There are few places in the world where fossil hunting is legal, even fewer where it is encouraged, and fewer still where anyone can have a go, and it doesn’t cost you a penny.
The beaches around Lyme Regis are one of them, and anyone visiting the beaches has the chance to make an historic discovery. For me; it is here, among the two hundred million year old rocks of the Dorset coast, that a childhood love of all things dinosaur transformed into an abiding love of fossils and the history of the planet; spurring me on to a geology degree and into a career in museums.
One of the beauties of Lyme is that there’s a juxtaposition of geological features large and small, from the massive Black Venn Landslip – Europe’s largest, constantly active landslip – through the Ammonite Graveyard right down to the millions of individual fossils that can be found lying around in the shingle and stones of the beaches.
Even more astounding, because the cliffs of Lyme are a coastal exposure, they’re constantly eroding, unleashing millions upon millions of fossils upon the beaches every year.
Most of these are destined not to grace the halls of great institutions, but instead to inspire the next generation of geologists. Conjuring in their minds long lost vistas of an ancient ecosystem ruled over by Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs, feasting upon millions of fish and belemnites.
All the while crinoids and oysters float past attached to driftwood floating in the currents, remnants of prehistoric forests frequented by the rare British dinosaur Scelidosaurus – a creature found only on these same beaches.
Not only are there the millions of fossils to be wondered at, there’s some amazing hard rock geology as well. To the west of the town you find the clear interbedded cliffs of limestone and shale that epitomise the Blue Lias. Caused by cyclical changes in the Earth’s climate two hundred million years ago, these variations in the cliffs are one of the most compelling embodiments of orbital mechanics and geologic time I know.
Furthermore, if you keep walking until you’re a kilometre or so to the west of the town’s iconic harbour, the Cobb, you find yourself at the back of Pinhay bay, where you can quite literally place your hand between the ages. The rocks at the back of the bay representing the end of the Triassic period and the beginning of the Jurassic can be accessed during any low tide.
All in all the beaches of Lyme Regis provide a fantastic introduction to geology, and a window on a seascape lost in the mists of time. That’s why I’d nominate them for inclusion in The Geological Society’s #100geosites.
- If you would like to write a blog about your favourite geosite, as part of the 100 Great Geosites project, write to us at email@example.com. Visit our Flickr page to see the nominations so far!