The Jurassic Coast is a prehistoric wonder and a modern gem. The only UNESCO World Heritage site in Britain is a dramatic 95-mile coast of ancient sandstone, cliffs, and beaches. It’s a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils, a whole coastline of unique travel experiences, and a locality whose culture you wouldn’t want to miss.
The Lyme Regis Museum’s director, David Tucker, shares an important fact about the Jurassic Coast in England in an interview with National Geographic. He says, “It’s the only visible and accessible coast that covers the whole age of the dinosaur“.
The museum director further detailed that this heritage site in Dorset, England is home to all three ages that dinosaurs lived. And those are the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods.
Incredible, right? That’s why we decided to cover the Jurassic Coast in this article and share all you need to know about this remarkable coast. It’s an important place of scientific discovery that’s sure to benefit every dinosaur lover out there. Not to mention a great place to go on a summer road trip too!
Here are the things you’ll get to know:
Are you ready to go exploring? Let’s begin!
The Lowdown on the Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Dorset, England. It’s famous for being one of the world’s renowned fossil sources and stunning geological landscapes. It runs from Dorset to the East Devon coast, spans 95 miles of coast, and is home to 185 million years of prehistoric life.
Exploring the Jurassic Coast will take you on an unforgettable adventure of fossils, travel, and culture when you visit. Get to know more about the Jurassic Coast in England below.
How the Jurassic Coast Was Formed
source by: K. Cantner, AGI on Pinterest
Wondering how the Jurassic Coast came to be the amazing 185 million-year-old coastline it is today? Knowing how all three Mesozoic Eras came together to form the Jurassic Coast is important as it helps us appreciate the natural wonder we have now. It also helps us understand why it’s important to the scientific community too.
According to Earth Magazine, the Jurassic Coast came to be because sediments that were “deposited, tilted, and eroded” formed layers upon each other as the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods passed. These layers eventually created the coastline we know today.
What makes the Jurassic Coast particularly important is that the layers and fossils found serve as fossil records of life 252 to 66 million years ago. We get to see how life diversified and possibly evolved from one period to another throughout the course of 186 million years.
The Jurassic Coast Trust shares that the coastline’s name was inspired by the Jurassic period. Not because it’s a fan favorite but because it’s the one most known out of three periods that form the coastline.
The concepts shared above might be a hard concept to comprehend. David Tucker suggests an easy tip that helps us visualize it better. He suggests imagining the Jurassic Coast as a sponge cake with different layers of flavors all forming one amazing cake.
Then, think about the fossils that come from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods’ layers as different kinds of chocolate that complete the picture. Earth Magazine created an infographic that represents it just so. Check out their Jurassic Coast infographic for easier visualization.
The Jurassic Coast as a Fossil-Rich Source, Important Geological Landscape, and Tourist Area
Avid travelers on Trip Advisor made the Jurassic Coast as one of the top 10 things to do during a holiday in Dorset. The creative activities that garnered it a place in the top 10 were fossil hunting, guided walks, and touring Dorset’s seaside villages.
Curious to know what specific places these avid travelers went to? Here are tips from the Jurassic Coast’s official organization, the Jurassic Coast Trust. According to them, the locations below are all the places you can go as you tour the Jurassic Coast in England.
These are also where you can find fossils on the Jurassic Coast and observe rock formations from the Mesozoic Era’s Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods:
East Devon: Discover the Triassic Period
This is the World Heritage Site’s starting point along the Jurassic Coast. Here are the landmarks and towns you can check out in East Devon for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, Triassic period rocks, and culture:
- Orcombe Point Geoneedle, Exmouthfor watersports, rock pools, and a beautiful bird sanctuary — the Exe Estuary.
- Budleigh Salterton Town for prehistoric plant fossils and red cliffs
- Ladram Bay for red sea stacks
- Sidmouth for Triassic cliffs and a boat ride to Ladram Bay to see the Triassic coastline
- Branscombe Village for culture
- Beer Village for cliffs and quarrying caves
- Seaton for the Seaton Tramway
- Seaton Jurassic to get to the Undercliffs Reserve and enjoy a guided walk
- Lyme Regis for the ammonite pavement at Monmouth Beach
West Dorset: The Heart of the Jurassic Period
This is the heart of the Jurassic Coast in England where most of the treasure trove of fossils can be found. Dorset is known for being home to the Jurassic Period’s most thorough marine sequences that show how life changed throughout the time period. Go hunting for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, dive deeper into earth science, and explore these areas in West Dorset:
- Lyme Regis for a historic tour of fossil hunter Mary Anning’s home. This is a great place to go fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaurus fossil in this area.
