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The Dorset and East Devon Coast, often known as the Jurassic Coast, is England’s only natural World Heritage Site. Stretching 95 miles, this spectacular expanse of coastline includes unspoilt cliffs and beaches, which run from Exmouth in East Devon, through to West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland, ending near Old Harry Rocks on the Isle of Purbeck.
Designated as a World Heritage Site in December 2001, the Jurassic Coast has fast become a popular tourism spot, due to its fascinating history, wonderful wildlife, pretty villages and on-screen presence. In order to make sure that those staying in holiday cottages in Dorset make the most of this magnificent area, we’ve put together a guide for exploring the Jurassic Coast.
“The Jurassic Coast is beautiful, but the main reason for its inscription on the World Heritage List is its incredible geology and the constantly evolving landscape as a result of coastal erosion. The rocks along the length of the coast record 185 million years of the Earth’s history, creating a unique ‘walk through time’ that includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
The Jurassic Coast is one of the most spectacular walking destinations in the country, and the entire length is accessible via the South West Coast Path National Trail. It is also one of the most important areas for fossil collecting anywhere in the world, with many significant fossil finds profiled in the visitor centres along the coast.” – Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site
For those interested in all things prehistoric, a visit to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre is a must, as it is home to a cast of the best preserved dinosaur ever found in Britain. The almost complete herbivorous Scelidosaurus was discovered on the Jurassic Coast by fossil collector David Sole, and is more than 195 million years old.
“Visit Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre to see our amazing fossil collections and find out how to discover your own fossils on the beach. Our Centre also provides information on fossils, fossil hunting and the local coastal and marine wildlife. Facilities at the centre include interactive computers, hands on displays, marine tanks and a video microscope, all of which can help you to discover more about our stretch of the coastline. You will also always find a helpful warden or volunteer who can help you identify your fossil finds.” – Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre
There are a number of boat trip operators offering Jurassic Coast tours along the coastline, which is one of the best ways to appreciate the breathtaking and incredibly varied scenery. Stuart Line Cruises has one in particular that explores the surrounding natural landscapes of Exmouth, also known as the gateway to the Jurassic Coast.
“Our Jurassic Coast Cruise takes in the oldest section, known as the Triassic Era, famous for its deep red colour. Your skipper will give you a live commentary during the cruise covering the changing history and appearance of the area as well as the wildlife and towns. Tides permitting, the vessel will sail in close to the cliffs for a detailed view and then sail further out to offer a panoramic view.” – Stuart Line Cruises
While some may prefer searching the extensive coastline for fossils on their own, those who enjoy a little guidance will be perfectly suited for a guided tour. Brandon Lennon has been fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast since he was eight years old and now runs fossil walks, which have become extremely popular with tourists. Here, he shares his opinion of what makes fossil hunting such an incredible experience.
“The Jurassic Coast is one of the most beautiful natural settings in the British Isles, as it is rapidly eroding and changing. People come to the Jurassic Coast for a variety of reasons, including walking holidays, fishing, sea swimming (in summer) and fossil hunting. To find a fossil that you’re the first to set your eyes on in 190 million years is truly awesome. The best fossils are washed out on to the beaches having been revealed by the sea’s actions from mud slips and landslides, so my top tip is to make sure you go collecting when the tide is low and stay away from the dangerous cliffs. You will also want to bear in mind that there is a ‘collecting code of conduct’ in force along the Jurassic coast.” – Brandon Lennon
For another perspective of the Jurassic Coast, why not find out what has inspired so many authors on a tour of a different kind? With more than twenty years’ experience of the area, Natalie of Literary Lyme Walking Tours is a truly captivating guide, having put five years of research into each individual tour. Fans of fiction can immerse themselves in the Dorset landscape, and discover everything from novelist Jane Austen’s favourite sights to scenes from hit TV series Broadchurch.
“Whether you're interested in Jane Austen, Tolkien, Hardy, a film tourism enthusiast, a Broadchurch fan or simply adore walking, this is the place to visit. When you're not indulging in the exploration of these interests, watch the sun set while drinking wine produced here on the Jurassic Coast (Lyme Bay Winery) and eat food grown right here too. I love everything about this area – simply outstanding clifftop strolls, wonderful waves or the wooded land that is the largest nature reserve in the country – what more could a visitor want from their holiday destination.” – Literary Lyme
No English country cottage stay would be complete without enjoying a wealth of delicious food, which the Clocktower Café in Sidmouth is renowned for providing. From traditional seafood such as cod and scampi to international dishes such as curry, the cooked lunches are ideal for refuelling after a challenging walk along the South West Coast Path. Not only this, but the café also offers remarkable views of the Jurassic coastline from the lovingly restored 17th century lime kiln building set in Connaught Gardens.
“24 years on from its creation, the Clocktower Cafe remains in the same ownership, who are very proud of its excellent reputation for its quality of service and food. Sue Sykes and her team of loyal and longstanding staff strive to provide the best possible service to you the customer, whilst Stewart Fraser and his brigade of chefs work tirelessly to put the wow factor into your eating experience and make your visit to the Clocktower Cafe a truly memorable one.” – The Clocktower Café
While visiting the Jurassic Coast, the Abbotsbury Swannery should be high on your itinerary, as it is the only place in the world where you can walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans. The monks at Abbotsbury farmed the swans during the 1040s in order to produce food for their lavish banquets, but it has now become a unique natural wildlife habitat. It has even been used as a location for Harry Potter filming!
“Abbotsbury Swannery is a unique wildlife sanctuary; it is not a zoo with cages, all the swans are free flying and are there because they want to be. Visitors can walk freely amongst the herd even during the hatching period and take close up pictures of cygnets hatching out of their eggs!” – John Houston General Manager Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd
This wonderful shop is truly a gem of the Jurassic Coast. Head inside to find local fossils, jewellery and minerals, which make perfect souvenirs of your holiday in Dorset. Here, the owners of Jurassic Gems, Paul and Tina, describe just what can be found when visiting this spectacular expanse of coastline.
“West Dorset offers some truly amazing places to visit, steeped in historical importance as well as stunning scenic walks and a friendly welcome to all who journey here, with its open fire lit public houses, top quality holiday cottages and a vast array of restaurants and cafes.
If it's just a weekend getaway or a couple of weeks, whatever the weather, there is always something to do. Whether it be a guided fossil hunt or a fishing trip on a boat, or simply a pleasant day on the beach with ice cream or fish and chips. There are of course festivals throughout the year, including the world famous Fossil Festival in May and the Arts Festival in September.
Lyme Regis is most famous for its fossils of course. Here you can freely collect specimens as old as 208 million years, the early Jurassic era. Providing you follow a few easy rules you can take a walk through time itself. If you are here for the fossilling, you can join fully experienced guides along the beach taking in all the breath-taking views as you learn about the diversity of marine life all those years ago. Whatever your reasons for visiting, the Jurassic Coast will not disappoint you.” – Jurassic Gems
Image Credit: Emma Royle (Flickr.com) Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, Stuart Line Cruises, Brandon Lennon, Abbotsbury Swannery, Jurassic Gems