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Charmouth fossils - how to find fossil ammonites on Charmouth beach

Updated on August 18, 2014

Charmouth Fossils

Fossils at Charmouth can be hard to find and it can be very frustrating, but below I will show you how I have found some great Charmouth fossils. After years of hit-and-miss success, it is surprisingly easy to find some really interesting fossils at Charmouth, and above all, the method is safe.

Its’s winter as I write this and as the winter storms approach thoughts start to lean towards fossil hunting on the Dorset coast and the hunt for those beautiful iron pyrite ammonite fossils associated with Charmouth. I say, ‘as winter approaches’, because it’s at this time of year that the coastline along Dorset takes a pounding from the winter storms. It’s this winter pounding that causes the landslides, churns up the beach and removes the layers of sand that have built up over the summer months and once this winter process starts there is no telling what you might find.

I have been collecting fossils for many years, ever since my parents would wake me up at the crack of dawn and drive me to Lyme Regis and Charlmounth. Both towns being historically known for great fossil hunting.

Charmouth fossils like this beautiful iro-pyrite ammonite can be found sitting on the sand after heavy storms
Charmouth fossils like this beautiful iro-pyrite ammonite can be found sitting on the sand after heavy storms

I like fossil Hunting at Charmouth rather than at Lyme Regis and this is due to the fossils you can find, the ease of finding the Charmouth fossils and the ease as to which you can gain access to the beach. There is also the Charmouth heritage centre, a cafe and a fossil shop right on the beach front. The Charmouth heritage center and the fossil shop display some truely amazing fossils, and I mean amazing, well worth a look.These points make Charmouth a very popular place to locate fossils and it can get busy, but rest assured, with some practice, luck and putting in the time you will find fossils at Charmouth.

Charmouth beach

Charmouth beach itself is extremely long and does get cut off by most tides. This is especially true after new rock falls, as the fallen rock and mud stretches across the beach and cuts off access as the tide rises.
In summer the sand builds up along the beach and the soft clays between the Limestone bands hardens. This along with the sun bathers and the lack of rough weather means that summer fossil hunting at Charmouth can be a fruitless task. (I have found fossils at Charmouth during the summer, but it can be VERY hard work)

Autumn and winter are by far the best months for finding Charmouth fossils and if bad weather continues into spring the fossil hunting season is extended. It is simply a matter of the rough winter weather stirring up the beach and chipping away at the cliffs. The rain from the winter storms also causes the clays and mud to move and slip down the cliffs onto the beach. All this action exposes fossils for the avid collector.

Charmouth fossils - how I find them!

Many of you might be suprised as to how I find the fossils I do at Charmouth, but it is a very simple and safe process. For many years I would travel to Charmouth beach in search of fossils. My bag would be filled with the various tools for splitting the many boulders I would come across.

Finding the ammonite fossils within the many boulders on the beach at Charmouth can be fantastic and as you split the boulder to reveal an ammonite that you are the first human to see, is fantastic. To do this you need to recognise the boulders that fall from the correct horizon in the cliffs that hang over the beach. This takes time, knowledge, practice and a lot of luck. I am not going to concentrate on this method in this hub, but will highlight a much easier way of finding Charmouth fossils.

It was out of frustration that this method of fossil hunting started to produce some lovely finds for me. A method that a number of professional fossil hunters were using and are still using to this day.

Another lovely iron pyrite ammonite fossil picked up off the beach as seen here. Cleaned and washed out of the sand by the winter storms.
Another lovely iron pyrite ammonite fossil picked up off the beach as seen here. Cleaned and washed out of the sand by the winter storms.
One of the largest Charmouth fossils, found by my son sticking out of a mud flow on a stormy winters day at Charmouth. This has had nothing but the mud washed off of it, a real beauty.
One of the largest Charmouth fossils, found by my son sticking out of a mud flow on a stormy winters day at Charmouth. This has had nothing but the mud washed off of it, a real beauty.

Searching the tide line at Charmouth beach

Searching the tide line at Charmouth beach and the edge of the mud flows in winter is the method I use and believe it or not, this method has produce some great fossil finds for me at Charmouth beach. This might seem an overly simple way to find fossils on Charmouth beach and a method that you would think useless with all the other fossil hunters on the beach. It's not, but once I also thought that this was a fruitless exercise and often watched other fossil hunters walking the beach with theirs heads down thinking they were wasting their time.

Using the tide line area along the beach is a simple and VERY effective way to collect Charmouth fossils, but they are two main rules you need to apply to be successful.

