Lyme Regis is a lovely little town in Dorset, on the western end of the Jurassic Coast. Lyme Regis is famous for its fossils, and for being the birthplace of Mary Anning, a renowned palaeontologist. Fossil hunting in Lyme Regis has been popular since Mary Anning discovered some of the most significant fossils in the world, and visitors flock here in the hope of finding their own legendary fossil.
Why Lyme Regis is So Good for Fossil Hunting
Lyme Regis is one of the best places in the UK to find fossils. I am no palaeontologist, so to simplify things in terms I can understand I’ll try to explain why there are so many fossils in Lyme Regis.
Going back 200 million years, the vast ocean that covered much of what is now Britain, Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia was teeming with life. The sea over Britain was relatively shallow, and mud was carried to this area by rivers that flowed into the sea.
Many of the sea creatures that lived and died here were preserved as fossils thanks to the unique conditions of shallow water and mud.
When the animals died, their bodies fell into the mud which preserved them. The mud covered the bodies of the creatures, stopping oxygen from getting to them and preventing decomposition. Over thousands of years, the mud layers were covered with more sediment and the pressure of the weight of the layers eventually turned them into stone and the bodies of the creatures into fossils.
Usually, these kinds of fossils would be buried deep underground and we would never find them. But here, land movements pushed the fossil layers closer to the surface, forming the cliffs along the coast. As the cliffs erode naturally, new fossils are continuously being exposed, earning this region the name Jurassic Coast.
Can You Take Fossils from Lyme Regis?
Yes, you can – within reason that is. There are so many small fossils at Lyme Regis that if people didn’t take them home then they would be lost to the sea as the cliffs wear away.
The larger fossils which are embedded in huge rocks shouldn’t be taken from the beach, so leave those for other people to enjoy.
Lyme Regis Fossil Hunting Tips
Go in the Winter
The best time for fossil hunting is actually in the winter when rough seas and bad weather loosen the soil in the cliffs and expose more fossils. While the weather is more pleasant for you in the summer, there is less chance of uncovering fossils.
Stay Away from the Cliffs
It might be tempting to dig around in the cliffs but that is very dangerous. Cliff falls can happen suddenly without warning, and even a single rock falling in the wrong place could prove fatal. Keep a safe distance away from the cliffs, and focus your fossil hunting on the beach.
Be Aware of the Rubbish Dump
Unfortunately, fossils aren’t the only things you’ll find on Lyme Regis beach. On top of the cliffs was the site of a Victorian rubbish dump, and all sorts of detritus are ending up on the beach as the cliffs erode. Some finds are quite interesting, while some can be dangerous so take care while you’re sifting through the sand.
Check the Tide Times
You should only ever go hunting for fossils when the tide is going out. It’s easy to lose track of time and the beach is cut off very quickly as the tide comes in so you don’t want to get trapped without an exit route. As the tide recedes you can explore more of the beach, and there is a better chance of finding fossils that have recently been uncovered by the waves, and it is much safer!
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
I was surprised to find that there were fossils just lying around on the beach! You don’t really need to go fossil hunting at all, you can just take a walk and spot ammonites almost everywhere in Lyme Regis, as well as other fossils.
Forget the Equipment
Almost every budding fossil hunter will be tapping away at random rocks with their rock hammer in the hope of cracking open a rock to reveal a beautiful fossil. In reality, you don’t need any equipment to find fossils, just some patience and a good eye!
The Best Places to Find Fossils in Lyme Regis
There are plenty of places to hunt for fossils in Lyme Regis, from museums to shops and of course the beaches! Here are some of the best places to find fossils:
Lyme Regis Museum
The Lyme Regis Museum is built on the site of Mary Anning’s family home, and although the actual building she lived in was demolished, the museum pays homage to her and her work. After extensive redevelopment, the museum in its current form was opened in 1997.
Lyme Regis Museum is home to some incredible fossils, including a huge ichthyosaur skull and some wonderful ammonites. The museum also covers the history of Lyme Regis and books that have been written in and about the area as well as lots of information about Mary Anning.
It’s a good idea to come here before going fossil hunting to get an overview of the area and the fossils you might find.
During the summer holidays, the museum is open daily 10am to 5pm (except Sundays when it closes at 4pm). From mid-September to mid-July the museum is closed on Mondays. Entry costs £5.95 per adult or £2.75 for children. If you take a fossil walk, you can get discounted entry when you book your walk.
Lyme Regis Fossil Walks
The Lyme Regis Museum also runs fossil walks, led by expert geologists who share their vast knowledge of fossils and take you along the beach to find fossils of your own. I joined one of the walks and absolutely loved it!
Our guide Chris was fabulous, he clearly knew his stuff but was also great at sharing that knowledge in a fun and interesting way. Before we set off walking, we gathered in a circle and he pulled out various models of dinosaurs and some fossils to demonstrate what he was talking about, making jokes and getting everyone involved.
I know practically nothing fossils, so it was fascinating to get some background before we got down to business. We walked slowly along the beach, picking up rocks and pointing out things that we thought might be interesting, and Chris explained what each thing was, from actual fossils to just nice bits of rock.
He was determined that we would all head home with a fossil of our own and made sure that if we didn’t find our own fossils that he found some for us. I ended up with a lovely ammonite fossil that now has pride of place on my desk back home.
You can book your fossil walk on the Lyme Regis Museum website here.
Lyme Regis Fossil Beach
Of course, Lyme Regis Beach is the best place to find new fossils, and it is where most of the museum’s fossils were found. Even just walking around on the beach you will be able to spot the distinctive spiral-shaped ammonites in rocks all over the beach.
If you know what you’re looking for you can find your own ammonites and other fossils to take home with you. Due to the presence of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) in the soil here, you can even find ‘gold’ ammonites. Bivalve shells, sea urchins and ichthyosaur vertebrae are also fairly common.
The Lyme Regis Museum has an eBook of fossils you may find on the beach, for just £2.50 it gives you a good idea of what to look for if you don’t join one of their fossil walks.
About 30 minutes’ walk west of Lyme Regis is what’s known as the Ammonite Pavement, the other side of Monmouth Beach. Apparently there you can find ammonites up to a metre wide, but I walked down there and didn’t see anything more spectacular than I had on Lyme Regis Beach – perhaps I was looking in the wrong place!
Further along the coast, Charmouth Beach is another great place to find fossils – as well as plenty of sea glass. There’s also another fossil museum at Charmouth and another fossil shop, so you won’t be short of places to find fossils here either!
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum
This privately-owned museum has an excellent selection of fossils on display, and plenty for the kids to explore with models of dinosaurs and skeletons on show. Entry is £5 for adults and £4 for kids and is open from February to October from 10am to 5pm. Winter opening hours vary, so check their website for details.
Lyme Regis Fossil Shops
If you don’t manage to find your own fossils to take home then you can always buy one as a souvenir. There are lots of gift shops in Lyme Regis which sell some sort of fossil memorabilia, whether that is in the Lyme Regis Museum, Lyme Fossil Shop or any of the other fossil shops in Lyme Regis.
Spot Ammonites in Lyme Regis
The ammonite has become the symbol of Lyme Regis, and you can find ammonites all over the town. Whether that is real ammonites embedded in the pavements, logos of businesses or even in the shape of lampposts, you really can’t avoid finding ammonites in Lyme Regis!
I hope this post has prepared you for finding fossils in Lyme Regis, I certainly had a great time exploring the beach and town. Don’t forget that there are plenty of other things to do in Lyme Regis apart from fossil hunting, so take your time here and enjoy!