The coast between Bouldnor and Cranmore stretches along the
top-left corner of the Isle of Wight and is frequently visited by
those interested in the geology of the area; as a result over
collecting often occurs, which makes finding good specimens during
the summer months more of a challenge. The best time to visit is
following periods of stormy weather or during the winter, when the
foreshore has been disturbed and new fossils exposed. Visiting on a
low or retreating tide is recommended as the majority of finds are
made among the pebbles on the foreshore.
The following page is
based on the coast between Bouldnor and Cranmore (a future visit is
planned to examine the continuation of the coast towards Hamstead).
Access to the beach is made along Cranmore Avenue, at the top of
which a limited amount of parking space is available (see photo
below-left). Continue on foot along Sea View Road towards the coast
until you reach a large private residence (see photo below-right).
Alongside the seaward edge of the property is a public footpath
leading directly to the beach; please note, during or after periods
of wet weather the path becomes extremely muddy!
Left: Parking is
available on the grass along Cranmore Avenue. Right:
Access is made via a public footpath which runs alongside a large
One of the notable environmental processes at Bouldnor is the
rate of erosion, evident by the large number of trees and buildings
littering the foreshore or surrounded by water! This occurs
throughout the year and particularly during the winter, as the waves
batter the soft clay cliffs. Some of the marooned features include a
large building (see photo below-left), which in the spring of 2007
appeared to be approximately 80 meters off the high water mark!
retreating cliff has turned former buildings into islands!
Right: One of many trees that have collapsed as the cliff
has been eroded.
The geology of Bouldnor to Cranmore
B.Daley and P.Balson, British Tertiary Stratigraphy 1999,
describe the environment during this period as a sluggish fluvial /
estuary / lagoonal complex occasionally subject to marine
inundation. During this time a variety of mammals including
Entelodon (pig-like animal), Bothriodon and Brachyodus (grazers),
and Caenotherium (small and deer-like) grazed the land close to the
water; carnivores including Hyaenodon are also known to have hunted
The geology of Bouldnor
This stretch of coast is the only site with a more or less complete
succession of the Bouldnor Formation and the only place where the
Hamstead and Cranmore Members are exposed. Despite being heavily
overgrown and reliant on very low tides, this is one of the best
locations for evidence of sediments formed through periods of
change, notably freshwater and brackish (semi-salty) environments,
and low wave energy.
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Where to look for fossils?
From the beach access point (described) fossils can be found in
either direction. Moving westward along the beach, the volume of
finds steadily increases for around half a mile, before reducing
again (reflecting the reducing exposures of the Hamstead
Formation); very few fossils were found beyond the point indicated
in the photo below-left. In reality, this stretch of coast is
constantly changing, meaning a recently poor collecting area may
become productive soon after.
Left: Looking for
fossils within the clay exposed on the foreshore at Bouldnor.
Right: Searching for fossils among the pebbles on
the foreshore at Cranmore.
Fossils can be found in situ within the clay and within/among the
flint pebbles on the foreshore. Whilst collecting from the clay
provides the best opportunity to examine largely intact fossils, the
vast majority of finds are made among the pebbles, some of which
were of excellent quality (especially mammalian and reptilian).
Whilst searching among the pebbles it's also worth keeping an eye
out for flint fossils, these are much older (circa 85 million years
old) than the local fossils and were sourced from chalk and
transported to the area by glaciers during the last ice-age.
As with all coastal locations, a fossil hunting trip is best timed to coincide
with a falling or low-tide. For a relatively low one-off cost we
recommend the use of Neptune Tides software, which provides
future tidal information around the UK. To download a free trial
Alternatively a free short range forecast covering the next 7 days
is available on the BBC website
What fossils might you find?
The fossils range from very large sections of tree
trunks to tiny gastropods and can be found all year round, although
in varying volume depending of the prevailing conditions (as
outlined above). The following photos illustrate the range of
common finds, all of which were found during a single
four hour visit.
