The Big Dig: The best beaches for fossil hunting in Dorset
You are probably thinking I am mad talking about fossil hunting during the winter months, but it is the perfect time of year for it, as stormy weather churns up the beaches exposing the fossils from the rocks and the cliffs.
We are very lucky to live in Dorset which is famous for being the home of the Jurassic Coast which features outstanding geology with parts dating back over 185 million years and is therefore a hotbed for fossil hunting.
My children, Isaac - 8, Eliza - 6 and Sebastian - 3 are Jurassic Rangers which not only sends them monthly packs filled with information about the local area, but also allows them to attend beach schools where they learn all about our dramatic coastline, the wildlife that inhabit it – we have been lucky enough to spot both seals and dolphins, and of course, how to look for fossils.
The first thing to do before you start fossil hunting is to know what you are looking for, which is why my first choice of beach is Charmouth and Lyme Regis.
Charmouth beach is great for all the family, with lots of sand, especially at low tide, safe swimming, picnic areas, cafes and beach shops. However it is Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre which stands out for me as the perfect place to visit before you begin your fossil hunt.
The volunteers that run the centre are really passionate about the local area and have examples galore of what fossils you can unearth on the beach. They even run fossil hunts for a small extra charge during weekends and school holidays.
The best way to find fossils is to look for those trapped between boulders and among pebbles on the beach and once you know what you are looking for they are really easy to find.
The Heritage Centre even has a video microscope available for you to examine your fossil finds and the volunteers will help you identify what you have found.
My next recommendation is Kimmeridge Bay near Wareham, which is famous for its fossil finds that regularly fall from the unstable rock face. I often joke that this is the lazy person's place to fossil hunt as it is here you walk along huge rocks and literally see huge ammonites appear under your feet, however it is not suitable for very young children as the ground is very uneven and tricky to walk across.
Whilst you are here, I would also recommend a visit to the recently opened Etches Collection Museum where you can see the fossils you have found brought to life with huge CGI projections on the ceiling of the building which the kids found fascinating as it helps them to understand what the creatures they found looked like all those millions of years ago.
My final suggestion is Lulworth Cove. There is a great walk for children here and mine were fascinated by the rock formations, the fossil forest, as well as the shingle beach with its limestone and chalk spurs and boulders - great for skimming stones.
Have you been fossil hunting before and lucky enough to find anything?