ENTERTAINMENT

Kate Winslet stars in a movie about the fossil hunt – here are the best places in the UK to find your own


Paleontologists don't have the highest profile. However, that could change with the release of Ammonite, the film starring Kate Winslet who plays Mary Anning, the prolific 19th century fossil collector and paleontologist whose gender and poverty prevented the full fame she deserved.

Anning was responsible for finding the first ichthyosaur skeleton that is still on display at the London Museum of Natural History. He searched the beaches of Lyme Regis with passion.

Dorset remains a favorite among fossil hunters, but it's far from being the only coast to scrub. All you need is sharp eyesight, and ideally a chisel, hammer and safety glasses. A thermos of tea will usually help. Here is our pick of the top spots.

JURASSIC CLASSIC

The 96 miles of Jurassic Coast, stretching from Dorset to Devon, is fossil-tasting. One of the best beaches near Lyme Regis is Charmouth (see picture)

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in the new film Ammonite

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in the new film Ammonite

The 96 mile long Jurassic Coast of Dorset and Devon is fossil-tasting, but Mary Anning's pretty old base at Lyme Regis – full of alluring boutiques and cafes – remains her paleontological hub. Beneath repeatedly exposed layers of sedimentary cliffs, East Cliff and Charmouth are the best beaches to explore.

Do not miss: West of the Cobb Harbor at Lyme Regis, the ebb tide of Monmouth Beach reveals a natural ammonite pavement that contains giant versions of the coiled clams of the molluscs.

Competent help: Lyme Regis Museum's Paddy Howe leads three-hour fossil hikes (£ 125 for groups of up to five, lpolymergismuseum.co.uk).

Stay: On a hilltop with lovely gardens, Alexandra offers double bed and breakfast rooms from £ 180 (hotelalexandra.co.uk).

WELSH ECHINOIDS

Suspected dinosaur footprints were recently discovered on the pictured Penarth Beach, south of Cardiff

Suspected dinosaur footprints were recently discovered on the pictured Penarth beach south of Cardiff

Triassic and Jurassic fossils, from dinosaur teeth to prickly echinoids, are often discovered among washed-out plates and stones between Penarth, south of Cardiff and Porthcawl. No place brings out more 200 million year old treasures than Llantwit Major's rocky bay.

Do not miss: The Natural History Museum says it is "fairly convinced" of suspected dinosaur footprints recently discovered on Penarth Beach.

Competent help: Ranger-led geological walks can be booked through the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Center (valeofglamorgan.gov.uk).

Stay: The West House is an elegant but informal and dog-friendly hotel in the old town of Llantwit Major. B&B double rooms from £ 85 (townandcountrycollective.co.uk)

FOSSIL COAST

Fossil hunts take place regularly on the beaches pictured around Scarborough on the Fossil Coast in North Yorkshire

Fossil hunts take place regularly on the beaches pictured around Scarborough on the Fossil Coast in North Yorkshire

The ammonites depicted are so common that they have three features on Whitby's coat of arms

The ammonites depicted are so common that they have three features on Whitby's coat of arms

The designated fossil coastline extends approximately 35 miles from Staithes to Flamborough via Whitby and Scarborough in North Yorkshire.

The best locations are Port Mulgrave and Robin Hood's Bay, though their steep ridges and jagged rocks require agility. Ammonites are so common, three features on Whitby's coat of arms.

Do not miss: Burniston Bay near Scarborough has three-toed dinosaur footprints, while fossilized remains of Speeton's eponymous lobster-like "shrimp" are common further south.

Competent help: Hidden Horizons regularly "hunts" beaches around Scarborough (hiddenhorizons.co.uk).

Stay: The Grand Victoria Hotel overlooks the cliffs over Robin Hood's Bay. B&B doubles from £ 80 (victoriarhb.com).

DINO FOOTPRINTS

Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight, pictured where iguana bones are regularly collected

Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight, pictured where iguana bones are regularly collected

Fossil-seeking families will enjoy Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight. Iguanodon bones are regularly collected there: look for jet black shapes in clapboard or rock pools. There are also stunning dinosaur footprints.

