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Trackside: The Jurassic Coast

Stories about people and places from across the South Western Railway network.

We are exploring the south coast between the pretty seaside town of Weymouth and Lyme Regis, 30 miles to the west.

This is an area known as the Jurassic Coast. If you ever walk along the coastline, you might just find a dinosaur… well, their remains at least.

Jurassic Coast

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This part of the UK is well-known for its fossils – that’s bits of old dinosaur from millions of years ago. This is the only place where rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods can all be seen together. As you walk along the coast, you’re walking among rocks and fossils from across 185 million years of Earth’s history.


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In the very early days of Weymouth’s history, there were two small settlements on either side of the river Wey, which eventually developed into the separate medieval ports of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.

In the Middle Ages, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were important ports for the export of wool and the importing of wine. In fact, as so much was imported through here, it’s thought that the Black Death plague entered the country through here in 1348.

It has been a popular seaside resort for many years. In the Georgian period, when medical science of the day declared sea bathing to be good for the health, Weymouth began its rise as a seaside resort.

Holidaymakers have been flocking here for the sandy beaches ever since King George III was a regular visitor, more than 200 years ago.

The king holidayed in Weymouth more than ten times between 1789 and 1805. The locals loved his patronage so much they erected a painted statue in 1810. It isn’t hard to see why he liked it… with the golden sandy beach and the sheltered, shallow waters that’s ideal for bathing.

Did you know, Weymouth enjoys more sunshine than anywhere else in England – even in winter?!

The Railway

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The arrival of the railway in 1857 helped bring holiday makers to Weymouth, and also goods for shipping from the harbour.  

Now, if you have a dog at home, you’ve probably had to take it for a walk. Well, imagine having to take a train for a walk!  An unusual feature of Weymouth’s railways was that until 1987 trains ran through the streets and along the Weymouth Harbour Tramway to the Quay to connect with the ferries. Trains were walked through by railway staff with flags, clearing the route of people and badly parked cars!

Weymouth played an important role in the Second World War. Many thousands of Allied troops departed for the beaches of Normandy from here as part of the D-Day operation, and it’s estimated that by the end of the war, more than half a million troops had passed through Weymouth.

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Around Weymouth

Bowleaze Cove

North east of Weymouth is Bowleaze Cove – a smaller sand and pebble beach that’s perfect for families with young children with many rock pools to explore.

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There’s the ruins of a Roman Temple above Furzy Cliff and from the beach there’s great views over the Jurassic coastline towards the Isle of Portland.

If you visit Portland make sure you check out the old light house which is now a museum.

Nothe Fort

When you’ve had enough of looking for signs of life – existing and prehistoric, Nothe Fort is a great historic hotspot to check out. It looks a lot like as it would have done years ago and you can go on a journey through the past to find out about its military history.

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Its museum showcases a vast collection of weaponry, uniforms and exhibits detailing the fort’s role in defending the nation.

The underground tunnels and chambers provide an immersive experience, and the fort’s elevated position offers breathtaking panoramic views.

Sandsfoot Castle

Another historic pick is Sandsfoot Castle. Also known as Weymouth Castle, this artillery fortress with its thick walls, gun platforms and moat was built around 1540 – a time of political tension when England faced the threat of invasion from European powers, particularly France and Spain.

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Despite its military purpose, Sandsfoot Castle saw very little action throughout its history.

It gradually fell into disrepair and was largely abandoned by the 18th century, with its stone used in local construction projects. 

Today, it’s a popular attraction and a serene place to explore. It offers a glimpse into the past and the chance to imagine what life might have been like for soldiers stationed there.

Lodmoor Country Park

If you like getting outdoors, there’s a wealth of green spaces to explore. Lodmoor Country Park is a nature reserve and park with opportunities for birdwatching and walking.

There’s also a miniature railway for kids to ride. 

Whilst back in town, Greenhill Gardens offer a peaceful place for families to enjoy a leisurely stroll or a picnic. There’s also a play area for children.

Jubilee Clock

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As well as the King’s statue, check out the Jubilee Clock – a gift from Sir Henry Edwards MP to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

Weymouth Town Bridge

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Don’t miss Weymouth Town Bridge which rises in a similar way to London’s Tower Bridge. 

It opens regularly each day to allow boats to enter Weymouth marina. It’s the sixth bridge that’s linked Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. 

This one was opened on 4th July 1930 at a grand ceremony by Duke of York who later became King George VI.

30 miles to the west of Weymouth is the historic seaside town of Lyme Regis, at the heart of the Jurassic Coast.

The town and its surrounding area are renowned for their natural beauty, and it has a fascinating history.

What you like

We caught up with some children to find out their favourite places to visit in and around Weymouth…

  • “We like Weymouth Sealife Centre – you can see sharks turtles and even stingrays.”
  • “Fantasy Island Fun Park is a really cool funfair with loads of rides and amusement arcades.”
  • “I love birds and so we went to Abbotsbury Swannery which was just a little drive from Weymouth, you can see literally hundreds of swans and feed them yourself.”

