There is nothing as exciting as taking a walk along the beach and stumbling across a fossil that dates back hundreds of millions of years. Here we have collected some of the best places for beginners to start their collection of ammonites, echinoids and belamnites, so grab a bucket and a pair of sturdy shoes and get hunting! Before you hit the beach, check out the Natural History Museum’s great guide to fossil hunting here.
The abundance of fossils strewn along the Jurassic Coastline is just one of the reasons why this area is the UK’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the heart of the coastline lies Lyme Regis, which hosts its annual Fossil Festival from 2 – 4 May. Visitors will be able to take part in guided fossil walks, meet scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and purchase fossils and fossil-based arts and crafts from the Fossil Fair.
For more information visit www.fossilfestival.co.uk
Herne Bay, Kent
Visitors from across Europe flock to Herne Bay to search the fossiliferous beds. Shark teeth, mostly belonging to the Stratiolamia macrota, are the most prevalent type of fossil found. For the best chance of finding natural treasures amongst the sediment, head to the beach at Beltinge just east of Herne Bay, and walk further east towards Reculver. Now is a great time to visit, as the spring tides mean that water levels are extremely low, allowing visitors to search a wider area of the shoreline.
The small coastal town of Walton-on-the-Naze has been attracting fossil hunters since the nineteenth century. The coastline here is said to be eroding by half a metre every year, meaning that more and more fossils are turning up on the beach as the cliffs crumble away. Park outside the Naze Tower, an eighteenth century lighthouse, and go down the steps, heading north along the beach. Look out for shark teeth, pyritised twigs and bivalve shells. Take care to avoid walking below the cliff edges, which become particularly fragile following bad weather.
The ease of access, café and proximity to town make Redcar the ideal location for young fossil collectors. The absence of cliffs and crashing waves also makes this a relatively safe environment for little ones to run about on, while the shingle surface means it’s easy to spot ancient shells on the surface. Although the nature of the environment here means that discoveries might not be particularly exciting for the more experienced collector, the bountiful numbers of bivalves washing up on the shore will excite new collectors both young and old.
Danes Dyke, Yorkshire
The soft chalk at Danes Dyke dates back 75 million years to the Cretaceous period and is the UK’s best location for collecting sponges. Experienced fossil collectors may wish to bring a hammer and chisel with them to break open boulders along the shore to find the freshest sponges, although there is plenty to find by simply scanning the loose rocks, including echinoids, crinoid plates and sea urchin spines. Danes Dyke is easily accessible, and has a café, car park and toilets, making it suitable for all the family.
Mappleton, home to an old MOD base, is one of the best places to get down onto the eroding Holderness Coastline. The rapid erosion ensures that fossils turn up on the beach on a regular basis. Fossils found along this coastline arrived here in glacial deposits, meaning that the things that turn up on the beach didn’t originate in this area. Fossils found at Mappleton can range dramatically in size, from small belemnites to large pieces of oak that would have fallen when the ice sheets came down.
Keep children away from the cliff face and pay attention to any notices around the old MOD base.
The cliffs overlooking the Solent are rich with fossils, making the area between Highcliffe and Barton-on-Sea perfect for exploring. On the sandy beach, driftwood is found amongst a host of fossilised shells including gastropods and bivalves. The eroding cliffs mean that fossils often find their way down onto the beach, and great care should be taken if you choose to explore the cliff slippages as it’s easy to become stuck. Visit as the tide is going out to increase your chances of finding shark teeth strewn along the shoreline.
West Runton, Norfolk
In 1990, a local couple walking along West Runton beach stumbled across the fossilised skeleton of a steppe mammoth. Although you might not find a mammoth yourself, the sand and pebble beach is ripe with smaller fossils such as belemnites and sponges, particularly after a high tide or big storm, while rock pools mean you can explore the environment of living creatures too.
Bracklesham Bay, Sussex
Spring is the best time to visit Bracklesham Bay, particularly during scouring tides when bivalves, shark teeth and gastropods litter the beach. The flat, sandy beach is ideal for children to survey the sands for the remains of prehistoric creatures. Visit an hour before low tide for best results. During early spring and early autumn, it is easy to get stuck in the soft clay during scouring conditions so watch where you’re walking, particularly if the tide is coming in.
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
Trains run from Cardiff Queen Street to Penarth every 15 minutes, making this the perfect place for a fossil-hunting day trip. The constant erosion of the cliff face at Penarth means that you can find a huge range of fossils without needing to bring your hammer and chisel along. Fossils here date from the Jurassic period, so the brachiopods, ammonites and gastropods you take home will be 200 million years old. Fish and chips on the pier provide the ideal reward for a hard day’s fossil collecting.