Do not miss: Dinosaur Isle is an interactive museum in Sandown (dinosaurisle.com).

Competent help: Wight Coast Fossils organize private two hour excursions to locations all over the island (£ 50, wightcoastfossils.co.uk).

Stay: The fala-Victorian guest house Koala Cottage is located in picturesque Godshill – an ideal starting point for excursions to the south coast. B & B double rooms from £ 150 (koalacottage.co.uk).

ESSEX SHARKS

If you drive north from Walton-on-the-Naze (see picture) there is a good chance of finding fossils

If you drive north from Walton-on-the-Naze (see picture) there is a good chance of finding fossils

Walk north from the 18th-century Naze Tower lighthouse near Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex for a good chance of exposing shark teeth or pyritized wood.

This coast averages 6 feet of erosion per year – hence the abundance of fossils.

Do not miss: One of Walton's attractions is a quirky maritime museum that has finds on display (fwheritage.co.uk).

Competent help: Essex Wildlife Trust is hosting a Family Fossil Discovery morning on Saturday 15th February (£ 3, essexwt.org.uk).

Stay: Five miles from Walton, the Lifehouse Hotel & Spa's hydrotherapy pool rejuvenates tired backs and knees. B&B doubles from £ 139 (lifehouse.co.uk).

SCOT DISCOVERY

A pictured Corran Beach on the Isle of Skye has the footprints of ornithopods - giant two-legged herbivores from 165 million years ago

A pictured Corran Beach on the Isle of Skye has the footprints of ornithopods – giant bipedal herbivores dating back to 165 million years ago

The west coast of the Isle of Skye has extensive Jurassic finds. Ammonite and ichthyosaur parts are common, salamanders, turtles and crocodiles are possible.

Do not miss: Typically, after winter storms on An Corran Beach, the footprints of ornithopods are exposed – giant two-legged herbivores from 165 million years ago.

Competent help: The Staffin Dinosaur Museum is currently closed due to the pandemic and can arrange tours (staffindinosaurmuseum.com).

Stay: Renters of the cozy Springbank Cottage can borrow guides, chisels, and hammers for fossil hunting to tackle the shores near Elgol. Seven nights self-catering from £ 525 (springbankelgol.co.uk).

OSSIFIED DELIGHTS

The pictured coast of Kent's Isle of Sheppey produces ossified wonders. It is approximately 90 minutes by train from London Victoria

The pictured coastline of Kent's Isle of Sheppey produces ossified wonders. It is approximately 90 minutes by train from London Victoria

About 90 minutes by train from London Victoria, the coast of Kent's Isle of Sheppey produces ossified wonders – prehistoric lobster, crab and snake fossils, and nipa fruits from mangrove palms: a reminder that our landmass was once south of the equator .

Do not miss: The stretch between Eastchurch and Warden Point, where brightly colored shark teeth are particularly common.

Competent help: Fred Clouter's website contains photos of possible finds (sheppeyfossils.com).

Stay: Next to the sleepy Swale Estuary, the 16th century Ferry House is a recognized, sustainable restaurant with stylish double bed and breakfast rooms from £ 160 (theferryhouseinn.co.uk).

AMAZING IN ANTRIM

Natural Wonders: The singing sand at White Park Bay on the north coast of Antrim, where the beach vibrates with a humming sound

Natural Wonders: The singing sands of White Park Bay on the north coast of Antrim, where the beach vibrates with a humming sound

Many Jurassic and Triassic fossils materialize along the coast of County Antrim. Waterloo Bay in Larne is the best place: you have a good chance of seeing squid-like belemnites and urchins.

Do not miss: Fifty miles north and also good for fossilization, White Park Bay is one of the few places in the world where you can experience "singing sand" – when the beach vibrates with a humming sound.

Competent help: Check out the UK Fossils excellent website for full information on Waterloo Bay (ukfossils.co.uk).

Stay: The Seaview House is pet friendly and has recently been renovated. It serves a first class breakfast. B&B double rooms from £ 75 (seaviewlarne.com).

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