The Iguanodon Footprints of Fairlight and Hastings

By Paul Draper

As you will all know these have been difficult and worrying times as we all try to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbours from Covid 19. It has meant the postponement and cancellation of so many carefully planned events. We, Fairlight History Group, had a full program of meetings for 2020 but we have had to put everything on hold until we can get back to something approaching normality. We will get there but not just yet.

On our calendar for 15th July we had scheduled a trip down the cliffs to the beach and a search for Iguanadon footprints and anything else of interest. There were too many problems to overcome with Covid 19 restrictions and that was before we considered the Health and Safety aspect for our members. Accordingly the organised trip, to be led by well-known local geologist, Ken Brooks, was postponed ufn.

However, three of us, Ken, Haydon Luke and I, decided to have a recce of the beach and the cliffs but using the much longer and safer route of Fairlight Glen. The weather was warm and overcast but the rain promised to hold off. We also knew that the tides were suitable for our trip on the afternoon of the 15th July, so we decided to go ahead.

We parked our cars near Place Farm, behind Fairlight Place and set off to commence the long descent of Fairlight Glen. (The region is all part of Hastings Country Park so Ken had notified Hastings of our plans). The glen is very green and lush and the descent past the old favourite visitor spot of the Dripping Well is very enjoyable. If you have seen the multitude of old postcards picturing the Dripping Well in the past, it was a short but scenic small waterfall but clearly it is no longer the same. Additionally, just around the corner from this was the other favourite with visitors, the Lovers’ Seat. This was a prominent flat rock that protruded from the cliff face, where people used to gather and look at the views out to sea. Sadly many years ago this was a victim of cliff erosion and now nothing remains. There is a whole story attached to the Lovers’ Seat and a whole postcard industry once existed around this location. There was even a chalet located nearby serving teas and all other refreshments. This has also long since gone.

After walking past a sign that said ‘Footpath closed’ and carefully negotiating the steps carved out of the clay, we clambered across some slippery stones placed to guide you and eventually we reached the beach. This last section is potentially hazardous so if you ever attempt it, approach with caution. We noticed a second sign painted on a piece of wood that said ‘Clothing Optional Beach Ahead’, but fortunately there were no takers on the day. Then we stepped on to the beach.

We headed east along the shingle, stopping to examine some of the rocks and look up at the cliffs. It is a fascinating scene, but walking on shingle is hard work. Although we only walked about a mile, it felt like ten. All along the beach there are rocks of all sizes, some as large as a small garden shed. Most are still located at the foot of the cliffs from which they have recently fallen, but some have moved out and into the sea. Also there are some wide areas of glacier-like slides consisting of clay, mud and smaller rocks lining the beach, creating a strange atmosphere. Eventually we passed a feature known as Lee Ness Ledge and then walked the last few hundred yards to the rocks previously known to have contained the footprints. During this last section we were watched by a seal who kept surfacing and calling to us.

Ken raced ahead to the first of these rocks and started his search. Storms and heavy seas continually move the rocks and cause further erosion and Ken could not find the footprint he had seen last time. However, after a few minutes there was the rock of all rocks! It is propped up at about sixty degrees with three perfect footprints facing out towards the sea. The specimen is the best Ken has seen in his long history of studying this area. It presented itself perfectly for photography, facing due south. As you can see from the attached it is undeniably a set of three footprints, with a much fainter possible fourth. They are all in a line and give a clear indication of the size of this creature. The two photographs show the location of the rock, relative to the cliff and the detail of the footprints. In the middle of the rock you can see a ten centimetre measure, with black and white squares at centimetre intervals. From this you can determine the size of each footprint.

Although the remains of many different species have been found in our general area, the Iguanadon is by far the largest and best known. They lived between about 150 and 90 million years ago in the Cretaceous period and, despite their upright appearance they were herbivores.

Sadly, these footprints only become exposed from time to time by the ongoing erosion of our cliffs. Rocks will continue to fall but we must emphasise just how potentially dangerous this environment can be. Most of the time, the cliffs look static and stable, but rocks can become detached at any time, so always be vigilant.

If you want to see these footprints with your own eyes, we can give you details of their approximate location. They are located on the boundary between Fairlight and Hastings, to the south of the last of the houses in Channel Way. However, with no visible reference points on the beach, this might vary by up to a hundred yards or two. Please contact us for further assistance.

We know that these amazing footprints have been seen by the residents of Fairlight for a long time, but they always wash away eventually and are lost to us. If you have photographs or stories you wish to share, kindly let us know.

We hope to re-organise our trip to see these again, so please keep in touch.

By Paul Draper (July 2020)

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