We cross the footbridge over the River Char, Izzy mimicking the female Mallards that quack below us, and spot Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails flitting about the shack that serves as a beach cafe. Izzy is excited to find a large piece of driftwood, which I help her to climb over. Then, she spots the water and with a shout of “Sea!” runs towards it, tripping over the pebbles in her haste. She splashes through the shallow water and wants to go further out, but I have to stop her because her feet are too small for wellies and it is far too cold to go barefoot. She is frustrated by my efforts to keep her socks dry and it takes all my powers of persuasion to convince her to walk with me, further up the beach.
There are signs everywhere warning of the dangers of the unstable grey cliffs, which collapse before our eyes, a landslide bringing a little bit more of the Jurassic sea bed tumbling down. I half expect the falling rocks to reveal a complete Ichthyosaur skeleton on the cliff face, like the one found by 12 year old Mary Anning in 1811, but failing that, I scan the ground, searching for fossils amongst the shingle on the shore. I loved fossil hunting as a child, my interest piqued by my dad digging up a fossilised shell in our garden when I was 4. I came here, to Charmouth Beach, whilst on holiday and have happy memories of discovering Ammonites in the soft grey limestone.
They are not hard to find and before long, I have picked up half a dozen Belemnites, the preserved internal skeletons, or guards, of squid-type creatures that lived 195 million years ago. Then, I discover a perfect, tiny Ammonite. My husband, Ben, soon finds another one, which is larger and more impressive, having been preserved in iron pyrite, which makes it sparkle like gold. He searches for more, whilst I try to comfort Izzy, who, whilst making another dash towards the sea, has fallen over and landed face-first in the sand. Her cries intensify when it dawns on her that I am not going to allow her to swim in the freezing water. Tired and grouchy, she can not be distracted by the myriad of pretty stones, the shards of orange chert and black flint, that crunch under our feet. I realise that it is nap time and that we have mistimed our trip, so we decide to call it a day. I pick up my sobbing child and drying her tears, carry her back to the car, where she quickly falls asleep and stays asleep, until we get home.
We parked next to the Charmouth Heritage Centre, crossed the footbridge and walked along East Beach, which is a mixture of sand and pebbles and unsuitable for buggies. Please follow the fossil collector’s code of conduct and pay attention to any warning signs.
Other places to hunt for fossils
- Bude Beach, Cornwall
- Bracklesham Bay, Sussex
- Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire
- Cleeve Common, Gloucestershire
- Thurso, North Scotland
- Folkestone, Kent
- Barton on Sea, Hampshire
- Whitby, North Yorkshire
- Southerdown Beach, Glamorgan