Coast, has undergone several major transformations. It has been an arid desert wasteland, a tropical ocean and a boggy marshland. In each of these periods, the region was home to completely different ecosystems to the others. Throughout each of these time periods, a very small fraction creatures died in the correct circumstances to be preserved as a fossil (a more detailed explanation can be found here). Over time the geology of the region encased the fossilized remains of these creatures, preserving them for millennia. The cliffs along the south coast of the UK have been worn down by the waves and wind throughout history, causing more and more of the rock to be exposed, along with anything preserved within. The fossils unearthed by this process, are constantly being deposited along the coastline by the sea.

The location of Lyme Regis Beach, right in the middle of the Jurassic Coast, makes it one of the most common places for these fossils to wash up. Thousand upon thousands of beautiful fossils are discovered by both visitors and locals for this very reason.

Where to Look For Fossils in Lyme Regis

Fossils embedded in rock at Lyme Regis Beach

To make the most of your time fossil-hunting you need to know where to look, and what to look for. Many people mistakenly believe that looking within the cliffs themselves is the best way to discover impressive specimens.

In reality it is the beach itself which is the optimum location for fossils. This is because the dynamism of the tides and waves constantly washes new fossils onto the beach. This means the supply is constantly being refreshed (if this weren’t the case, fossil discoveries in Lyme Regis would have dried up very quickly).  Therefore, all the pebble/gravel areas of Lyme Regis Beach (and the other beaches in the area) are absolute goldmines when it comes to fossil discoveries.

Note: Due to the area’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, using rock hammers or power tools on the cliff faces themselves is completely forbidden.

Fossil Hunting Tips

For those looking to have the best fossil hunting experience, these tips will help to give you an advantage.

Firstly, the time of year during which you visit the Jurassic Coast can have a significant impact on your chances of coming across numerous impressive fossils. During the summertime, thousands of people flock to Lyme Regis and the entire adjoining coastline. Many of them will have the same goal as you. This hugely reduces your chances of making a significant find. Furthermore during the summer, the state of the sea and the weather tends to be less extreme than other seasons. Hence fewer fossils are deposited upon the beach. For this reason, the winter months and early spring provide the best opportunity for the dedicated fossil hunter. However, rest assured that fossils can be found year-round.

Secondly, being the first to the beach in a morning can give you the best opportunity to scoop up the most impressive, freshly washed-up specimens before the crowds swarm. Those late to the party may miss out on the find of a lifetime.

You can also try to take advantage of the popularity of the beach with fossil hunters, by asking for advice from those with more experience. Many of the visitors and locals on the beach have been doing this activity for years, amassing a great wealth of knowledge that they are happy to share with fellow enthusiasts (especially newbies). However, for those of you who don’t want to approach strangers, there are many experts who offer guided walks for a small fee, and share their experience and give tips to their customers.

Equipment Needed for Fossil Hunting

Hammer

First of all, it is important to stress that you really don’t need anything extra to find some great fossils on Lyme Regis Beach. However, it is also possible to find fossils encased within rocks. The rocks can be split using a geology hammer (and maybe a sharp chisel). These hammers are forged with particularly strong steel and are designed especially for breaking rock. They usually feature one sharper, almost chisel-like end and a flatter end, suited for different purposes. You can find a link to a hammer I would recommend here.

Safety Glasses

If you are going to make use of a hammer on your trip, remember, safety glasses are essential. Chipping away at rocks will kick of fragments all over the place and could be extremely nasty if you get any debris in your eyes. A a cheap pair of safety glasses can save you a lot of trouble and pain.

Sensible Footwear

A sturdy pair of shoes, is a more obvious item, but an important one. Fossil hunting will have you negotiating some uneven terrain by its very nature. This isn’t something you will want to do in flimsy sandals! Comfortable footwear (ideally a pair of walking boots) will help reduce the rick of injuries, particularly to your ankles. Not to mention will help you out on those marathon fossil hunting sessions, saving you from sore feet!

Backpack/Fossil Protection

Finally, you will need some way to transport your new collection of fantastic fossils back. A simple backpack will do the job. However, it is important to prevent the fossils from damaging each other if they are all crammed in to one bag. This problem is easily solved by packing something in which to wrap them, thin blankets or foam sheets will do the job nicely. By doing this you will ensure you make it home with a bag of pristine fossils rather than piles of fossil dust!

Tides

The Jurassic Coast as seen from above

Timing your excursions around the tides can give you a real advantage when it comes to looking for fossils. Furthermore knowing about the tides is very important from a safety perspective.

I would recommend timing your trip onto the beach so that you arrive while the tide is on its way out, a couple of hours before low tide is considered the best time for fossil hunting.

Before you start your day’s adventure, be sure to familiarize yourself with the times of the high and low tides for that day (you can find them here). Be aware at all moments while you are on the beach, its easy to lose track of time. This is especially true when you’re enjoying yourself!

Lyme Regis Parking

The car park on Woodmead Road is a stones-throw from the middle of the town. But you should note, it can get quite crowded, especially at peak times.

Slightly further out are the longer-stay car parks. Charmouth Road on the edge of town and the Holmbush car park. These are great options if you don’t mind a bit of a walk.

For a slightly higher cost you can utilize the car parks closer to the beach (Cabanya and Monmouth Beach by the Harbor).

Note – A park and ride option is also available from Charmouth Road. However, you should check the times and availability on the day to make sure you can be accommodated.

 

For more posts about travel, holiday recommendations and fascinating facts, check out some of the other posts on Place Ranger!

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