Between Weymouth and Lyme Regis

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Between Weymouth and Lyme Regis, there’s some amazing beaches to explore. One of the most famous is Chesil Beach. An 18 mile shingle barrier beach, it’s renowned for its natural beauty and historical significance.

It’s wild, rugged and at the mercy of Mother Nature. As the make-up of the shingle changes along the beach, it’s believed that smugglers landing at night could judge where they were simply by picking up a handful of shingle!

Fleet Lagoon

Behind Chesil Beach is a salty lake known as the Fleet Lagoon. It’s one of the last remaining brackish lagoons in the world and is an important natural wildlife habitat. It’s important to know that it’s not a safe beach to swim in, so be careful if you do visit.

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Lyme Regis

30 miles to the west of Weymouth is the historic seaside town of Lyme Regis, at the heart of the Jurassic Coast. The town and its surrounding area are renowned for their natural beauty, and it has a fascinating history.

The Cobb

Lyme Regis is also famous for The Cobb. It’s a very old wall. 

The Cobb dates back from the 13th century to protect the harbour from the sea. 

A walk along the Cobb is a must for anyone but be aware of its uneven surface – it’s 700 years old and can be slippery in wet weather – almost like walking the plank!

Jack Rattenbury

Jack Rattenbury was famous in Lyme Regis and across the county for writing about his 30 years of smuggling exploits. 

This is what Jack had to say, “Smugglers know all the secrets you know, so come a little closer and I’ll tell you more! Now, Lyme Regis hasn’t always been a quiet seaside resort. It was besieged by Royalist forces during the Civil War in 1644. In 1685 that Duke of Monmouth landed here in an attempt to take the Crown from his uncle, King James II. Of course, that rebellion failed at the Battle of Sedgemoor, with 23 rebels later hung and quartered on the beach here where he first stepped ashore.”

Christopher Wren

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It’s not just Kings and Queens who took an interest in this amazing area, it’s also been home to some famous people. 

Christopher Wren, the renowned architect who designed St Paul’s Cathedral and many other iconic London churches, was Weymouth’s MP in 1702. 

Wren also controlled nearby Portland’s quarries, so when he designed St Paul’s, he had it built out of the local Portland Stone.

Thomas Hardy

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Thomas Hardy was a famous author who is well know for his Dorset connections. He worked in Weymouth as an architect before becoming a well-known writer, writing part of his novel ‘Under the Greenwood’ here.

Find out more about Thomas Hardy in the upcoming Trackside podcast about Dorchester.

Mary Anning

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Mary Anning was an incredible person with a big connection to the Jurassic Coast. She was a trail blazing geologist whose remarkable contributions to the field of palaeontology changed the way we understand prehistoric life.

Her life was a testament to determination, curiosity and resilience as she overcame numerous challenges to make groundbreaking discoveries along the Jurassic Coast. 

She was born in Lyme Regis on 21st May 1799 and had quite a hard life – her family were working class and money wasn’t plentiful. 

Her father was a cabinet maker and he liked to look for fossils to sell to make a little extra money. When she was a child, she spent hours looking for fossils like ammonites, belemnites and vertebrae, often with she dog Trey.

She made my first significant discovery when just 12 years old. It was the skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus – that’s a prehistoric marine reptile. It was so remarkable that it captured the attention of the scientific community.

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It wasn’t her only groundbreaking discovery. She made many more, including the first complete Plesiosaurus skeleton and the first Pterosaur found in Britain. 

That one proved very helpful, giving us vital evidence for the theory of extinction. It also helped confirm the existence of creatures that had only previously been imagined. 

It was hard being working class and mixing with scientists – they were mostly from well to do families and being a woman, well… she might as well have not existed to them. 

They were like dinosaurs – stuck in the past! To make matters worse, her findings were often credited to more well-known male scientists. She struggled to gain the recognition and respect she deserved.

It was hard in many ways. She might have liked to study or even teach but as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to go to university or be admitted to the Geological Society of London.

But in time, her work was recognised by eminent geologists around the world and many famous names, including by her lifelong friend and geologist Henry De La Beche, who would come to her shop – ‘Anning’s Fossil Depot’ to purchase and discuss fossils.

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Tragically, Mary’s life was cut short at the age of 47. But her legacy lived on, inspiring generations of women in science and palaeontology. 

In 2010, she was acknowledged by the Royal Society as one of ten British women to have most influenced the history of science – finally recognising the game-changing role played by this remarkable Victorian lady fossil-hunter.

On a slightly more trivial theme, some think the tongue twister “She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore” might just have been written about Mary! 

If you want to find out more about Mary Anning and her discoveries, where better than the Lyme Regis Museum which is on the site of her home.

What you like

We caught up with some children to find out their favourite places to visit in and around Lyme Regis…

  • “Dinosaurland Fossil Museum in Lyme Regis is amazing, they’ve got thousands of exhibits and things to do.”
  • “We like walking out on to the Cobb, but you need to make sure you’ve got good shoes as it can be a bit steep and uneven.”
  • “I like collecting pebbles and rocks on Monmonth Beach, it’s nice for paddling too.”
  • “We like the Marina Aquarium in Lyme Regis, because we got to hold a starfish.”



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