It’s been nearly two years now since I’ve reignited my passion for fossil hunting. Just recently I’ve been more and more exposed to fossils in some way or form… either at meetings, festivals, or on the beach.
This has only fueled my eagerness to go and hunt for them. In the past I only found time to hunt occasionally due to family commitments… This has meant that I now find myself spending more and more time on the coast. Time is limited with a full time family and on going house renovations but I find the time when I can and make the most of it… it’s not unknown for me to be out until the early hours hunting in the dark. I enjoy the solitude and have an amazing head torch!
When out I can easily spend 3-4 hours on a hunt. It’s back breaking work and to find anything you need to put the time and effort in. After a while you begin to understand your sites and find little pockets that hold fossils. You have to know your sites inside out… the sea is constantly changing them… one minute you have a hot spot and the next it’s gone… the sea has washed it away. It is also this same process that reveals other pockets where you can find new and exciting finds.
The need to go hunting is a strange thing… it feels like a magnetic pull or a child pulling at your sleeve. If I haven’t been for a while I get withdrawal symptoms… if you’re already a fossil hunter you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m always eager to get out and hunt, as long as I come back with at least one new fossil for my collection I’m happy and it’s been worth it… even if it did take me 4 hours to find in the dark!
Setting your eyes on a fossil for the first time in millions of years is a fantastic feeling, words really can’t describe what it feels like. It is like it’s been waiting there all this time to be discovered by me. I respect the coast and the fossils I find and try to remove them responsibly and carefully.. it’s important that you don’t damage the surroundings. I collect out of passion and to build my collection… sadly, to often I see damage caused by those who collect for profit.
I regularly go fossil hunting with my friend Steve. It’s always a good hunt with him as I learn so much more about fossils, we look for new sites to investigate and go and see what they have to offer in the way of fossils. Steve is great at finding fossilized bones from marine reptiles… he can spot a bone a mile away! If your fairly new to this, it will be a while before you get to find bone fossils… it’s going to take time before your eyes are up to speed.
Hunting is a messy job… you’ll be constantly digging in thick, sticky clays and clambering over damp, algae rich rocks. I wouldn’t advise you go in your Sunday best! Old trousers, shirt and sturdy boots are a must.. A thermal top to keep you warm while out on the coast, as you can get extremely exposed to the elements. If you’re close to looking like a tramp you’re sorted! (no disrespect to tramps)
Next you’ll need a good tool kit… you’ll need a geo hammer, chisel, goggles, trowel and of course a rucksack to carry it in. As you fossil hunt more and more your tool kit will grow and you will add tools that suit your specific hunting locations. It’s amazing how you start to look at gardening tools in a different way and a trip to a garden center is even more interesting these days! The best tool you have are your eyes… it takes a while to train them to recognise the shapes and textures but be warned, they can also play tricks on you! It’s easy to see things that aren’t even there… especially when you’re tired after a long hunt.
It is important that you check the tide times in your area before you go, The tide can come in very quickly and you can get cut off in seconds… It’s best to hunt on a receding tide, you’ll feel much safer and will know that you have plenty of time to search for fossils. You’ll feel much more relaxed and can concentrate on the job in hand without the worry of a rising tide. Stay away from landslides and don’t climb cliffs… they are dangerous! Search for fossils on the foreshore, it’s much safer here and the sea will of done all the cleaning work for you.
If I find something of interest I always take it home. There have been too many times when I have discarded a muddy object, got home to think about it and wished I’d brought it back. You’ll never find that item again when returning to the site. Someone else would of picked it up or the sea will have washed it away… you snooze, you loose. It’s that simple!
When it comes to being a collector, it’s not just about the collecting. When you find fossils they are generally not in the best of condition and sometimes break on removal. Once home a good soak, clean and a touch of superglue normally brings them back to life. For that extra touch some oil or varnish will bring the colour out and make them presentable as a show piece. Sometimes you find fossils encased in stones… you’ll need to invest in some professional air prepping equipment to expose them… or you could take your find to a specialist and pay them to do all the hard work for you. It’s all part of being a hunter.
I love it when friends and family visit… I get to show them my new finds from the Jurassic Coast and tell them the story of how it was found… every fossil find has one! I’m just not so sure they always share my enthusiasm!
