No matter how old you are, there’s something about dinosaurs that captures the imagination. Despite being extinct for more than 65 million years, books, television shows, cartoons and blockbuster films have ensured that anything dinosaur related continues to be popular.
However, seeing them on the page or screen is one thing… it’s quite another to admire an actual dinosaur’s skull, or hold an ammonite in your hand. Here in Dorset we are fortunate to have the magnificent Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site which runs 96 miles from Exmouth to Studland Bay. Here you can see real-life evidence of how life evolved over more than 185 million years, from delicate fossils as small as your fingernail to enormous dinosaur tracks.
From terrifying dinosaurs to magnificent forests, there was all manner of life on earth long before humans came along. Our famous coastline has abundant evidence of this prehistoric era. In fact, charming seaside towns such as Charmouth and Lyme Regis are so full of fossils that you can discover your very own piece of ancient history just by strolling along the beach.
Lyme Regis’ association with fossils started over a century ago, back in 1811. This was when Mary Anning, then just 12 years old, and her brother Joseph discovered an ichthyosaur skull in the cliffs, followed by the rest of the skeleton. This momentous discovery, although not quite understood by scientists of the time (who thought it was a crocodile), put Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast on the map in terms of fossil discovery. As an adult, Mary became a renowned fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist, and continued to make headlines with her finds in this charming seaside town.
Some of these discoveries can be found at the Lyme Regis Museum, which is built on the site of Mary Anning’s home and contains some amazing fossils collections. You can also join in one of the musuem’s many Fossil Walks, where you’ll explore the beach with an expert and see if you can find your own fossil to take home! Lyme Regis is also home to the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum and shop, which houses its own impressive collection of fossils and samples.
A spectacular mile’s walk (Or just a 10-minute drive) from Lyme Regis, you’ll discover the seaside town of Charmouth. Here you’ll find the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, where visitors have the chance to see a real-life sea dragon! Featured in the BBC documentary ‘Attenborough and the Sea Dragon’, this incredible ichthyosaur is a fantastic example of the scale and complexity of life all those years ago. In addition to its impressive displays, the centre also holds regular fossil events, including guided walks.
Meanwhile, local centres such at Portland Museum and Bridport Museum contain fascinating collections of fossils where you can meet amazing ammonites, elegant brittle stars and bullet-like belemnites, while also learning about the rocks where these fantastic fossils were formed.
Another museum worth a visit is the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. At time of writing (Oct 19), this museum was closed for redevelopement and due to reopen in Summer 2020. In the meantme, the exhibitions are currently touring the county.
Further along the coast, Kimmeridge Bay is another lovely beach where it’s possible to discover all manner of fossils. Pay a visit to the Etches Collection Museum, which contains a magnificent collection of Late Jurassic age fossils, all found by one man – Dr Steve Etches MBE. All the fossils were found within 2 miles of the museum itself, and are displayed in a fantastic state-of-the-art gallery which will delight visitors of all ages.
Of course, not all the fossils in this amazing region are in museums! Not far from the iconic Lulworth Cove, visitors can take a stroll through an ancient geographical landscape, discovering imprints left behind by the trunks and roots of prehistoric trees over 144 million years ago. Meanwhile, in Purbeck, you can visit the National Trust’s Keates Quarry and walk in the footprints of dinosaurs, with over 100 brachiosaur tracks preserved in the earth.
The Jurassic Coast is so rich in fossils and amazing finds that you would need a lifetime to see and explore everywhere, but a holiday in Dorset can certainly be a start and offer a special opportunity to immerse yourself in our dinosaur land.
Book your dinosaur discovery holiday in Dorset today by viewing our special collection of holiday cottages on the Dorset coast.