One of the highlights of our recent holiday in Lyme Regis was fossil hunting on the beach. We booked on one of the guided fossil walks organised by the local museum and later went out on our own to look at the ammonite pavement on Monmouth beach. Fossil walks are run by a number of private individuals as well as the museum. I’m sure they’re all very good, but we opted for the Museum’s. It was a little more expensive, but included Museum entry for 12 months (we popped 3 times during our stay).
Previous participants in the walks include Tracy Chevalier, who wrote a novel based on the life of Mary Anning (Remarkable Creatures) who went out while researching her book.
Lyme Regis is flanked by cliffs of shale, clay and mudstones with some limestone which are full of fossils from the Jurassic period. As the cliffs crumble and large sections of them fall down onto the beach as landslips, fossils of creatures that died when Britain was part of a massive land mass and located nearer to the equator many millions of years ago start to be revealed. There have been some important finds on these beaches in the past. Including the first complete Ichthyosaur, a complete skeleton of the long-necked Plesiosaurus and a Pterodactylus found by Mary Anning (1799–1847) an ordinary working class woman who lived in the town all her life. The most common finds are ammonites and belemnites (bullet shaped remnants of a squid like creature) and coprolites (fossilised faeces) but it is also possible to find “devil’s toenails” (a type of mollusc), other fossilised shells and bones from ichthyosaurs, fish and other creatures. There is an interesting display of local finds in the Lyme Regis Museum, some of them found by our guides on the fossil walk.
The walks are timed to start a couple of hours before low tide and on the day we went this meant an early start at 9:15 a.m. The group gathered outside the museum and were met by our guides, Paddy and Chris who led us out onto the beach.
This is Paddy
and this is Chris
They are both enthusiastic and very passionate about what they do. Once we got on the beach they gave us a briefing on the types of fossils we might find, handing round examples for us to look at and touch, and where and how to locate them. We then set out walking towards Charmouth, searching the beach as we went. Paddy and Chris were on hand to give advice and to comment on finds, helping to identify what they were.
Fossil hunting is very popular around Lyme Regis, and there were plenty of other people on the beach looking for them too. The best time for finding fossils is during the winter after rain or heavy seas when they are washed out of the mud and clay. Despite this, we managed to find quite a few between us, including these
During the walk, Paddy and Chris picked up a number of limestone nodules that could potentially contain whole ammonite fossils. Paddy demonstrated how to split them open and then worked his way through them. Approximately 1 in 7 nodule contains a good specimen and he found enough so that just about every one of our party could take away an example.
A couple of days later we went out onto Monmouth beach, to the west of the town. You have to watch out for the tide, which comes right in to the cliffs, but we went out at low tide. It’s hard walking across the pebbles over to the far side of the beach but it was worth it to reach the limestone pavement where hundreds of ammonites can be seen embedded into the rock
On the way there we saw a number of large ammonites embedded into rocks on the beach (foolishly I didn’t include anything into the following pictures to provide scale, but they were a foot or so across).
I reckon that a fossil walk is a must for anyone visiting Lyme Regis.
Today there was a tragedy on the beach just a few miles down the coast from Lyme where a major landslip occurred and a young woman was buried beneath the rocks and rubble. It demonstrates just how dangerous it can be near to the cliffs which are fragile and subject to landslips, particularly after wet weather like we’ve seen the last few weeks. Anyone out fossilling on the beach on their own needs to take care and avoid getting too close to the cliffs as well as making sure they don’t get trapped by the incoming tide