- Charmouth for cliffs and beaches brimming with ammonite fossils and other sea creatures. It also hosts The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre that houses an amazing fossil collection and the Charmouth Dinosaur. This is also another good spot for fossil hunting.
- Stonebarrow for beautiful views
- Golden Cap for the golden rock formation and a walking path that offers panoramic sights
- Chesil Beach for an experience of a barrier beach
Weymouth and Portland: Sea Creatures from the Late Jurassic Period
This is the Jurassic Coast’s southern area where you can enjoy seaside villages, Late Jurassic Period fossils, geology, and even a lighthouse. Here are their hotspots:
Purbeck: Explore Cretaceous Period Sea Cliffs
This is where you’ll find the Jurassic Coast in England’s hidden treasures, iconic landmarks, and the Cretaceous period’s sea cliffs. It’s the southeastern part of the coastline where you’ll discover the following finds:
- Durdle Door for the Jurassic Coast’s most famous landmark that looks like a door or a marine dinosaur in the sea.
- Lulworth Cove for distinct geology that’s unique to the area. Admire the view while dining in the pub, restaurants, and cafes around the area.
- Kimmeridge Village for swimming and snorkeling in the Bay. This is also where you’ll find the Jurassic Coast in England’s geology of greatest significance. You can drop by the Etches Collection Museum too for the complete prehistoric experience.
- Swanage Town for a cultural trip that includes a steam railway, a pier, and a country park. A visit to Spyway Dinosaur Footprints is also a must-see where you can check out genuine dinosaur footprints.
- Old Harry Rocks for a view of rock formations formed by microscopic algae that came from the Cretaceous period.
The Jurassic Coast as a World Heritage Site
The Jurassic Coast got the attention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because of its rich geological and scientific significance. It’s now on par with the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. UNESCO awarded the Jurassic Coast the World Heritage Site classification in 2001.
The reason why it became a World Heritage Site was the Jurassic Coast in England’s rock formations that housed fossils from the Mesozoic Era. These served as living records of the earth’s 185 million years of history.
It’s also those fossil discoveries and rock studies that made the Jurassic Coast important to scientists and to us, everyday dinosaur enthusiasts.
Scientists got to understand several forms of life from the specimens from the Jurassic Coast in England. Fossils of creatures studied ranged from vertebrates, invertebrates, to marine, and terrestrial life forms from the Mesozoic Era. Among them, prehistoric creatures like an ichthyosaurus and a dromaeosaur.
These findings, according to UNESCO, have greatly contributed to the fields of paleontology, geology, and geomorphology. We now have a greater understanding of prehistoric and present-day life thanks to the Jurassic Coast.
Hidden Gems: Mary Anning the Fossil Hunter, Fossils on the Jurassic Coast, & Fossil Hunting
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast are a sight to behold as you see with your own eyes, nearly 200-million-year-old remains of prehistoric life. You can’t help but wonder about life back then and marvel at the transition in time to the life you have today.
Fossils truly are slices of prehistoric life. They tell about the ancients who once roamed the earth and the life they used to live. But did you know scientists couldn’t wrap their heads about ancient creatures’ existence back then? They really didn’t and only came around when a young woman made a remarkable discovery.
In this section, you’re in for a treat with three things:
- Firstly, get to know Mary Anning, the first woman and pioneer fossil hunter in Britain who brought the Jurassic Coast to life.
- And secondly, discover important fossils on the Jurassic Coast made by Mary Anning the fossil hunter that helped scientists accept the existence of prehistoric creatures. Read until the end to find out about dinosaur fossils discovered by other scientists too!
- Lastly, get to know how you can find your own hidden gems by going on a fossil hunt at the Jurassic Coast in England.
Mary Anning the Fossil Hunter
Mary Anning the fossil hunter was a woman of grit and dedication who made remarkable discoveries of fossils on the Jurassic Coast. She was the one who unearthed the first marine reptile and sea creature fossils that were groundbreaking discoveries in the budding field of 19th-century paleontology.
She was born on May 21, 1799, in Lyme Regis, Dorset in what is now known as the Jurassic Coast, thanks to her. Mary Anning first started fossil hunting in Blue Lias Lyme Ridge when she was a child.
