Every year, between Christmas and New Year, my friend Tom and I go on an adventure to the beach. I guess the beach isn’t a rule but it always has been the beach.
This year we went to Charmouth. If you watched Broadchurch, Broadchurch itself is everywhere from Bridport to Lyme Regis, so Charmouth is part of Broadchurch (not the part with the glowing gorgeous orange cliff; that’s West Bay). Tom wanted to find seaglass and I wanted to find fossils so Charmouth seemed to fit the bill.
First was lunch, though, and because it was the day after Boxing Day, everything was closed! The cafe at the Heritage Coast Centre was closed until January, the fish cafe in town was closed (although its takeaway opened for lunch), the pub down the hill was open but had no kitchen at lunchtime and eventually we found a disappointing steak sandwich in the pub up the hill. People flooded in while we were there and they rapidly ran out of bacon and steak and began telling newcomers in a more and more panicked tone “It’s crazy busy today!” “We haven’t got much food left” and – well, that’s because you’re the only place open.
Food done, we walked down to the beach. I’d checked the tide times because I’m not stupid – the beach vanishes altogether at high tide and we absolutely did not want to be washed away. Luckily high tide was about lunch time and low tide early evening which meant it would be consistently going out all the time we were there. But when we got down there, it was windier than we’d realised and the waves were quite violent. You know when you see gigantic waves crashing on the seafront during a storm? Like that but a fraction of the size. However, it’s not a very big beach and a large energetic wave can very easily run an alarmingly long way up.
Part of the reason Charmouth and Lyme Regis are so good for fossils is that they have loose cliffs which regularly collapse. I have a very healthy respect for cliffs. And when I say “respect”, what I mean is I have a terror of them. Barely a week goes by without another landslide/cliff collapse in the local papers and in summer, warnings from the coastguard to the people who think it’s a good idea to sit on the newly-fallen rock. So between the waves and the cliff… well, I had an eye on each which doesn’t leave many eyes to look at the rocks.
We didn’t find any seaglass. Or any proper fossils. I was hoping for a largish ammonite or trilobite but no such luck. Over at Lyme Regis, they’re fairly easy to find but not so much at Charmouth. However, they found an entire icthyosaur skeleton in a cliff collapse in 2000 or 2001, as did Mary Anning somewhere in the area. We did find some interesting fossils. I don’t know what they are – they look a bit like leaf skeletons painted onto rocks. We did find a lot of quartz. Tom came home with just about his body weight in quartz. My one piece of quartz looks a lot less quartzy now its dry.
When we’d finished rock hunting and survived the sea and the cliff, we sat down outside the little beach cafe for a cup of really-not-very-good coffee, a just-about-acceptable cheese sandwich and an unremarkable cup of hot chocolate while fending off hungry dogs. There are a lot of hungry dogs on the beach at Charmouth. And surfers – a good opportunity to try out my shiny new camera
We went in the fossil shop at the Heritage Coast Centre. It’s all very reasonably priced, so I came home with a perfect little ammonite found on Charmouth beach. I was tempted by the polished Madagascan ammonites but we weren’t on the beach in Madagascar. Local fossil for a local day out.
We finished with a drink in the pub with the closed kitchen. And we though that was that but it wasn’t.
The road was closed at Bridport and while rural Dorset has plenty of roads, lanes and tracks, finding an alternative route is not intuitive. So well done, Age of Smartphones. Mine was in my bag in the back but Tom had his handy. The battery was pretty low but naturally, while I didn’t have a car charger for my own phone, I did have one for his. We got back onto the closed main road by accident, we ran into gridlock twice trying to escape the closed main road (country lanes and tracks are not designed to handle that volume of traffic), we nearly ran out of fuel and we saw a lot of villages, hamlets, farms, fluddles, Christmas lights and generally had an adventure in the dark. My teeny-tiny car is beautifully designed for narrow twisting lanes – big Range Rovers may handle the mud and ditches better but because my Panda is tiny, it doesn’t need to go off the road in the first place. It should have taken an hour to get back to Tom’s and it took nearly three hours.
There should have been two more of us and a dog but Two Get Lost in Dorset is pretty much a Famous Five adventure, isn’t it?