Left: A large section
of fossilised wood. Right: A squashed gastropod shell.
Left: A collection of
bivalves in situ on the foreshore. Right: A pyritised
Two pyritised gastropod shells.
Left: A concentration
of small pyritised gastropod shells. Right: A
Two large fragments of bone, possibly
Left: A lovely piece of
turtle carapace. Right: Section of jaw including teeth
The pebble foreshore also provides an opportunity to search for much
earlier fossils dating from the Cretaceous period, perhaps at much as 85
million years ago. These flint pebbles were most probably sourced from
neighbouring chalk bedrock and transported to the area by tidal currents
or former ice-sheets. Among these flint pebbles are a variety of marine
fossils, including echinoids and bivalve shells in particular (see
Seven Sisters for more information.
Left: A large flint
echinoid (Echinocorys). Right: A small,
partial echinoid (Echinocorys) within a flint pebble.
Left: A large flint
bivalve fragment. Right: A bivalve impression in a
Tools & equipment
Left: Being equipped
with the necessary tools and equipment is important. Right:
Sturdy footwear and a strong bag are essential fossil hunting
It's a good idea to spend some time considering the tools and
equipment you're likely to require while fossil hunting at
Bouldnor. Preparation in advance will help ensure your visit is
productive and safe. Below are some of the items you should consider
carrying with you. You can purchase a selection of geological tools
and equipment online from
Steel point: In some instances
it's not necessary to use a hammer and chisel to remove the matrix
surrounding the fossil. Sometimes all that's required is some
careful precision work using a steel point. This is particularly
relevant with crumbly matrix, where chiselling may otherwise shatter
a fragile fossil.
Hand lens: A hand lens enables the fossil hunter to enjoy the finer
details of the specimens they find. It's often remarkable how well preserved
some of the most intricate structures can be. We recommend
a lens with x10 magnification that folds away into a metal casing to protect
it from damage.
Strong bag: When considering the type of bag to use it's worth setting aside
one that will only be used for fossil hunting, rocks are usually
dusty or muddy and will
make a mess of anything they come in contact with. The bag will also
need to carry a range of accessories which need to
be easily accessible. Among the features recommended include: brightly coloured,
a strong holder construction, back
support, strong straps, plenty of easily accessible pockets and a rain cover.
Walking boots: A good pair of walking boots will
protect you from ankle sprains, provide more grip on
slippery surfaces and keep you dry in wet conditions. During your
fossil hunt you're likely to encounter a variety of terrains so
footwear needs to be designed for a range of conditions.
For more information and examples of tools and equipment
recommended for fossil hunting
or shop online at
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Protecting your finds
It's important to spend some time considering the best way to
protect your finds onsite, in transit, on display and in storage.
Prior to your visit, consider the equipment and accessories you're
likely to need, as these will differ depending on the type of rock,
terrain and prevailing weather conditions.
wrapped in foam, ready for transport. Right:
A small compartment box containing cotton wool is ideal for
separating delicate specimens.
When you discover a fossil, examine the surrounding matrix (rock)
and consider how best to remove the specimen without breaking it;
patience and consideration are key. The aim of extraction is to
remove the specimen with some of the matrix attached, as this will
provide added protection during transit and future handling;
sometimes breaks are unavoidable, but with care you should be able
to extract most specimens intact. In the event of breakage,
carefully gather all the pieces together, as in most cases repairs
can be made at a later time.
For more information about collecting fossils please refer to the
following online guides:
Fossil Hunting and
Conserving Prehistoric Evidence.
Join us on a fossil hunt
Left: A birthday party with
a twist - fossil hunting at
Right: A family hold their prized ammonite at Beachy Head.
Discovering Fossils guided fossil hunts reveal evidence of life that
existed millions of years ago. Whether it's your first time fossil
hunting or you're looking to expand your subject knowledge, our fossil
hunts provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all. To find