Wanson Mouth is located just to the south of Widemouth Bay. It is a privately owned beach, but with public access permitted and no restrictions on collecting fossils. It is also a quick and easy site to access, with some excellent Upper Carboniferous fossils to be found, such as goniatites, ostracods, molluscs and worm tubes.
♦ Take the southern coastal road through Widemouth Bay. At the southern end, you will see a couple of holiday parks with a hotel and pub just on the corner of a sharp bend.
♦ At this bend, turn off on the minor coastal road that continues heading southwards. The road will wind round, down and up a small valley. Parking is permitted along the right hand side of the road.
♦ There is a signpost indicating that this is a private beach, but access is permitted. Follow the footpath down through the valley, passing over a footbridge.
♦ It will reach a small bay with access to the foreshore. From here, fossils can be found in particular beds both north and south of the mouth of a small river (Wanson Water).
♦ Ref: 50.78031°N, 4.56078°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦ – Upper Carboniferous fossils can be found in specific horizons, which are not easy to find when the strata run vertically in places. They are all near to the mouth of the river.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦♦ – This beach is suitable for children. However, it becomes rocky to the northern and southern ends, and the beach is not as sandy as the popular tourist beaches at Widemouth. However, it is still suitable for all the family, but be aware that, unlike other beaches, there are no lifeguards or toilets
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – Wanson Mouth is fairly easy to get to, although there is limited parking for just a few cars along a narrow road. We recommend the use of GPS to find the specific fossil hotspots featured in this guide.
TYPE: – Fossils are found in specific beds within the cliff and foreshore. You need to follow this guide very carefully to locate these and we also recommended reading the GA Guide to Bude and Tintagel for a more detailed explanation of these sites.
Wanson Mouth contains Upper Carboniferous shales, sandstones and mudstones, which provide the best chance of finding fossils. The best fossil locality can be found about 150m to 200m to the north of Wanson Mouth (SS 1956 0127). This is at the northern end of the bay. Goniatites (Gastrioceras coronatum)are common here, found either as solid or flattened impressions in black mudstone, at the foot of the cliff. Other fossiliferous horizons in the sandstone yield sand-filled impressions of goniatites and within light buff coloured ironstone layers, better preserved goniatites are found. Please note this is a PRIVATE beach and hammering the bedrock is not permitted.
There are also some light coloured gritty sandstones, which contain ostracods, molluscs and worm tubes. You will probably need a good field lens to view these, as they are very small. They can be seen along the foreshore, just a bit further south of Wanson Mouth. Samples can also be collected for viewing under a microscope at home.
If you walk slightly further south, fragments of goniatites can be seen in the base of the sandstones. These are about 65 to 150m south of the stream at the base of the cliff, and they also outcrop 200m south of the stream on the foreshore.
Wanson Mouth is dominated by Carboniferous grey shales and sandstones from the Crackington Formation (~310 mya). The age is from Arnsbergian (Late Missisipian) to Langsettian (Early Pennsylvanian).
The rocks consist of mostly mudstones and shales, with thin layers of sandstones in between. Thin, inconsistent and vertical beds of black shale are clearly visible within the cliff, and this is where most of the more fragile, crushed fossils can be seen. Solid fossils, such as goniatites, are mostly found in the mudstones. Please note this is a PRIVATE beach and hammering the bedrock is not permitted.
At the northern and southern headlands of this bay, the sea always reaches the cliffs and it is easy to become cut off by the tide. However, since most fossils are found within the bay, it is possible to collect at any time. If collecting on an incoming tide, do not walk further than this bay. In addition, the foreshore can be very rocky at the headlands, with tall dangerous cliffs from which rocks do fall. Therefore, do not approach the base of these cliffs.
A hammer, chisel and safety glasses are recommended. Most of the rocks are easy to split, so a splitting hammer is the most useful type to take.
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 – Wanson Mouth