Derbyshire’s top fossil hunting hotspots where you could unearth treasures from over 10,000 years ago
Derbyshire and the Peak District may be land-locked but millions of years ago the area was largely covered with tropical ocean, making it a prime location for unearthing treasures from over 10,000 years ago.
Fossils are the preserved remains of plants and animals whose bodies were buried in sediments, such as sand and mud, under ancient seas, lakes and rivers.
They offer us a fascinating glimpse back into the past, with the earliest fossils providing our only knowledge of life on Earth in a time long before we ever set foot on the planet.
And, the fossils in the Peak District are no exception to that – with the areas limestone cliffs containing numerous remains of sea-creatures that lived millions of years ago.
West Quarry, near Matlock
This is a large quarry owned by the National Stone Centre, which exposes the Eyam Limestone Formation.
It can easily accessed by entering the National Stone Centre, which is marked on maps and can be found between Matlock and Wirksworth.
Visitors should note this site is an SSSI meaning you can visit but hammering the bedrock is not permitted.
The site is owned by the National Stone Centre which does not allow fossil specimens to be removed from the site, so collecting fossils is not allowed.
You can, however, take photographs and examine the fossils.
Marsh Brook, Ashover
This brook cuts through Carboniferous marine deposits and is rich in goniatites, bivalves and gastropods, but also many other types of fossils.
UK Fossils suggests taking Wellington boots and a pick or knife and says that, if taking samples back home for microfossil processing, you will also need sample bags.
"When you first enter the stream, you will need to walk towards the northwest (left). Continue until you reach the first small section of cliff. The best sections are just around the corner, so continue and you will see a much larger section of cliff,” the website reads.
There are no restrictions on entering the brook and much of the water is shallow, however care should be taken water as some parts can be deep, especially during winter.
Butts Quarry, near Ashover
In this large, disused quarry, not only can you see plenty of fossils, but the site is rich in the minerals, galena, fluorite and calcite, according to UK Fossils.
Described as an ‘extremely interesting location’ it is great for anyone with an interest in geological features, minerals and/or fossils.
The best fossils can be found in the south-eastern corner, in a much harder limestone.
Those visiting the site should enter at their own risk as there are some very steep and unstable faces.
Although there are no restrictions on entering, fossil collecting should be kept to a minimum as it is still private property.
Much of the area is owned by the National trust and is designated an site of special scientific interest (SSSI) which, again, means fossils can be looked at but not collected.
UK Fossils said: “Within the limestone outcrops are found parts of crinoid stem, brachiopods and corals. Trilobite pieces are rarely found. Small pieces of Blue John are also present within the soil and are revealed in areas where vegetation has been removed.”
The website offers a number of suggested walks which take in the scenery of Mar Tor and Treak Cliff.
Steeplehouse Quarry, Cromford
This is a large quarry is owned by the National Stone Centre.
Again, it exposes the Eyam Limestone Formation which is rich in crinoids and molluscs, and in the past the large blocks on the floor have been known to yield shark remains.
The UK Fossil website reads: “Fossils can be hard to see in the weathered rocks, and the slabs with fossils in must not be touched.”
Again note, this site is an SSSI so hammering the bedrock is not permitted.
Stone Edge Plantation, near Holymoorside
This area was extensively mined for coal and coal measures shale can be found around the workings in and around the plantation.
UK Fossil said that, although most of the spoil has broken down or crumbled away to nothing, there are “still some good-sized pieces of shale to be found, but you may have to use a pick or small spade to remove the weathered material.”
No restrictions are in place at the plantation as it is along a public footpath and accessible to all.
A public footpath in the village will take you to a small quarry that yields “small plant and stem remains from the Carboniferous Wingfield Flags Formation.”
It is a location better suited to those more interested in the geology or finding fossils from different geological formations.
Monsal Dale, near Little Longstone
The UK Fossil Network say carboniferous fossils can be found here, such as crinoid pieces in limestone and chert.
The website reads: “Fossils can be seen among the rocks scattered by the side of the path, which descends into the dale. There is also a large rock outcrop within the dale itself, which is packed with crinoid pieces.”
It is recommended to look among the loose rocks at the side of the path as you descend into the dale for fossils.
As this location is an SSSI, collecting is prohibited, but there are plenty of fossils to observe.
Parkhouse Hill, near Earl Sterndale
Described as a beautiful location, it offers stunning views across the Peak District countryside as well as with various types limestone reef fossils.
UK Fossils says there are plenty of loose rocks to investigate for fossils along with the outcrops of limestone in situ.
The website says: "The overlying softer rocks have been eroded away to reveal the limestone, but the hill remains largely unaffected by modern erosive forces. While standing on the summit, with a bit of imagination, you can almost see the coral islands around you in the shape of the surrounding hills.
This site in also an SSSI so fossils should be observed but not collected.