Remains of the day

When a fossil hunt in Dorset is rained off, what else is there to dig up?

On the beaches of Dorset, at Kimmeridge, Lulworth or Charmouth, you are ankle deep in history. The place is littered with fossils, geological time capsules crunching under your flip-flops, superb items just ready to be picked up from among the pebbles. A family can spend hours there, the children sorting through the rocks in search of their free-to-take- home prizes, while you read the paper. It seemed the ideal place for an eight year old's birthday treat: take him, two of his mates and his two siblings down there for the weekend, tip them out of the car and let them get on with it as we soaked up the sun.

Last weekend, 30 miles away from the beaches we hoped to pick clean of fossils, the Ten Tors expedition was cancelled due to the worst weather conditions in the event's history. You could see why. At Kimmeridge Bay the May rain cut into the face, driven by Arctic-temperature gale-force winds: the mere process of opening the door of the minibus-sized van we'd hired to transport six hyper-excited fossil-seekers to their goal was sufficient to result in a total soaking.

But, fossil fun was what we had come for, so fossil fun we were to have - whatever the consequences. Wrapped in several layers of insulation, the team descended on to the beach and almost immediately it became clear there were fossils everywhere. The crumbling cliffs constantly spew sheets of thin black rock on to the beach. The strata of these can be separated like slices of Kraft Dairylea, and on every layer there will be the imprint of a shell fragment or, if you are very lucky, a bit of fish skeleton. The pleasure of discovery, however, is somewhat mitigated when you are wet and freezing and constantly demanding of the children that they "will enjoy this treat". So after about 20 minutes, with no more than half a dozen decent ammonites to be scrapped over, we climbed back into the van, had a picnic and, as is traditional, steamed up the windows as we ate.

After an hour's wait, we decided to abandon all thoughts of beach action: the weather couldn't be worse the following day, was the logic, and no one else was going to take the fossils in the meantime. So we headed, instead, for a monstrous new drive-in leisure park outside Poole, offering all-sorts of modern, Americanised pleasure - the diametric opposite of wholesome beach-combing: like Quasar, the laser battle game, staged - importantly - indoors. And if the truth be told, it's more stimulating for participants, young and old alike, than undertaking a palaeontological beach-scour.

Exhausted by endless expensive hours of laser mayhem, that night we stayed in a B&B chosen for its appropriate name: West Fossil Barn in East Knighton near Lulworth. Dorset is stocked with almost as many B&Bs as fossils, but by chance we had chosen a corker. Luxurious, friendly, large and with a room well out of ear-shot in which to deposit the fossil-posse. It also came complete with a breakfast sufficient to fuel a brigade.

The weather, though, was less hospitable. Sunday was wetter even than Saturday. Assuming things would improve in the afternoon, we headed for the Tank Museum at Bovington, a place stuffed with military hardware, where - importantly - all the displays are housed indoors. It is a fine museum, though after a while even junior militarists found one tank merging into another, one howitzer indistinguishable from its neighbour. By the time we emerged from the museum the weather had got really bad. The roads were filled with debris blown down from battered trees, the van wobbled in ferocious easterly howling across the A35, there was more rain in five minutes than fell in Yorkshire last summer.

But with the weekend rapidly running out, we were determined to continue the quest for big, intact, perfectly preserved fossils. And at Charmouth, a long stretch of pebble in the bay next to Lyme Regis, we found them. Absolutely beautiful specimens, great big ammonites, a full fish skeleton the size of a salmon, whole armies of snails marching across a piece of rock. Thank heavens for the Fossil Shop in the car park at the top of Charmouth beach, and its stock of rockery on sale for 25p upwards: pounds 750 for a complete teethed fish of vicious intentions. With the weather now approaching the absurd, getting out the cheque book it was the only way we were going to encounter any fossils that weekend.

Where to stay

West Fossil Barn, Chaldon Herring, Dorchester, (01305 854646)

What to read

Dorling Kindersley's Eye Witness Guide to Fossils (pounds 8.99)

Who to ask

The tourist information office at Lyme Regis: 01297 442138

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on