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Fossil Hunting at Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset.

Fossil Coast Drinks Co is pleased to introduce Steve Snowball as a guest blogger who will be sharing his knowledge, experience and expertise about fossil hunting at Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. Steve is an accomplished author of "A Guide to Fossil Collecting in England & Wales" and co-author of four other highly acclaimed guides to fossil collecting on the Dorset coast.


Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset
Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset

To the many who take a holiday in Dorset (or indeed live here) Ringstead Bay provides a fantastic place to visit and to chance your arm at collecting a few fossils while you are there!



The rocks here are of Jurassic age and comprise those of the Corallian Group and Sandsfoot Formation (comprising the Sandsfoot Formation is the Sandsfoot Clay Member, Sandsfoot Grit Member and the Ringstead Clay Member) of Oxfordian age and the Lower Kimmeridge Clay of Kimmeridgian age and approximately 154 million years old.



Ringstead Bay is reached via a long winding lane, with occasional passing places and is situated just off the A353 out of Weymouth, passing through Osmington. Turn right before Poxwell village and follow signs leading to Ringstead Bay and the Beach Café. Postcode is DT2 8NG. The car park is £6 for the day (2023 price) and is generally very busy in the summer months.


Ringstead Bay Coral Bed rich in shell fragments on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset
Ringstead Bay Coral Bed rich in shell fragments

The café and shop are useful amenities and most holiday makers hug the areas nearest to these facilities and the toilets! Walking on the beach away from the area, the crowds soon diminish.


Ringstead Bay is child friendly, with a mix of shingle and sandy beach. Dogs are welcome but not their mess! Please pick up after your dog. There are no dog bins at Ringstead Bay, so be prepared to take your poo bags back with you!


Once parked up, head towards the beach but turn right. A concrete slipway takes you to beach level. At this point, walk west (away from the dramatic cliffs of White Nothe) and past some rock armour.


In the low cliffs, the Sandsfoot Formation can be observed. This is not over fossiliferous but the junction between it and the overlying Lower Kimmeridge Clay is!

 

Examine the base of the cliff for a hard limestone layer. This is the Ringstead Coral Bed, packed with corals, shell fragments, bivalves and other forms of ancient marine life. It only gets exposed when the beach shingle has been stripped back from the cliff. This location is strictly SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) so digging of hammering in the rocks is strictly forbidden.


This location marks the junction between the Oxfordian-aged rocks and the Lower Kimmeridgian and the fossils found include:



Left: Coral, Thecosmillia annularis is found here. | Middle: In the layer of Kimmeridge Clay just above the Coral Bed, the strange asymmetrical brachiopod, Torquirhynchia inconstans is very common. These can be quite large in size and are dark grey/ black in colour. | Right: The gastropod, Bathrotomaria reticulata often referred to by locals as the Ringstead Snail is also found here. This location marks the junction between the Oxfordian-aged rocks and the Lower Kimmeridgian.

 

In the overlying Lower Kimmeridge Clay the large flat oyster, Detoideum delta can be seen in some numbers. The shells of this bivalve can be found almost everywhere at Ringstead Bay.


Large flat oyster called Detoideum delta from Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset
Large flat oyster called Detoideum delta

Walking east takes you to the Corallian rocks at Bran Point and Osmington Mills. Instead, walk east back towards White Nothe and explore the slumped and badly eroding cliffs in the Lower Kimmeridge Clay as far as White Nothe.


An alternative route is to return from the way you have already come and turn right just before the car park, taking the coastal path to just beyond the cluster of cottages and descend to the beach here.


During the winter of 2024, the wooden steps leading down to the beach were destroyed but a newly constructed slipway near the caravan park will be a good approach, if the steps have not been repaired.


Below the Kimmeridge Clay cliffs with faulted and folded Portland Stone and Purbeck Beds high above can be seen.


Kimmeridge Clay Cliffs at Ringstead Bay on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset
Kimmeridge Clay Cliffs at Ringstead Bay

The much-eroded cliffs are mostly not reached by the sea these days, even on a high tide. Fossils will be found with diligence. It is not, however, impossible to find echinoids, belemnites, ammonites, bivalves and the occasional bone of a sea reptile, such as a pliosaur or plesiosaur.



The cliffs at the eastern end of the bay are known as Burning Cliff and ammonites can occur here also. Look out for fallen blocks of rock from the Portland beds above, which sometimes roll to the beach.

Examine any broken shale blocks for the small ammonite Amoeboceras, And remember to look out for bone, which is well preserved and vertebrae of marine reptiles occur with some frequency, especially after rough tides and weather.



Left: Burning Cliff. | Middle: Small ammonite. Amoeboceras | Right: plesiosaurus vertebra


Enjoy your fossil hunt at Ringstead Bay. Remember not to dig or hammer into the cliffs and take your litter home with you.


About Guest Blogger - Steve Snowball

Steve Snowball spent a total of 35 years working in education; initially as a teacher, then as a headteacher and finally as an education advisor in West Sussex.  He retired to live on the Jurassic Coast of West Dorset, where he was able to pursue his keen interest in collecting fossils and spending time walking his dogs, enjoying landscape photography, oil painting and gardening. Steve is the author of ‘A Guide to Fossil Collecting in England & Wales’ and co-author of a series of four other highly-acclaimed guides to fossil collecting on the Dorset coast, all published by Siri Scientific Press.

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