Watchet is rich in reptile remains and ammonites are also common. There are some spectacular faults that can be seen and fossil casts of giant ammonites on the foreshore. This is a must-visit location for anyone in the area in to fossils.
♦ There is a car park near the small museum in the centre of Watchet, next to the harbour. The museum contains examples of locally found fossils (including an ichthyosaur skeleton) and books illustrating the fossils and strata of the area.
♦ Take the narrow footpath running alongside the steam rail line (with the sea on your left hand side) and follow it up onto the cliff top. After a pleasant walk (about ¼ mile) you reach a long staircase onto the beach (with a good handrail).
♦ Once on the beach, head generally away from the lighthouse The rocks around the lighthouse are all Triassic and unfossiliferious.
♦ Alternativly you can drive out of Watchet to the West on the B3191. Follow this road up and around the steep hill and then down again and on a fairly straight part of the road, you will see a camp site to the Right. Go through the car park to the bottom of the hill, park here and walk down the slope, walking West once on the beach.♦ Ref: 51.18281°N, 3.35444°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦♦ – Watchet is very productive but the best time to collect is during scouring conditions along the foreshore. Many Reptile Remains can be collected just west of Warren Bay.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦♦♦ – Watchet is suitable for family trips and is suitable for young children, fossils on the foreshore.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – Access to the beach at Watchet is mostly by parking in the town itself and walking from Watchet Harbour along the beach. However if you want a more direct route, head for ‘Warren Bay Campsite’, just outside Watchet and park here, follow the footpath direct to Warren Bay.
TYPE: – Watchet is a foreshore and cliff location, so fossils can be found in both. The vast majority of fossils are found in rocks on the foreshore, or exposed during scouring tides.
Watchet is a good location for collecting bones from Plesiosaurus and Ichthyosaurus, though fresh cliff falls are often required. The bone above was found in a bolder on the beach foreshore.
Bivalves, including scallop shells, oysters and gryphaea are also common at Watchet. Crinoid slabs are also common around Warren Bay. Many Ammonites can be found, though they are mainly broken unless you are luck enough to arrive after a fresh cliff fall. Ammonites can be found scattered amongst the foreshore, usually they are mostly just fragments, but occasionally, you will get an Ammonite is a small nodule, or if lucky a complete Ammonite which has fallen out of its nodule. The second prime location for where the Ammonites are found is at the location from where most of the bones are found, past the major fault which has been undercut by the sea where the lias start again. Ammonites are also often found within the fine shingle heading towards Blue Anchor. The rock (shale) in the bottom layer is extremely soft, wet and fractures into fine sheets when stressed. In some areas this shale contains imprint Ammonites (up to a foot in diameter). A number of small whole and sections of larger pearlised Ammonites can also be found from this layer scattered around the rock platforms.
Rocks from the Triassic Blue Anchor bone bed, can also be found which contains fish, reptile and shark remains. There are two main locations were bones can be found, though generally they can be found anywhere on the foreshore. The first is from the foreshore where entrance to the camping site is, stretching West until you reach the red Triassic beds. The second is when you reach the massive fault in which the sea always hits (noted by algae and overhands), past this point the lias begin again just before Blue Anchor, this is the main location from where the bones are being found, its in the top part of the cliff and the bones often fall and can be picked up from along the foreshore. Between Warren Bay and Blue Anchor, there is a large Triassic rock in the middle of the foreshore, if you search along the foreshore around this area, Crinoid slabs can be found. The yellowish limestone blocks surrounding the staircase originate from the cliff and are rich in a variety of bivalves, including scallop shells, oysters and gryphaea. The rock is quite hard but if you search the foreshore around the blocks you can find well preserved shells, especially oysters and gryphaea buried in the sand.
Rock platforms extend along most of the foreshore. At certain times of the year they become buried in sand and /or mud deposits and can be difficult to access.
At very low tides searching the mud at the ocean edge can yield some excellently preserved specimens. Local reports have included instances of finding whole crinoids (although these do not appear to feature in the finds from rocks further up the foreshore)
Many Ammonites can be found, though they are mainly broken unless you are luck enough to arrive after a fresh cliff fall. Ammonites can be found scattered amongst the foreshore, usually they are mostly just fragments, but occasionally, you will get an Ammonite is a small nodule, or if lucky a complete Ammonite which has fallen out of its nodule. The second prime location for where the Ammonites are found is at the location from where most of the bones are found, past the major fault which has been undercut by the sea where the lias start again. Ammonites are also often found within the fine shingle heading towards Blue Anchor. In many places the rock platforms contain two quite distinct rock layers: Whilst it is difficult to extract fossils from this very soft shale due to its texture, a few white ammonites were extracted using a chisel to split off sheets of rock. (Fossils need to be placed into a protective container. As specimens dry they tend to split from the surrounding rock and crumble. Slowing the drying process by keeping the fossils wrapped in plastic with small air holes for several weeks seems to work well.)
The rock shown in the top layer (photograph – bedding structure) lacks fine bedding planes and is much easier to handle. In some areas it contains white or imprint ammonites.
Watchet is very interesting for geology, there are many major faults at Watchet which can be seen in these two photos.
The cliffs, west of Watchet are of the Keuper Marl beds of the Triassic. To the East, the beds fault, and the Lower Lias are now present. Well over 500ft of beds extending up to the semicostatum zone. About 40ft of limestone’s and shale’s with psiloceras planorbis are succeeded by a thick sequence of shale’s with a few thin limestone’s.
As you continue walking West, major faulting changes the formation back to Triassic.
Common sense when collecting at all locations should be taken and knowledge of tide times should always be noted. You can easily be cut off by the tide as the sea always reaches parts of the cliff, especially if walking via Watchet harbour or Blue anchor, the tide comes very high at these two locations.
The foreshore at Watchet is subject to periodic thick mud deposits, which submerge much of the rock platforms and render the foreshore quite dangerous to walk on. Warning signs are posted when relevant at the top of the cliff path.
Watchet is a bit of an unpredictable location, sometimes you can come away with nothing and other times buckets full. Much depends on beach conditions, but always take the right tools or one day you’ll get caught out!
This site is an SSSI. This means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted. For full information about the reasons for the status of the site and restrictions please download the PDF from Natural England – SSSI Information