The World Heritage Coast in Dorset stretches for about 95 miles. This Jurassic coast is a nature lovers' paradise with rich pickings for fossil hunters. Charmouth is one of the most famous Jurassic locations in the world, renowned for its limestone cliffs which are rich in fossils. It is a site of Special Scientific Interest.
The main village street is steep and lined with a variety of different buildings including thatched roofs and regency bow-fronts. The 0ldest pub is the Queens Arms, when Catherine of Aragon stayed in 1510 it was a private house, built for the abbot of Forde, by 1651 it became a pub. Jane Austen also frequented this West Dorset village. Charmouth beach extends from Evans Cliff to the Spittles and has a stretch of sand which gradually merges into shingle. The River Char goes across the beach as it enters the sea and from a small bridge that crosses the river, near the car park, it is possible to see a variety of ducks and other wildfowl.
One of the best and safest ways to see the Jurassic Coast is by boat. Amongst the many coastal features to be seen is the Golden Cap, the highest point of the Jurassic coast, with its distinctive sandstone summit. Another unusual site is Black Ven, the largest coastal mudslide in Europe, which happened only 50 years ago and provides new habitats for plants.
There are many fabulous geological features including the most perfectly formed cove in the world at Lulworth.
The Fossil Forest, located a mile or so from the cove, is the most complete record of a Jurassic forest in the world with 'tufa' or fossilised rings of algae that gathered around tree trunks when the forest flooded nearly 150 million years ago.
At nearby Durdle Door, there are yet more interesting geological features and plant habitats, and that famous and most photographed sea view.
Plants and butterflies
The Dorset coast is especially rich in plant life due to its hot, dry and salty environment. The cliff tops have never been ploughed or sprayed with modern fertilisers so they provide a very rich habitat for plants.
Amongst the many wild flowers are Hedge and Lady's Bedstraw (so named because it was once used in mattresses), Flea Bay, and Kidney Vetch. The diversity of flowers attract a wide range of butterflies and moths especially at Bindon Hill where 32 different species can be found.
Look out for butterflies including the Adonis Blue, the Small Blue, the Dark Green Fritillary and the rare Lulworth Skipper.
The area is home to the rare Sea Lavender, found only on rocky coastal regions - its thick, rubbery leaves protect it from the salt.
Fossils are largely found on the foreshore and at the base of scree slopes and slippages. One of the best places to search is on the beach below Black Ven, between Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Another place to find fossils is Monmouth Beach near Lyme Regis where it is possible to occasionally find huge ammonites lying on the beach. These are too large to remove, so why not take some photographs and collect the specimens as photographs without doing harm to their natural environment.
Most of the fossils are sea creatures and shellfish which date from a period when the coast was surrounded by a warm tropical sea.
Look out for dark patches of sand together with worn lumps of fool's gold, as these are the places where fossils such as ammonites, belemnites, shells and bones can be found.
Fossil detectives should check tide times carefully and take care as the sea can cut off some locations. The wardens at Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre are a good source of advice, and also organise fossil hunting walks, they are open all year, but visit their website for details of winter opening times and special closures.
Dorset Coast Path – Lyme Regis-Sandbanks
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