Tag Archives: dorset

Fossil Hunting – Part 3

It was a great day to be wandering along the beach, even if conditions weren’t optimal for fossil hunting. After two weeks of grey skies, the sun was greatly appreciated.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

We headed for the cliffs called the Black Ven. You can see the layers of bedding really clearly – they are interlacing layers of limestone and shale from Jurassic times. It is also very unstable, and as you can see there have been landslides here for eons.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

It was where Mary Anning found quite a few of her specimens. The species we found a lot of were ammonites – they were everywhere! They came in many forms:

Impressions of ammonites in the shale (a sedimentary rock). These were very fragile and aren’t worth keeping, but were pretty nevertheless.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Pyritised ammonites that have been fossilised into pyrite (ie. Fool’s gold). These can be kept!

Fossil hunting in Lyme

More impressions of ammonites, this time in siltstone (also a sedimentary rock, with a grain size in between sandstone and shale).

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Fossil hunting in Lyme

There were also impression of leaves.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

And we did find a dinosaur fossil – a limb bone from a marine reptile. It’s surrounded by fossil crinoids (a species we found a lot of in Australia).

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Unfortunately, the slab that the fossil was in was big – there was no way we could have slipped it into our suitcase. But we did take back a few ammonites, which are now on display in Sydney.

We’d lost track of time (and so did Paddy, our guide), and when we looked at our watches, three hours had gone by. It was time to head back before the rising tide caught us. But before we leave the beach, and Lyme Regis, we took one last look at the Jurassic Coastline.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Fossil Hunting – Part 2

We were met at the museum by our guide Paddy. Paddy is a paleontologist as well as a guide and has scoured these shores almost daily for many years.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Paddy took us down to East Beach, the stretch of sand between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, where Mary Anning found her best specimens.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

He told us honestly that it wasn’t a good day for collecting fossils. The best days were the really stormy ones, since the best chance of finding something new was when the tide, rain and wind eroded the cliffs. Also, you had a greater chance of finding something when it’s wet, as the fossils had a distinct gleam to them compared to other rocks. Paddy showed us one of his finds on such a day – it was a piece of a dinosaur vertebrae.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

Mary Anning was known for going out on blustery days to look for fossils by the cliffs. She almost lost her life several times from being caught in landslides. Indeed, her dog Tray was killed in one. Another thing to look out for is the tides. At one point the beach narrows so much that you can only pass the point two hours on either side of the low tide. Fortunately the tours were done within this period, and we had no problem with getting cut off.

Once Paddy showed us examples of fossils that we might typically encounter (ammonites, belemnites, ‘Devil’s Toe Nail’, and dinosaur vertebrae, among others), we ambled down the beach to seek our ‘fortunes’.

Fossil hunting in Lyme

What did we find?

Fossil Hunting – Part 1

We weren’t taking just a walk along the beach – we wanted to search for fossils. The area is called the Jurassic Coast for a reason – it’s shores are actually seabeds from the Jurassic, the time of the dinosaurs. A quick look at the museum or in the numerous fossil shops show the range of creatures to be found. The most impressive of those is the ichthyosaur, a marine dinosaur that’s the shape of a dolphin.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is the first place that it was discovered, back in the early 1800’s, by an extraordinary lady called Mary Anning.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Mary’s story is a fascinating one. I first became acquainted with it while reading Tracy Chevalier’s novel, Remarkable Creatures. She wasn’t an Oxbridge professor, but a working-class woman. Her father was a carpenter and sold fossils to tourists. The family lived on the site of the current Lyme Regis museum, right by the sea.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Mary became proficient at an early age in finding these fossils on the beaches of Lyme. When she was just twelve, Mary and her brother found their first ichthyosaur, intact, in the nearby cliffs. As Mary grew older and found more of these extraordinary creatures, Mary, and other scientists of the day who studied it, began to question their belief that God made the earth and all its creatures in seven days. Surely something that was encased in rock, that seemed to have no equivalent in the contemporary world, would have walked the earth thousands of years before us, not merely six?

This kind of thinking was dangerous of course, and it made Mary a renegade and outsider all her life. She was rarely acknowledged even as the source of the specimens, even though she led many scientists and visitors along the beach. Despite this, she continued with her work, finding other ichthyosaurs and other dinosaur species in the process. Her contribution to the science of paleontology may not have been acknowledged in her lifetime, but in the 21st Century she is an icon, and a source of inspiration to me.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Next, we’ll follow in Mary’s footsteps and see if we can find any fossils.

Morning by the Seaside

By the following morning, all trace of rain had gone to reveal a brilliant day.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Morning at Lyme Regis

We could see for miles, all the way along the Jurassic Coast.

Morning at Lyme Regis

Morning at Lyme Regis

The Dorset seaside was certainly a beautiful place. I had ‘seen’ it many times – on TV while watching period dramas or any of the River Cottage series, but being there in the flesh, and taking a walk along its beaches was the only way to really do it justice.

Twilight Walk at Lyme – Part 4

I tackled the walls of the Cobb next. It has two levels – one just above the beach/water-line, and an upper level.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

The lower level was nice and even, but the stairs to the upper level (of which there were several along the length of the Cobb) were a little trecherous.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

The upper-level also had a ‘nice’ incline to it. It looked a bit hairy to walk along in the high wind, rain, and low light. As it was, I just took my photos and descended.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

One could see how Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion got concussed after a fall from the upper level!

Twilight Walk at Lyme – Part 3

I’m back from New Zealand. Hubby and I spent a week touring the geothermal areas of the North Island – more for me to post about down the track!

Today I’ll return to our twilight walk at Lyme Regis. We visit the Cobb – Lyme’s old sea wall. The harbour area was quiet at dusk, but there were plenty of fishing boats moored.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

This fisherman was rowing home to have supper, I think.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

On one side of the wall was a shingle beach.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

The interplay between the light and the clouds was just breathtaking.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

It was a wonderful reward for being out in the cold.

Twilight Walk at Lyme – Part 2

Night was falling fast, but I had to get one last walk in, to the Cobb – the old harbour area.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

To get there, we walked right along the beach from town.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

There were some pretty terraces along the way. This one was decorated with fossil ammonites, one of the more common species to be found in Lyme.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

Even the lamp posts were sculptured like ammonites. I guess fossil hunting is major tourist attraction in these parts.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

Soon we had a clear view of the old sea walls of the Cobb. Jane Austen used it well in her novel Persuasion – it is the place the main characters visited and the scene of a dreadful accident.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

I’m having a short blog break and will return in a week or so with more on Lyme Regis.

Twilight Walk at Lyme – Part 1

We headed south west to Dorset, and the seaside town of Lyme Regis. The weather was noticeably milder – there was no snow on the ground, only rain in the air. Lyme Regis has been a popular destination for holidaying Brits since the 18th Century. My favourite author, Jane Austen, holidayed here with her family, and hubby was excited to be in the area where the sciences of geology and paleontology was born.

Lyme is another one of those towns in England that has been wonderfully preserved. The old town contained the same narrow streets and terraces, mills and bridges, as two hundred years ago, albeit with a few alterations. We stayed at the cute Old Lyme Guest House, which in the early 1800’s was the town’s post office. Being a 17th Century building, the rooms were atmospheric, if very cosy, with sloping floors and ceilings. You can imagine Jane Austen coming here to post her letters.

Lyme Regis at Dusk

We took a walk at dusk down the canals that used to feed the old mill (now a cheesemonger and a brewery).

Lyme Regis at Dusk

It didn’t take long to reach the sea, and a view of that wonderful Dorset coastline they called the Jurassic Coast.

Lyme Regis at Dusk