Firstly, it needs to be stormy, the worse the weather the better and this increases your find rate greatly. This is because the unsettled weather pounds the beach with the rough wave action churning up the sand and clays to reveal the fossils, which have fallen from the cliffs and mud flows and been buried in the beach.

Always wear boots but be prepared to get a little wet and always keep one eye on the waves as they can race up the beach, fill your wellington boots and knock you off your feet.

As mentioned, the wave action churns up the beach and as the sea water flows back down the beach, the action deposits any fossils on the beach. You have to be quick to pick up the fossil before the next wave hits the beach and washes it away.

It can be a great way to find fossils at Charmouth and after winter storms I have found it a very successful method, with a number of great fossil finds.


Taken a Charmouth beach a few years ago after a rock fall and a recent storm. Notice how the fall has blocked access to the beach so beware. The tide is high the waves are hitting the beach, a great time to start looking for fossils on tide line.
Taken a Charmouth beach a few years ago after a rock fall and a recent storm. Notice how the fall has blocked access to the beach so beware. The tide is high the waves are hitting the beach, a great time to start looking for fossils on tide line.

Secondly, start when the tide is high on the beach and as the tide starts to back off the beach, follow it down the sand. Regular visits to the beach will show you the best areas to concentrate on. These areas can change each winter depending on the rock falls and the flows of mud onto the beach. Using the tide line and the wave actions from the winter storms can be a great way to discover Charmouth fossils and you never know what will turn up.

Look out for the lumps of iron-pyrite

The winter storms also deposit a lot of other material including iron pyrite. Always check these lumps of iron pyrite as many contain small ammonites as seen in the picture below. This particular iron pytite fossil is about 6cm across with few beautiful golden ammonites. Like many of my finds these were collected as seen and just washed under water.

Can you see the ammonites in the images below - washed out by the wave action on the beach

Many of the fossils I find are picked up off the beach and need nothing more than a rinse under the tap. Can you see the ammonites in the pictures below. Both of the pictures show an ammonite that has been washed out of the sand by the wave action, waiting to be picked up.

Charmouth can produce more than ammonites

Charmouth can produce some fantastic finds, as the video below highlights.

Charmouth, situated near the old town of Lyme Regis, cliffs are made up of Jurassic sea bed material

Do you go fossil hunting at Charmouth?

See results

© 2011 Jonathan Grimes

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    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 3 years ago from California

      What a fascinating article! Fossils are intriguing. I have a question. Is this the same area where Mary Anning made her discoveries? I read Tracy Chevalier's novel, Remarkable Woman, which was a fictionalization of her friendship with another woman and the discoveries they made. Thanks for sharing your discoveries!

    • Jonathan Grimes profile image
      Author

      Jonathan Grimes 5 years ago from Devon

      I find it fascinating to and spent years trying to split all sorts of rocks until I started to find the iron pyrite ammonites. They are lovely items and will never get tired of finding them. Winter is approaching and it's time to really plan some trips in around the tides. My friends think I am mad as I pray for bad weather to stir things up and take the summer said off the beaches exposing new fossils.. . .thanks for the feedback. . .

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Hi - just found a link to your hub which appeared while I was in the middle of writing one myself (about the best places to find fossils on the Jurassic coast). Nice to see a fellow enthusiast - I have been fossil hunting on West Dorset beaches for about 25 years, and still find it fascinating.

      A nicely illustrated and interesting hub!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, I love fossil hunting, I often go down to Lyme Regis to pick a few up, last time I was there not only did I find some great ammonites and a few others, but they were also doing the fossil collectors fair near the beach! it was great as it was televised and I watched it again on tv later! lol! yes, as you can see I am a fossil fanatic! great hub, really interesting, cheers nell

    • Jonathan Grimes profile image
      Author

      Jonathan Grimes 6 years ago from Devon

      Thanks for the feedback, it really is a great way to pick up some good fossils. The worse the weather the better as this takes the sand off the beach and exposes other layers that contain fossils. Many a time I have walked the tide line with many people around me, only to pick up a great fossil in plane view. You just need to know where to look and take into account the best tides and weather.

      All the best

      Jon

    • MazioCreate profile image

      MazioCreate 6 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

      A very useful and interesting hub Jonathan. I'm sure this informative procedure will help any would-be fossil hunter.

    • Jonathan Grimes profile image
      Author

      Jonathan Grimes 6 years ago from Devon

      No problem, I have a few other hubs on this subject coming soon with other great finds.

    • Charlotte B Plum profile image

      Charlotte B Plum 6 years ago

      What an interesting hub! It is about a subject that I have never read before. Thank you for sharing this!

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