We spoke to Martin Curtis, who runs Jurassic Coast Guides, which specializes in fossil walks and walking tours along the Jurassic Coast. Martin is a qualified Mountain Leader and experienced fossil hunter with a lifelong love of the Dorset Coast.
MARTIN: The Jurassic Coast is such an amazing place to be. It offers calm, peace and tranquillity. It doesn’t matter where you are on this coastline, the sweeping vistas will take your breath away. You can build life lasting memories and I was very lucky to grow up here as a child. It’s these memories that have led to my love of the area and the career I have now.
I lived in Upton near Hamworthy until the age of 8, and spent the rest of my childhood living in Bere Regis. As a family we regularly visited all of Poole Harbour’s local beauty spots, but our favourite place was Kimmeridge. It was here where we would spend whole days rock pooling, fossil hunting and flying kites. Kimmeridge is a great place if you are into skimming stones on the water. The stones here are very flat and are perfect for the longest skims. As a 3-year-old, I remember standing at the water’s edge with my father and brother trying to see who could skim their stone the furthest. It was our favourite pass time to do there. Mum would always prepare the perfect picnic and we would often meet other family members and friends for the day.
There are many great views along the Jurassic Coast but for me it has to be the view from Golden Cap. Golden Cap is 191 m in height and is the highest viewpoint on the south coast of England. From its summit you can physically see two thirds of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. If you are only on the coast for one day, this is where you can see as much of the coast in one place. The view from the Olympic Rings at Portland is also a favourite. It is one of the only locations where you can see the Jurassic Coast from the other direction. That view never disappoints.
The Jurassic Coast would not look the way it does if it weren’t for the natural erosion. It is this process that creates the stunning geological features that I love here. Most of the geology along this coast was formed on a seabed floor millions of years ago. Constant cliff falls and landslide release fossilised creatures from the cliffs giving us an insight to what life was like all those years ago. This erosion has also exposed the geology from the whole of the Mesozoic era… Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks; this is the only place in the whole of the world where you can find all three in one location.
I have some big rocks that I know have good sized Ammonites inside, but I won’t get to see them until I prep and expose them. Last year, I found 5 teeth on a partial jaw of a fossilised shark. It isn’t very big but is a rare find. The soft cartilage from a shark doesn’t fossilise very well. Believe it or not the main fossil we do find from Shark is ‘Coprolite’ This is their fossilised poo. A couple of years ago I found a huge complete shark coprolite near Lyme Regis. It’s the biggest one I have in my collection!
My fascination with fossils begun as a three-year-old when we spent our time as a family fossil hunting at Kimmeridge, but it wasn’t until my first daughter was born that I really got back into hunting. I wanted to give my daughter the childhood that I was fortunate enough to have on the coast with my parents, so naturally wanted to take her to all my old haunts. We would set off in all weathers with a baby carrier on my back and walk along the beaches for fresh air and to get her to sleep… it was the perfect time for me to spend looking for fossils.
Since running my business on the Jurassic Coast this hunting has progressed to more of a professional level and has now become a big part of my life. I’m lucky to be able to run fossil walks as my job and this has now giving me even more time on the beach to hunt for fossils.
I’m very optimistic about the future of Jurassic Coast Guides. With the explosion of ‘staycation holidays’ people are now more aware of what the UK has to offer and are favouring outdoor experiences. And I get visitors book my walks from all over the world — recently I looked after a family from Texas who wanted a walking tour along the full length of the Jurassic Coast.
I feel fortunate that I was able to offer outdoor experiences within the Covid-19 guidelines during the summer months last year. Clients are much more conscious when it comes to safety and have been more grateful for added safety measures that I have in place. My social media platforms have been key to my survival over the summer. And this year I won two more Gold awards at the Dorset Tourism awards. This is crucial for me to attract business.