Whitby Fossils, How And Where To Find Whitby Fossils

There are plenty of fossils to be found around the coast of Whitby. Affectionately known as the Dinosaur Coast, you can find a variety of Whitby fossils around the surrounding coastline.

The North Yorkshire seaside is often called the Dinosaur Coast. This unlikely moniker is given for the vast hordes of fossil finds along this stretch of the North Sea coastline.

A visit to the many excellent beaches either side of Whitby will yield a find of unique and historic interest – Whitby fossils are a popular souvenir is this part of the world. 

Far from the madding crowd

Away from the bustling of the town centre, there are several free activities which you can enjoy during your visit to the Yorkshire coast. One of my favourites is searching for Whitby fossils.

The beaches to the north and south of Whitby yield prehistoric finds of many varieties.  Ammonites, reptile remains and shells are easy to stumble upon whilst out walking.

And, of course, Whitby is famous for jet which is similarly easy to find if you know where to look. There are several places along the Whitby coast where you can find Whitby fossils – it's simply a case of local knowledge and a little bit of luck. 

Image credit Ceri Oakes / Whitby Museum

Teleosaurus Chapmani

Whitby Museum is home to a colossal collection of fossil finds. It was the discovery of the iconic and famous Teleosuarus chapmani that sparked the creation of the Whitby Museum itself.

In the late 18th Century fossils of huge importance and stature were discovered by amateurs, mostly alum quarrymen, along the coast of North Yorkshire. These items were sold off to collectors the length and breadth of Great Britain. 

In 1823 the Whitby Philosophical and Literary Society was formed at the behest of Rev. George Young,  in order to create a permanent gallery to preserve the finds made in and around the Whitby area. 

The discovery of a giant marine reptile was first recorded in a publication called The Gentleman's Magazine. The quote reads:

“Skeleton of an Allegator found in the Allom Rock near Whitby, January 3, 1758”
-The Gentleman's Magazine, 1759

Teleosaurus chapmani was found and excavated by a local carpenter and fossil collector by the name of Brown Marshall. The gigantic skeleton was purchased by the museum for £7 in 1824.  

Whitby Museum is the best place to go to see the many ‘treasures’ found locally over the years. Its geology collection is quite stunning and is a match for anything in the UK.

The marine reptiles are especially impressive.  Your eyes will immediately be drawn to something looking much like a crocodile that hangs on the wall.

Whitby Fossils

Whitby fossils

When you visit Whitby, you will see history in its streets. Whitby Abbey has stood proudly atop the cliff on the east side for centuries, while there is much to enjoy in the museums of Whitby relating to the past and the sea.

However, Whitby offers something much older as well; fossils. If you enjoy roaming and have the patience, there are places you can find Whitby fossils for yourself.

The immediate coastline remains home to ammonites, reptile remains and shells that date back more than 185 million years, such is the history available to us in the British Isles.

Whitby Jet can be found in many places along the beaches and the at the base of headlands such as those found at Saltwick Bay. 

If you go in search of fossils as a family, take care that the kids don’t venture into places where the rock might crumble. The cliffs are loose and often fall away unexpectedly.

The best time to go looking is at low tide to see the debris that the sea has deposited. If the winds have been blowing and the sea is rough, there is a good chance of a find.

Make sure you keep an eye on the tide. The sea comes in mighty quickly and people have been known to get cut off by the advancing tide with no means of getting away.

Image credit: Whitby Museum

St Hilda, the snake killer

There is a folklore tale that says the famous St Hilda ridded the town of a plague of snakes and that that is where the fossilised remains we see today come from.

The story goes that Hilda turned a field full of snakes to stone and that these stone coils rolled off the cliff into the sea.  

It at first appears a far fetched tale until you see such a fossil as the one above. But then, this is Whitby and a good pinch of salt is required where any local story is concerned. 

Spinning yarns is a team sport here in Whitby, the longer the yarn and more unbelievable the better. That said, like all tall stories, there is always a grain of truth somewhere.

In this case, enterprising fossil collectors of the 19th century keen to cash in on the St Hilda tale used to carve heads onto ammonites, therefore, adding credibility to the snake killing myth and making a quick shilling in the bargain. 

A prime cliffside location for finding Whitby fossils

Where can you find fossils in and around Whitby

Whitby is surrounded by beaches, to the north and south. You will enjoy each of them, and there is a chance that you can find fossils during your time there. One of the region’s nicknames is the ‘’Dinosaur Coast’’ and palaeontologists and those interested in fossils in general head here from far and wide.