You have to go through this process… it’s what makes us… THE HUNTER
I arranged to meet Frank first thing Thursday morning at a lay-by near Ulwell Caravan Park, Swanage. From here I had planned to take him to Old Harry Rocks. A visit to this location had to be included in his trip to the Jurassic Coast. It was important for me to take him via a route I thought suitable for photographic opportunities.
Frank arrived just after nine that morning. Whilst getting ready to set off we discussed his previous day at the Lulworth Estate… I asked him if he’d had a good time and was enjoying the accommodation there. He said he’d had a great time and loved that section of the coast. I also ran through a few points of safety for the walk to Old Harry… we had a discussion about how nice his hire car was and I asked him if he was enjoying driving it.. he replied… “yes lovely, I’ve only driven on the wrong side of the road twice this week!!” We both looked at one another and laughed.
We headed off up the steps to the Obelisk which lies on the western side of Ballard Down. There are a few steps to climb here and its fair to say it’s painful first thing in the morning!
Once at the top we headed right along the ridge of Ballard Down. I wanted to go via this route because as you walk along the ridge you get good views; to the right Swanage, Durlston point and the Purbecks. To the left you can see all of Poole Harbour, Studland and the coastline right down to Christchurch and beyond.
Heavy rain was forecast that afternoon and I knew that having done a prewalk to all the locations the previous day, we’d be pushed for time to fit everything in that I had planned for Frank. Once again time was tight so we made our way to Old Harry Rocks as quickly as possible… we still had enough time though to make good conversation and take in the views!
Whilst on top of Ballard Down I stopped Frank and pointed out the coastline around Swanage. I explained to him that this part of the coast was early Cretaceous… where we were standing and the coastline to our left was late Cretaceous. His comment at that point was… “so the cliffs that are chalk are late Cretaceous and the rough cliffs over there are early Cretaceous”… It was evident that Frank was now starting to understand the different dinosaur periods of the Jurassic Coast. It was good to know that I was doing my job well and Frank would leave with an understanding of the coastline. From here we headed down to Old Harry Rocks and continued our discussions on the coast, work and family life.
We reached Old Harry Rocks in good time and Frank set his equipment up to take his first photo. I ran through the hazards of the cliffs at this location and left him to concentrate on his work. The cliffs here can be very fragile at the edges. I often see holiday makers putting themselves at risk for that perfect selfie…I advised him of the best places to stand to get the shots he wanted but would not put him in any danger. Again I was asked to model in a few photos so he could get a good perspective of the view to Old Harry. After a while we made our way to Joe’s Cafe on South Beach, Studland.
Joe’s Cafe is nestled right at the end of the World Heritage site. It’s one of the best locations for walkers and visitors to the Jurassic Coast to grab a coffee and snack. You get fantastic views of the end of the Jurassic Coast and if you walk along the beach for a couple of hundred metres you can physically touch the end of the World Heritage site. I’d been on at Frank all morning about making sure we had time to pop to Joe’s.. What can I say, I needed my coffee and one of their renowned brownies!
After a good break, good conversation and a chance for us to compose ourselves we headed back to Swanage. The skies were starting to turn grey and we knew that time was against us. We’d had the best of the weather at this point so we put our heads down and headed back to the cars quickly. On the way back we only went and bumped into a good friend of mine, Robin. He was on top of Ballard Down with some of his friends. We stopped, had a quick chat and I introduced Frank to them. I asked Robin what they were up too… he replied “we’re off to Joe’s cafe for a coffee and brownie!” I looked at Frank and we both laughed! We told Robin that we’d both just been there and done the same. I don’t know if Frank realised but at that moment he’d just become part of the social life that is to be found here on the Jurassic Coast. If there’s one person that I always bump into on the coast it’s Robin. Once back at the car we discussed the next location and Frank followed me to it.
Our next port of call was a view point called Houns Tout. I really love this location as it’s a great place to view another big chunk of the coastline, I always get a sense of feeling that I’m high up in the sky here. It’s another excellent point in Dorset where you can view right down to Portland and Weymouth to the west. I warned Frank beforehand that due to the deteriorating conditions we might not get good views. When we arrived at the car park, it started to rain but he was still happy to go. We put on our waterproof clothing and made our way there quickly. On arrival the cloud line had dropped considerably giving us a poor view. Frank was happy he could still take some shots and pulled out a waterproof camera cover to protect his equipment…it was obvious he’d dealt with conditions like this before.