She then sold the fossils she found to supplement the family income when her father passed away. Later on, it became a full-fledged family business with Mary Anning the fossil hunter at the helm.
Mary Anning the Hidden Gem of Lyme Regis, Dorset
Because of the fossils Anning found, she made great contributions to the history and advancement of the earth sciences, paleontology, and geology. It also gave insight as to what prehistoric treasures and significance that whole stretch of 95 miles in the Jurassic Coast, Dorset meant.
The findings helped scientists wrap their heads around the thought that dinosaurs existed and life thrived on the earth millions of years ago. In the 19th century, this was unheard of. And Anning’s fossil finds gave them pieces to the puzzle.
Despite all that Mary Anning the fossil hunter brought to the scientific community, she wasn’t given the recognition she deserved when she was alive. It was because women weren’t regarded as eligible for being given credit by the scientific community back then. Her working-class status in society and financial hardships also made it difficult for her to be recognized.
The Legacy of Mary Anning the Fossil Hunter
Mary Anning the fossil hunter is now very much celebrated and recognized for her significant contributions to prehistoric life and the earth sciences. Her fossil specimens are now displayed at the prestigious Natural History Museum and the land she used to live in is now the Lyme Regis Museum. To top it all off, the coast where she used to dig is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site aptly called the Jurassic Coast.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast
They say that there are many fish in the sea. The Mesozoic Era says that’s true and so are their fossils. Fossils abound in the Jurassic Coast and you’re sure to find something while walking along any of its 95 miles of coastline.
Get to know the hidden gems that tell the story of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dive into it through Mary Anning’s fossils on the Jurassic Coast that spurred the advancement of science.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: Ammonites & Belemnites
The first fossils Mary Anning found along the beaches of Lyme Regis and Charmouth in the Jurassic Coast, Dorset were ammonites and belemnites. These were ancient sea creatures that gave scientists a record of marine life from the Devonian to the Triassic and Late Cretaceous time periods. This helped them understand how animals lived and adapted through the years.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: Ichthyosaurs
The fossils on the Jurassic Coast that were discovered didn’t stop with the shelled-wonders Anning found. Mary Anning the fossil hunter made an important discovery in 1811 that shocked the scientific community.
In that year, Anning discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton ever known to man. It was a marine reptile that lived during the Triassic to the Late Cretaceous period whose name meant, “fish lizard”. The icthyosaur’s physical appearance lived up to its name as it looked like a cross between a lizard, a shark, and a dolphin.
The fossil baffled scientists for years because the theory of extinction had just been introduced by Georges Cuvier at that time and the term “dinosaur” didn’t exist yet. This meant that scientists back then didn’t understand that those creatures existed millions of years before and the fossil they had in their hands was proof of that period in time.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: Plesiosaurs
Another important discovery Mary Anning the fossil hunter made was the first complete skeleton of the plesiosaur she found in 1823. It was a huge marine reptile that existed during the Jurassic Period. BBC News shares that scientists found the creature so outlandish that they initially thought it was fake.
But their thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth. It was the real thing. And when they realized that after further studies, the plesiosaur fossil Mary Anning found is now the reference specimen for the description and study of plesiosaurs. This is according to the Natural History Museum’s fossil fish curator, Emma Bernard, in an interview with the BBC.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: Pterosaurs
And when you think things can’t get any better, here’s more. Mary Anning the fossil hunter made another groundbreaking discovery in 1828 when she found a pterosaur‘s partial skeleton. News of the discovery astounded scientists in the United Kingdom as it was the first pterosaur fossil found outside Germany.
The pterosaur fossil was also incredulous to the scientific community as it was a creature beyond anyone’s imagination. It was even called a “flying dragon” while on exhibit at the British Museum.
This fossil on the Jurassic coast is another solid piece of evidence for 19th-century scientists of life in existence 228 million years ago. Pterosaurs existed from the Triassic to the Cretaceous time periods. Scientists were finally getting a clearer picture of prehistoric life because of Mary Anning’s finds.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: The Dromaeosaur
The previous fossils on the Jurassic Coast were amazing, weren’t they? Now here’s one that’s from a dromaeosaur, a small carnivorous dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous period.
The fossil was found in 1854 by two gentlemen named Charles Willcox and Richard Owen. It’s the UK’s first discovered raptor that, when discovered, defined the Nuthetes destructor species. It’s the starting point of a great discovery and scientists are hoping to find a complete dinosaur fossil at the Jurassic Coast to further understand this species.