  • Staithes was Captain Cook’s home but it is also the northern end of the ‘’Dinosaur Coast.’’ There are organised tours centring on Staithes although you are more than welcome to search independently. Kids will be impressed if they find ‘’fools’ gold’’ which comes in small pieces; iron pyrite.
  • Port Mulgrave a little to the south and you must take care if you head down to the beach in search of fossils so it is not a place for kids. There are ammonites and reptile remains regularly found by those who do get down to the beach.
  • Runswick Bay is the next place heading south to Whitby, a beach of sand and rock with plenty of rockpools to explore. Ammonites are regularly found here when you search among the tidal debris and the rocks.
  • Kettleness Bay is to the west of Runswick Bay, a fairly remote cove whose appeal is largely fossils. It is not suitable for children because access is difficult. Ammonites and other fossils are regularly found on the foreshore and on the shale cliff face. Whitby Jet is also found here.
  • Sandsend Ness is another favourite with fossil collectors. The shale banks are filled with belemnites close to the surface. Sandsend Beach itself to the south is family-friendly but not so productive for fossils.
  • Upgang Whitby Beach, Whitby Sands and Tate Hill Beach are the closest to the town but known more for families to enjoy the sands rather than for fossils.
  • Saltwick Bay is south of Whitby and at times access can be fairly difficult due to the erosion of the steps on the path. It is not a place for swimmers but fossil hunters may well find both ammonites and belemnites. Whitby Jet is also found amongst the rocks and shale.
Ammonites Fossil; Whitby Fossils
Ammonites Fossil; Whitby Fossils

What type of fossils might you find?

Several different fossils can be found along this stretch of coastline:

  • Ammonites are now extinct marine animals. Their appearance is shell-like and they may be as much as 140 million years old. Certainly, it is thought they became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.
  • Belemnites were squid-like in appearance and are dated 135 million years ago. They get the nickname, ‘’bullet stone’’ because of their appearance.
  • Dinosaur/Reptiles Remains are most likely to be found just above the level of the beach in the cliff faces.
  • Shells
  • Jet is compressed wood from the Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle tree. This organic gemstone is thought to be about 180 million years old and is commonly used to make jewellery.
Ammocliff; Whitby Fossils
Ammocliff; Whitby Fossils

Essential fossil collecting kit

Fossils are regularly found on the foreshore among the debris left by the tides. You can expect to find more after rough weather, so in fact, wintertime is popular with fossil hunters.

Ammonites are regularly found trapped under rocks so it is a fruitful exercise searching amongst the rocks and in the pools. Otherwise, fossils can be found among the shales and also at the cliff face where the rock is fairly loose.

Clothing

Depending on the time of year you may wish to wear waterproof clothing of some kind. The swell can soak the feet and the wind can freeze the bones.

A sturdy pair of walking boots or even better, Wellington boots are recommended for Whitby fossil finding expeditions. 

A reliable waterproof and a warm pair of gloves are highly advised. The weather changes quickly on the coast and there's nothing worse than catching a cold on your fossil hunting adventure.  

For more advanced enthusiasts we suggest taking a rucksack or backpack of some kind. This will help to store and take away all the amazing things that you find. 

Spare socks are a Whitby fossil finding essential. 

Hunting for Whitby fossils at Upgang beach

Tools

A small hammer may be helpful on the cliffs. Usually, a quick tap on a lump of rock reveals an imprint of a shell or belemnite.

The shape of a creature that lived millions of years ago hidden inside the stone. 

Something long and pointy like a screwdriver or a small pry bar is handy when rummaging around for fossils. A pry bar means that you can prize the rocks apart and chip away at stuck objects. 

We never leave home on a Whitby fossil ferreting mission without a flask of hot sweet tea. You can thank us later when you've returned home with your stash of shells and rocks.

Recording equipment

We find that a notebook and pencil is useful when recording the fossil finds, as is a camera for capturing the original and recording the process. 

Buy a ready-made fossil hunting kit

If you're serious about finding Whitby fossils you need to be prepared. There are several kits available on Amazon which include all the tools you need to find fossils along the North Yorkshire Coastline. We have listed some of the best below. 

Whitby Jet; Whitby Fossils
Whitby Jet; Whitby Fossils

Most of the fossils can be found on the foreshore at Whitby, especially after storms or scouring conditions within nodules or loose within the areas of shingle and shale, but fossils are also commonly found in the cliff on the scree slopes either in nodules or loose.

