West Dorset lies in the heart of the Jurassic Coast, and offers a multitude of informative activities and entertaining experiences for all ages, interests and abilities. The area’s geology is well and truly Jurassic – muddy grey limestones that yield incredible fossilised treasure, and crumbly sandstones that produce towering golden cliffs.

Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis packs a hefty punch for a small seaside town; where to start with its historical significance?

How about 195 million years ago, when what is now the town was submerged in warm tropical seas around the equator, and patrolled by legions of ammonites, ichthyosaurs and pliosaurs. Many of these specimens are now on show in fossilised form at Lyme Regis Museum, as well as forming part of major collections worldwide, including at the Natural History Museum in London.

Jump forward to medieval times, and the earliest record of Lyme Regis’ Cobb from 1328. In the centuries since it has withstood an untold amounts of storms, vigilantly protecting the town.

1799 saw the birth of Mary Anning, Lyme Regis’ most famous historical resident and a major figure in the history of science. Her stellar fossil collecting career began while she was still a girl, uncovering the first ever ichthyosaur in 1811. Find out more about Mary at Lyme Regis Museum.

The last two centuries have seen the town featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Tracey Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures.

Lyme has recently starred as the filming location for the upcoming Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, and focusing on the life of Mary Anning.

Lyme-Regis-promenade
The promenade in Lyme Regis, with the cliffs of Black Ven in the background.

Charmouth

Charmouth is renowned the world over for its fossils.

Mind-boggling new discoveries are frequently made here, with many of them ending up on display at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. The centre is free to enter and offers frequent guided fossil hunting tours with its expert wardens – make sure to book in advance as they are very popular!

If you’re headed to the beach here, make sure to pick up a £2 copy of Tide Times from all good local outlets, or check online.

If you’re on the beach during busy periods such as school holidays, you may also run into Stuart Godman, our friendly Fossil Warden – if you see him, do say hello!

Charmouth also makes a superb base for walking, offering tantalising trails into the National Trust’s Stonebarrow site, and beyond to lofty Golden Cap.

Charmouth Beach with fossils
Ammonite fossil on Charmouth Beach.

Golden Cap

Golden Cap rises majestically along the Jurassic Coast, its peak reaching 190 metres – the highest point on England’s south coast.

The distinctive golden rock layers at its crest belong to a geological layer known as the Upper Greensand, which was laid down much later than the darker layers of rock below it.

One of the best ways to take in the peak is from the sea. Lyme Bay RIB Charter operate out of West Bay, and their breezy “West Bay Blast” ride offers fantastic views of the summit.

For those who prefer to explore on foot, Golden Cap makes for a great walking challenge. Start from Seatown, (accessed via the A35 at Chideock or from the coast path) make your way up, take in the views, then head back down for some well-deserved refreshment at The Anchor Inn.

golden cap
Golden Cap as seen from the sea. © Steve Belasco - jurassicphotographic.com

West Bay

West Bay is a historic harbour town that once served as a thriving hub of trade for Bridport’s rope and net industry.

These days it bustles with visitors and locals alike, who come here to enjoy its array of quality food and drink options, and to venture to the end of its pier for a look back at its famous golden cliffs.

The pier at West Bay offers one of the best geological perspectives across the whole Jurassic Coast. As you cast your eye across 180 degrees, you can take in Portland and Chesil Beach to one side, and Lyme Regis, Beer and beyond to the other.

Note the enormous variations in the colour and character of the rocks across these few scant miles – this is the clue to understanding why the Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site.

You won’t find fossils on the beach here; your best bet is to head to Bridport Museum, where 170 million year-old fossilised treasures are on display, the last remaining remnants of what was once a warm tropical sea.

west bay harbour
The harbour at West Bay, west Dorset.

Chesil Beach

Chesil Beach stretches from West Bay all the way to Portland, some 18 miles.

It is a wild and elemental place, where nature is in command. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here to discover!

Hive Beach Cafe is situated atop the beach’s shingle, and is a west Dorset institution – enjoying a warming cup of coffee here is a Jurassic Coast must-do.

Hive Beach is also home to the annual Spring Tide Food Festival – hosted by the National Trust, and well worth a visit for its selection of delectable local produce.

At Chesil Beach’s eastern end, a trip on the Fleet Explorer glass-bottom boat is well worth a look. Book your tickets at the Chesil Beach Centre.

chesil beach
Fishermen at West Bexington, part of Chesil Beach. © Steve Belasco - jurassicphotographic.com