Fossils on the Jurassic Coast: Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Tracks
We all know about stepping into someone’s shoes. How about stepping into a dinosaur at the Jurassic Coast? Keates Quarry at The Spyway, Dorset has 100 fossilized dinosaur footprints that are believed to be from a group of Brachiosaurus.
The dinosaur footprints were discovered in 1997 by Kevin Keates and Trevor Haysom in a wide-open space of rocks. The UK’s National Trust says these were footprints from the Jurassic period. Their location at Keates Quarry indicates that the area may have been a source of water for the dinosaurs.
Fossil Hunting at the Jurassic Coast: Find Your Own Hidden Gems
Now it’s your turn to look for fossils on the Jurassic Coast. Hunting for fossils around the Jurassic Coast in England is a one-of-a-kind experience dinosaur lovers and fans of prehistoric creatures shouldn’t miss.
Why? It’s because you get to experience the three periods of the Mesozoic Era all on one beautiful Coast as you hunt for fossils. Finding your own hidden gems doesn’t get any better than this.
So, here are the top tips that show you how to find fossils on the Jurassic Coast.
The Best Place to Find Fossils on the Jurassic Coast
Visit Dorset recommends the beaches of Lyme Regis and Charmouth for fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast. These are the best places to go fossil hunting because they’re rich in ammonite and belemnite fossils that are so easy to find.
You can take home fossils you find openly exposed on the beaches where collecting is allowed at the Jurassic Coast. Just be mindful of two things:
- Digging for fossils isn’t allowed.
- Fossils of scientific importance are ideally given to museums so they can be studied.
And while you’re there, it’s advised to stay on the beach and keep distance from the cliffs because you may get hurt from the falling debris.
What else will you find on the Jurassic Coast? The Lyme Regis Town Council and The Charmouth Traders Association share the commonly found Jurassic period fossils at Lyme Regis’ and Charmouth’s beaches:
- Vertebrae of marine reptiles
- Sea urchins
- Iron pyrites
- Sea snails
- Fossilized fish
Here’s a virtual fossil walk on the Jurassic Coast in England by The Lyme Museum with distinguished geologist Paddy Howe. It’s a great video to help you visualize more clearly what fossils you’ll find on the beach. You can start watching at the 6:15 mark.
It might take a little patience for the first-time fossil hunter because your eyes would need to get used to distinguishing small rocks from fossils. But it’s rewarding and worthwhile for those who would persevere.
Lastly, while fossils may be found on other stretches of the Jurassic Coast, it’s Lyme Regis and Charmouth that are the safest place to start. They’re also the ones where it’s legally allowed to go on a fossil hunt.
Pro Tips for the First-time Fossil Hunter: Guided Fossil Walks
Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast can be daunting even with all the excitement. Our recommendation is to ask for help and let an experienced fossil hunter guide you.
What’s great is that guided fossil hunts in groups are available at Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Take a look at their websites to check their guided fossil hunts’ available dates. Check out the video above too to get an idea what a guided fossil walk will be like.
●Lyme Regis Fossil Walks
●Charmouth Fossil Walks
Fossil Hunting Alternatives on the Jurassic Coast
You can go on a fossil hunt in any of the museums along the Jurassic Coast in England instead of on the beach. These museums are home to some of the world’s unique fossil collections.
You won’t miss out on anything if you don’t have time to discover your own hidden gem outdoors. The museums can be your plan B because they have their own fossils on exhibit for you to enjoy and discover.
Check out these awesome museums at the Jurassic Coast that genuine fossils and realistic fossil replicas call home:
- Charmouth Heritage Museum, Charmouth
- Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
- The Dinosaur Museum, Dorchester
- Portland Museum, Easton
- Lyme Regis Museum, Lyme Regis
- Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, Lyme Regis
- Etches Collection Museum, Kimmerdige
- Sidmouth Museum, Sidmouth
Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre, Swanage
Best Times to Go Hunting for Fossils on the Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast Trust recommends fossil hunting during winter. It’s the best time on the beach as the crowds are fewer. The chances of finding fossils are higher too because of erosion that has loosened the fossils from the rocks.
It’s also best to check the weather, the tides, and possible landslides before going. The Jurassic Coast is known for high tides during inclement weather and occasional landslides. Only go fossil hunting when the tide is low and the areas are stable.
You can reach out to the Lyme Regis Information Centre for advice about the tides before you visit the area. Charmouth’s official website also has a weather forecast table you can easily refer to before you visit.