Whitby Ammonite Soaps
Whitby Ammonite Soaps

Ammonite inspiration

Whitby fossils have become the inspiration for a local creative endeavour. Ruth Denison of Mount House has turned to the beauty of the ammonites found on the beach as inspiration for her range of artisan soaps. 

Handmade Whitby ammonite soaps take the design of several large fossil finds and turn them into delightfully stylish soaps for the home. 

Learn more about these handmade Whitby ammonite soaps here, you can buy your very own ammonite soap in our online shop

*Very important*

Common sense when collecting at all locations should be taken and knowledge of tide times should always be noted. It is very easy to get cut off at Whitby, the sea always hits the cliff. You should ensure you return before the tide turns. Also be aware of sticky areas at Whitby, on the slippages as it is easy to get stuck especially after rain.

Whitby Fossils
Whitby Fossils

2 thoughts on “Whitby Fossils, How And Where To Find Whitby Fossils”

  1. It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you that there is a shop in Berwick-upon-Tweed called Vintage upon Tweed, where Whitby ammonite pebbles are for sale. I believe it is wrong (possibly illegal) to take these pebbles from Whitby beach and I would like to know that the gentleman who is trading them is stopped from doing this.

    Reply
    • Hello David,

      I’m not affiliated with this website or its authors in any way, however I was just reading this article when I spotted your comment at the bottom.

      Don’t worry about the shop selling ammonite pebbles!

      I’m know the areas around Whitby fairly well and I’d like to reassure you that ammonite pebbles are commonly traded in Whitby itself, as well as elsewhere. People have been collecting ammonite fossils, jet, and other materials from the surrounding beaches and also regularly trading them in the Whitby area for hundreds of years. There are many local shops throughout the town selling ammonites to tourists, and some shops even specialize in selling rarer fossils to collectors. The speed of coastal erosion of the shales and mudstones containing these fossils is incredibly fast and so the pebbles are constantly replenished and the fossils do not run out!

      It does take a keen eye and a lot of patience to find fossils amongst the scattered debris below the cliffs. Often the ones for sale in shops are surplus commonly found fossils which have been found by collectors while looking for rarer ammonite species for their collections. As found they are virtually worthless and often quite a lot of labour also goes into preparing them for display before they can be sold. The people trading these normally don’t make huge sums of money out of it! The price of the fossils being sold in shops generally reflects the the amount of labour that has been put into sourcing the fossils and preparing the final product as well as the costs of keeping them on display for people to buy them.

      That said, there are some things which it is generally not okay to do when collecting, and which could get you into trouble. I’d like to point some of these out for the benefit of anybody else reading:

      Hammering at the cliff faces as this article suggests is not only very foolhardly as it can be incredibly dangerous, but it also risks damaging important scientific discoveries if not carried out with the right level of care and unless detailed records are kept. While it may be tolerated in some places, this kind of activity is not generally suitable for the public to carry out and is best left to experts and people who know what they are doing! Many fossils are quite common, and these are best picked up off the beach anyway as it is both safer and easier. Records of where you found these should still be kept, particularly if they are unusual. However, if you do happen to find an important fossil exposed in the cliff face and you are not an expert, rather than trying to extract it yourself, you should take a photograph and report it to a museum as soon as possible.

      Also, care should always be taken to avoid damaging or disturbing wildlife, whether you are fossil collecting or simply out for a walk with your dog!

      If you adhere to these guidelines, and other relevant fossil collecting guidelines which you can find elsewhere online or in books and leaflets, then you won’t get into any trouble in the Whitby area. If you don’t, then you *could* be damaging the scientific value of the exposures. Even if you don’t bring down the cliff on top of you by hammering at it, you are still at risk of litigation against you, particularly if you are found to have damaged the scientific interest, as most of the exposures are protected under SSSI laws which are designed to prevent reckless or large scale damage to these areas. Wildlife is also protected in many areas by SSSI status, and often has other legal protections as well.

      Also, please be aware that every area is different, and my comments are made specifically about the areas surrounding Whitby, where fossil collecting activities are generally allowed and even some contraversial activities are widely tolerated. Your local area may not be the same, and you should research any area before collecting from it, even if it falls under similar legislation. Often, there may be different local guidelines that should be followed or special permission that should be obtained first, and collecting is not allowed at all in some areas which are especially sensitive, for better or for worse!

      Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not a lawyer. My comments above do not constitute legal advice and shall not be used as such.

      -Tom

      Reply

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