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Summer hikes: Fossil hunting and towering cliffs await you on England’s Jurassic Coast

Susan Cunningham hikes near Salcombe Regis, part of the 630-mile South West Coast Path in southern England on April 25, 2023.
Susan Cunningham hikes near Salcombe Regis, part of the 630-mile South West Coast Path in southern England on April 25, 2023. Copyright Steve Wartenberg via AP
Copyright Steve Wartenberg via AP
By Ruth Wright with APTN
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This 4-day hike is one of the best in Europe - and suited to walkers of any level.

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The Jurassic Coast in southern England is best known for its fossils, with the remains of some sea creatures and birds dating back 150 million years.

The coastline is best experienced on foot, with many tourists opting for the 4-day, 32 mile (51km) hike from Lyme Regis to Exmouth.

This is a manageable stretch of the much longer South West Coast Path and is suited to anyone with a moderate level of fitness.

Walkers will be immersed in forest for some of the way, with cliffs on your right and the English Channel on your left.

Here's what you can see and do along the way.

Steve Wartenberg via AP
People walk between the beach and cliffs leaving Sidmouth, along the South West Coast Path, in southern England on April 26, 2023.Steve Wartenberg via AP

Lyme Regis to Exmouth: What to expect on this stunning hike

You can expect to be walking along cliffs and rocky paths for most of the way, so sturdy hiking boots are essential.

You'll see pebble beaches below and at times you'll walk through forests or alongside vast fields and pastures.

Many of the towns you'll pass through or alongside end with “mouth.”

This is because the “mouth” is where the river empties into the sea, carving away, over millions of years, the stratifications and ravines you'll climb up and down. For instance, the River Sid runs through Sidmouth and the River Exe through Exmouth.

Steve Wartenberg via AP
Fossil hunters roam the beaches of Lyme Regis on April 23, 2023, in southern England.Steve Wartenberg via AP

Learn to become a fossil hunter

Lyme Regis was the home of Mary Anning (1799-1847), who helped create the science of paleontology.

Anning found the first complete plesiosaur (a long-necked marine reptile) and one of the first complete ichthyosaurs (a dolphin-like reptile). She also found hundreds of fossils of ammonites and belemnites (squid-like sea creatures).

According to the Lyme Regis Museum, until she and other pioneering paleontologists unearthed and studied their finds, many people believed fossils were “creatures that had been left out of Noah’s Ark, or the remains of animals that were still alive in distant parts of the world.”

The museum hosts fossil-hunting tours. Guides are experts in cracking open the appropriate rocks with their hammers and they'll be happy to teach you the art. You'll be finding your first ammonites and belemnites in no time.

Steve Wartenberg via AP
Lauren Finkle, left, and Bob Finkle walk through a field of rapeseed during a rainy day hike, just east of Exmouth, southern England on April 27, 2023.Steve Wartenberg via AP

The great British weather: What to pack for your hike

The British weather is notoriously unpredictable so it's best to have layers that you can take on or off depending on the temperature.

While you may get lucky and have four days of sunshine, it's more likely it'll rain at least once. So waterproof boots and a good rain jacket are essential.

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Don't forget sun cream and a hat and wear them even if it's cloudy.

Where to stay - and how to avoid carrying a big backpack

If you are on a budget, there are campsites dotted along the Jurassic Coast. It's best to book a space in advance during the busy summer months.

If you've got a bit more to spend, there are lots of bed and breakfasts which are used to hosting weary hikers. You can expect quintessential British hospitality, with hearty breakfasts and lots of tea.

Beware that tour companies often book up these rooms months ahead. So if you want a stress-free experience, look into companies that will book all your accommodation for you- and move your luggage from one hotel to the next.

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There are lots of companies that do this, some of the best known are Contours Hiking, Macs Adventures, Backroads and Inntravel.

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