Here’s a useful safety infographic by the Charmouth Traders Association that you should also keep in mind while fossil hunting at the Jurassic Coast:
Things to Bring While Fossil Hunting on the Jurassic Coast
Once you’ve checked weather and tides, all you need to prepare are clothes that are fitting for the season. Wear a light scarf, rubber shoes, gloves, and a jacket to keep yourself warm while on the beach.
No need to bring a hammer as many of the fossils are openly exposed on the beach. Just keep your eyes peeled to find them. You can also bring a small bucket or bag to store the fossils found at the Jurassic Coast in England.
Responsible Fossil Hunting on the Jurassic Coast
One last thing to keep in mind before you go on your fossil hunting adventure is responsible fossil collecting. It’s an initiative by organizations involved in the Jurassic Coast that’s supported by these two fossils collecting codes:
- West Dorset Fossil Collecting Code of Conduct and Fossil Recording Scheme
- Undercliffs National Nature Reserve Fossil Code
This means to collect fossils that came only from materials that have already fallen or were loosened up. At the same time, record all the details about the fossil you found. Details like the specific place and in what condition you found it.
Following these codes help keep fossil collecting sustainable and helps preserve the Jurassic Coast as an important source of scientifically-important specimens. You can read more about it from the Jurassic Coast Trust and Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.
Jurassic Coast Travel Essentials: Transportation & Accommodation
The Jurassic Coast in England is accessible wherever you are in the world. Get to know transportation to and around the Jurassic Coast in this section. You’ll also get ideas for accommodations you can stay at while in the area.
Jurassic Coast Transportation: By Air
The best ways to get to the Jurassic Coast if you’re traveling from outside the UK are the following:
- A flight to London Heathrow Airport
- Then, a train ride to your accommodation or the place you’re most eager to check out on the Jurassic Coast in England
This is also what the UK travel bloggers like Anywhere We Roam and Dan Flying Solo who’ve been to the Jurassic Coast, Dorset recommend. On the other hand, you can take a connecting flight from London to the nearest airport of the place you’ll be visiting at the Jurassic Coast.
Dorset has its own international airport. However, it currently only receives arrivals from countries nearby like Spain, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, and Italy among others.
Jurassic Coast Transportation: By Land
Once you’ve arrived at the airport, you can hop on a train to the Jurassic Coast from London via the South Western Railway or the Great Western Railway. Other good options to get there are by taking a bus or renting a car.
Visit Dorset recommends planning your ride using Traveline, the UK’s Google Maps counterpart. Traveline is free to use and help you do three things:
- Estimate travel time
- Choose the ideal public transport
- Find and go on the best route to the Jurassic Coastvia public transportation or by car
Additionally, the Jurassic Coast Trust recommends taking the Jurassic Coaster buses at Poole and Axminster to get to areas around the coast. Swanage even has a charming steam railway you can hop on for an experience of the classic means of transportation.
Lastly, a pro tip from UK travel blog Hand Luggage Only for getting around the area is driving. Based on their experience, it was the best way to explore the Jurassic Coast, Dorset. The reason being that public transportation was few.
That’s why a vehicle will be convenient to explore the Jurassic Coast. You can use the AA Route Planner to organize your road trip.
Accommodations Along the Jurassic Coast
A comfortable place to rest is essential for those who plan on spending a week exploring the Jurassic Coast and its local villages. You can choose from quaint bed & breakfast places to campsites, hostels and hotels.
- Marley House Bed and Breakfast, Winfrith Newburgh
- Little Court, Charminster
- Monmouth House Apartments, Lyme Regis
- Higher Moor Farm, Weymouth
- Swanage Haven Boutique Guest House, Swanage
- Hotel du Vin Poole, Poole
- The Cobb Arms, Lyme Regis
- Premier Inn Bournemouth Central Hotel, Bournemouth
- Best Western Plus the Connaught Hotel & Spa, Bournemouth
- Lulworth Cove Inn, West Lulworth
The Jurassic Coast: A Prehistoric Adventure
The Jurassic Coast is full of amazing things, isn’t it? There’s always something new to discover anywhere you go. It’s got everything you need for a memorable family adventure. Whether it be 185 million-year-old fossils, heritage, or a family road trip to remember.
We hope you enjoyed this article as much as we did write it! Have fun visiting the Jurassic Coast in England or for now, learning about it from home.