The Jurassic Coast
Stars and Stripes February 5, 2024
Pterosaurs, ichthyosaurs, ammonites, and petrified forests. While such words do not usually come to mind when planning a spring break holiday, for families and those looking for a unique UK excursion, perhaps they should!
Stretched across 95 miles of southern England’s coastline, the Jurassic Coast is England’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage site. The cliffs along this portion of coastline provide glimpses into the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, as well as the creatures that walked, scurried, swam, and crawled along them during those times. While the time of the dinosaurs came to an end millions of years ago, today’s visitors to the Jurassic Coast can take a beach-combing stroll back in time and discover their very own fossil finds hidden amongst the rocky beaches and slate grey cliffs of Dorset and Devon.
From Lulworth Cove and the striking Durdle Door arch formation to Lyme Bay, Budleigh Salterton and Charmouth Beach, there are numerous options for even the most amateur paleontologist. In fact, the respected and honored biologist Sir David Attenborough once noted that “it was here that fossil collecting became paleontology.” This is thanks in large part to early collectors like Mary Anning, the 19th-century fossil collector who discovered the first plesiosaur (for a bit of education prep, check out her story at your local library or in various books from Amazon before your visit). Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are spectacular and scenic, but the walking path to each is a steep and uneven trail. For those with young children or mobility concerns, the easily accessible beach at Charmouth is a better option.
Families will enjoy the knowledgeable and helpful staff at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Center, while viewing the best preserved and most complete dinosaur fossil found in Britain, the Scelidosaurs. The volunteers and wardens provide information, fossil displays and guided walks. Entrance to the center is free, although donations are appreciated. Parking at the center is only £6 for the day and there are free toilets behind the building, along with a fossil shop.
After parking and exploring the heritage center, it’s time to go fossil hunting! The Jurassic Coast beaches are rocky (of course, some of those rocks may be hiding prehistoric treasures!) and often muddy, so proper footwear will play a large role in the success of your day. Waterproof hiking shoes or boots like “Wellies” will help you keep your footing as you explore the beach.
“Travel tip: I also like to keep a few extra towels, flip-flops/sandals and an extra change of pants in our vehicle just in case the outing is a bit muckier than planned!”
The best time of the day for fossil hunting is low tide as more land is exposed and accessible. Bring along a blanket, a picnic lunch, and perhaps even your own fossil hunting kit (we found ours online here ) and enjoy slowly combing along the beach to see who can find the first fossil!
Not sure of your discoveries? The Charmouth Heritage Center desk will happily go through items and help you to discern fossil from rock. Digging into the cliffsides themselves is not allowed, but any fossils found along the beaches are yours to keep if you wish. And who knows? You might just bring home a 140-million-year-old souvenir, along with some amazing family memories.