One of the highlights during our holidays in Lyme Regis was participating in the Fossil hunt organised by the local museum. Like Lyme, Whitby is flanked by cliffs of shale, clay and mudstones which are full of fossils from the Jurassic period. As the cliffs crumble and large sections of them fall down onto the beach as landslips, fossils of creatures that died when Britain was part of a massive land mass and located nearer to the equator many millions of years ago start to be revealed and can be picked up on the beach – providing you know where to look and what to look for. So during our recent holiday we decided to sign up for a fossil walk run by Byron Blessed, a local palaeontologist who is also the owner of the Natural Wonders fossil shop in Grape Lane.
Although most of the participants were families with children, adults can still enjoy the trip and we were looking finding some specimens!
Byron doesn’t run his fossil hunts every day, but times them to give the maximum time on the beach between the tides. So you go out just after high tide so the water is receding, taking care to make sure the fossil hunters are safely off the beach before it comes back in. Fossil hunting can be dangerous and one of the main risks is being cut off on the beach by the tide.
We met outside Byron’s shop fairly early on Tuesday morning and set off up the 199 steps, past the Parish Church and the Abbey and along the cliffs until we reached the steps that took us down into Saltwick Bay, a small, sandy cove a mile east of Whitby.
We stopped at the edge of the beach while Byron gave us a safety briefing and then talked to us about fossiling and what to look for, including the ubiquitous ammonites, belemnites, “devil’s toenails” (a type of mollusc), other bivalves, fossilised bone etc.
Having inspected the beach, Byron told us that he wasn’t optimistic as the sea hadn’t washed in many pebbles, where we would be likely to find what we were looking for. So he decided to take us further round the coast, passing a ship wreck on the way.
We spent more than half an hour there, scrabbling around in the rocks and, as he promised, we started to pick up examples of ammonites and belemnites and other types of fossil. Our finds were mainly fragments, but we were surprised at how many we actually managed to pick up.
Afterwards we walked back along the beach, and stopped in a couple of places where Byron showed us fossilised dinosaur footprints! We wouldn’t have noticed then as we passed but they were quite clear when he pointed them out, explaining how they would have been formed and what type of creatures made them.
Unfortunately, although they were quite clear “in the flesh” they haven’t shown up on the photographs I took – there’s not enough contrast to see them on a flat image.
We carried on along the beach past another ship wreck and then stopped while Byron told us about Whitby Jet – a type f fossilised wood which is used to make jewellery and was very fashionable in Victorian times when the Queen herself favoured the jet black jewellery after the death of her husband. There are quite a few shops selling jewellery made from it today in Whitby. We spent a little time searching among the rotting sea weed but weren’t successful – although I think that other members of our party may have found something.
Then we walked along the beach back to Whitby and up the slipway by the east pier.
And this was the result of our labours
Not too bad a haul!