The Fossil Forest...
“Fossil Forest” conjures in the imagination a picture of petrified trees standing and fallen in a woodland made of stone. This is not what you’ll find in the Fossil Forest East of Lulworth Cove, but don’t let that put you off.
This is definitely not a petrified woodland glade, but it is all that remains of a forest that stood on this site 145 million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth. And lets face it, there’s not many places you can go to see that!
Here, on the Eastern side of Lulworth Cove, layers of hard Portland Stone are overlaid by softer rocks. The soft rocks are more easily eroded by the sea and the weather, and this has exposed the remains of what was once the forest floor. At the time, this forest floor was swampy and algae thrived around the bases of standing trees and along the trunks of those that had fallen.
The algae produced odd looking lumps called thrombolites and it is the fossilised remains of these that have been preserved in the layer of Portland stone. They show the outline of where the base of the trees were and, when they have fallen over, show the outline of where the trunks lay.
Geologists and palaeontologists will love it but even for those who aren’t serious about their rocks and dinosaurs, there’s something to be gained from a chance to walk through the real Jurassic Park! At the very least, there’s a nice view from the top of the cliff on which the Fossil Forest is located and it also gives a purpose to a fairly gentle stroll from Lulworth Cove.
That said, if a visit to the Fossil Forest is a key factor in your visit to this part of Dorset, then you need to plan your trip. The Fossil Forest is not accessible to the public everyday.
Part of the Lulworth Range Walks, the Forest is only open to the public when the ranges are open. This means most weekends and the main school holidays - but not every weekend and not all of the holidays. So you need to check before you leave. The Lulworth Ranges are a “live firing” area, so no one is allowed in when the ranges are closed. And to be honest you’d be nuts to try!
Getting to the Fossil Forest when its open is a fairly straight forward process. You can park your vehicle at Lulworth Cove (fees apply) and then either walk around the cove along the beach to the Eastern shore and then follow the signs on the Range Walks or, if the tide is in or the sea is rough, you can walk up around the back of the cove and down to the ranges and the Fossil Forest below. This higher level route has great views, but involves lots and lots of steps, so don’t attempt it if you’ve got dodgy legs or a dodgy ticker!
So, in short, head for the Eastern side of the cove and then once in the Range Walks head towards the sea. There you will be able to look down on the Fossil Forest from the cliff top - thus getting a great view of a particular group of fossils that James May and Jeremy Clarkson would find particularly amusing, or you can choose to walk down a few flights of steps - travelling further through time as you do, from the present day to the Jurassic forest floor.
The terrain is not smooth and care is needed to make sure you don’t fall off one side into the sea and that things don’t fall on you from the loose rocks above you on the other.
For all other than the serious geologist, a visit to the Fossil Forest is not going to be anything other than a passing place of interest, either as part of a visit to Lulworth Cove or as part of a walk on the South West Coast Path to Mupe Bay, Tyneham and all places East or from Durdle Door and all places West.
It’s still a good place to see though, and educational for adults and kids alike.
Oh, and apart from a parking fee, it’s free to visit…nice!
This is definitely not a petrified woodland glade, but it is all that remains of a forest that stood on this site 145 million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth. And lets face it, there’s not many places you can go to see that!...."