The weather on the Wednesday of our holiday was awful – warm, bright, sunny and calm. Awful for fossil hunting anyway. The best time is after rain or heavy seas when they are washed out of the mud and clay. That’s what Paddy Howe and his colleagues leading the fossil walk booked via Lyme Regis Museum told us.
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)
So, a guided fossil walk is a must during a stay in Lyme. They’re great fun and educational too and suitable for adults and children – who doesn’t enjoy poking around on the beach? There are several providers including the Museum, and they’re very popular. We’d originally wanted to go on one on the Monday, but when we went to the Museum on Sunday morning we found the earliest one with enough places available for 4 of us was Wednesday.
They go out rain or shine the start time depending on the tide. Ours started at the civilised hour of 10:30 a.m., meeting in front of the museum. Paddy Howe, the Museum’s geologist and something of a minor celebrity (I’ve seen him on TV a few times and he helped out Tracey Chevalier when she was researching her book Remarkable Creatures) gave a short introductory talk and we set off towards the beach. We stopped at the end of the new east sea wall and Paddy ran through the reasons for the fossils being abundant in Lyme and showed us examples of different types of fossils we might find so we knew what to look for. These included the ubiquitous ammonites, belemnites, “devil’s toenails” (a type of mollusc), other bivalves, sea urchins, fossilised fish, crinoids and coprolites (fossilised faeces!). If we were lucky we might find bones from ichthyosaurs and other prehistoric creatures! We were promised that despite the poor fossiling conditions we would find something.
This is Paddy (he’s acquired a beard since our previous visit)
and here’s Paul. one of the other guides
The guides were all helpful – examining possible specimens and cracking open stones that looked like they may contain fossils. At the end of the tour Paddy cracked open a number of limestone nodules, distributing to children the fossils they contained.
As promised, we didn’t go away empty handed. This was our fossil haul.
Nothing spectacular, but a few small ammonites embedded in limestone, some mudstone with impressions of ammonites, some pieces of belemnite and a shard of a fossilised oyster shell.