After a few minutes Frank finished taking photos and we headed around the top of Houns Tout so I could show him Chapman’s Pool. Chapman’s Pool is a stunning cove and worthy of a visit when walking the Jurassic Coast. Here we met some walkers who were systematically walking the whole of the coast around the UK. Frank had a good chat and took some photos with them. The rain had briefly stopped so we said our fairwells to the walkers and made our way back to the cars.
From the car park Frank followed me along the Purbecks to the next location. This location was my final surprise for Frank. I wanted him to leave the Jurassic Coast with a special memory that would last forever… I had worked hard the previous day to plan Franks last experience here on the Jurassic Coast, it involved getting permission to visit this special site. At this stage in the day I hadn’t told him where we were going, or what he was going to see… He followed me off the main road and along a narrow lane. The weather had become worse now but this time we didn’t need to walk far. We pulled into a small quarry and parked the cars. We put on our waterproofs and I checked in with the owner just to let him know we had arrived. I had given him arrival times beforehand so he knew we were coming and surprisingly we had actually managed to make it on time!
We set off from the cars and walked through the quarry and out into a field. Frank still had no idea where we were going but followed me into the field. Halfway through the field I stopped him, asked him to close his eyes and to trust me as all would become apparent shortly… This must of seemed strange to Frank as we’d only known each other for just over a day! He did as I asked and I then led him towards the special location. After a couple of minutes I stopped and asked him to look down and open his eyes, there was a silence for a minute and he didn’t say anything….
He then looked up with a smile and said “is this a footprint… a dinosaur footprint?” This was his final surprise, I had taken him to a secret location on the Jurassic Coast and he was stood in a huge dinosaur footprint! The footprint is believed to be that of a Sauropod dinosaur and one of many at this special site. I think it took Frank a while to take it all in but I could see I had done the right thing by guiding him here… I could really tell by the look on his face. I showed him a picture of what the dinosaur would of looked like so he could get an idea on how big they were. Sauropods were very large dinosaurs and reached a height of up to 18 metres. The Purbecks are full of footprints similar to these.
It was raining hard now but I told Frank to make sure he had as much time here as he wanted to enjoy the moment. We spent around ten minutes on site and Frank and I both took some photos of each other stood in the footprints. After a while the rain got the better of us and we decided to head back to the cars. I had planned to take him to Durlston Castle and had a talk arranged there for him. Sadly we had lost a bit of time through the day and on arrival found it to be closed. Frank was not concerned at this point and said that he’d had more than enough to take in for one trip and was happy with his final day. We both decided it was time for a drink and we headed to the Halfway Inn near Corfe Castle.
On arrival we opened the door to a warm welcoming country pub, with the conditions we’d put up with over the last few hours, it was just what we needed! Frank got a couple of hot drinks in, we found a table and sat down. I ran through the locations of the day and he asked me a few questions about the geology to correct his notes. Once we’d done this we sat and chatted like good friends laughing about the weeks events… it was amazing how much we had in common. I handed Frank a small box and showed him some fossils from my collection, they were all labelled so he knew what they were and I told him they were for him to take home and show his children. I hope Frank thought it was a nice gesture as unfortunately we didn’t find many fossils when at Charmouth. I wanted him to go back with at least something. Knowing my own children well, I knew if he went home and talked to his children about the Jurassic Coast and the fossils that are found here, they would want to see some.
We sat and chatted for nearly an hour and I then realised Frank was tired and struggling to stay awake. I reluctantly decided it was time to go as Frank still had to get back to his accommodation and I didn’t want to consume his evening. I asked him to stay in touch and said if he ever came over again I’d love to catch up and take him to some other great locations along the coast. Ideally you need two weeks to get to see all of what the Jurassic Coast has to offer and I felt we only touched the surface during our couple of days together.
It has been one of my best experiences so far on the coast and I felt I was able to impart a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge to Frank on this amazing World Heritage Site. I had some new experiences along the way and even picked up some photography tips from him. The best thing from all of this is that I made a friend… I’m now regularly in contact with Frank and I look forward to hearing about his future projects.