Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Burniston Bay & Port Mulgrave

During July 2008, Chris and I took a week’s holiday in the north east near Scarborough. Of course it would be remiss of us not to visit a fossil location or two while on the heritage coast, so I planned in a couple of trips. I’d read about Burniston Bay in a recent article describing an abundance of dinosaur footprints that were exposed during December 2007. The article made it very clear that such footprints do not survive long once exposed, either due to erosion or as a result of collection by the many fossil hunters in the area. But we decided to have a look anyway.

As the tides were not in our favour during that week, I determined that we would have to visit Burniston during the early part of the week and we went, in fact, on the second day of our holiday. We arrived at the bay at exactly high tide. The steps down to the bay are known as Crook Ness and, on looking down, there is a huge wave hewn rock platform that used to be covered in tracks. It is mostly worn away now but we saw a couple of indentations that looked as if they may once have been tracks.

We referred to the aforementioned article and, as the tide ebbed away, eagerly searched the immediate areas on both sides of the steps for tracks. I really liked the bay and it was pleasant place to be but, try as we might, no tracks were forthcoming. Every mark, every indentation became a possible footprint when, in fact, it most certainly wasn’t. We continued our search to no avail but, looking at the cliff, the sandstone layer which contains the tracks could be clearly identified, and it appeared very likely that there would be a further rock fall in the coming winter, thus exposing more tracks.

Eventually I came across what appeared to be a large tridactyl footprint on the foreshore very close to the cliff. This had become exposed probably due to sand and other debris being washed away by the sea. It appeared to be ornithischian in appearance, probably iguanodontid.

We left Burniston shortly afterwards and felt that if we were to revisit the bay, then it would have to be in the dead of Winter, preferably after a big storm or a scouring tide, when some freshly exposed tracks would be visible. But don’t let me put anyone off visiting at any time of the year – it really is a nice bay.

Later in the week we prepared for Port Mulgrave. The weather forecast wasn’t particularly encouraging but because of the tides it really was our best day to visit. We knew what to expect and weren’t to be disappointed. As we drove past Whitby the weather deteriorated and, on parking above Port Mulgrave, the rain came down heavier. We got out of the car, changed footwear and readied ourselves to go, but the rain continued to fall and we sat on the tailgate for a few minutes waiting for it to stop.

After a while I started to get itchy feet, mainly because low tide had been and gone and the sea was slowly coming in. Although we had a few good hours ahead of us, I felt we had to push on, especially with the descent that had to be tackled and the adverse conditions. We set off and very gingerly made our way down to the bay. I could see why this place is considered unsuitable for children and, to be honest, we did find it difficult as the wet conditions made the steps treacherous. After what seemed a long time we reached the shore, both grateful we had made it intact.

Right in front of us was a loose gathering of boats and lobster pots and also a few storage shacks. Fossil bearing strata was evident on both sides of us, but we headed north since, by reputation alone, this was the place to retrieve the best ammonite nodules. As we walked around the headland of the bay we came across a huge amount of rocks and boulders which were obviously the fossil bearing rocks. Getting there was a little harrowing since we were walking across wet Jurassic clay and, even with the proper footwear, it was difficult to keep upright!

We started to prospect. It was still raining but we carried on regardless. The rocks and boulders were a complete jumble, all different shapes and sizes but this meant there were lots of nooks and crannies to check out – my favourite sort of hunting, especially since many people appear not to have the patience to do it.

As usual it took me a few moments to get my eye in, but I soon found a cracking little ammonite, fully exposed and glistening wet. I showed it to Chris and was relieved that we appeared to be looking in a good spot. After a while the rain stopped and we started to dry out very quickly in the light breeze, so things were starting to look up.

For the next few hours we were engrossed in these rocks and started to recover some proper little nodules that obviously contained ammonites. Some were quite worn but careful preparation should still recover some good little specimens. Chris found what appeared to be the best nodule of the day. It certainly looked to contain a nice sized ammonite, which should be more or less intact since only a very small part had been exposed and worn away. Opening it will be a challenge but I’m hopeful it will make a nice display piece for home.

Slowly the tide started to come in and it was apparent that we would have to leave. We had amassed a good amount of nodules which was evident from the weight in my haversack, but, as usual, I was reticent to leave. I was having such a good time. We left at a somewhat slow pace continually looking as we returned to the steps, which by now, had dried out considerably. There were several different places still to look but we really did have to leave and we made our way to the top of the bay. The ascent was a lot easier without the rain but it was still a fair climb. We got back to the car and made ready to leave. We were both very hungry and fish and chips in Whitby were calling!

Port Mulgrave is reputed to be one of the top fossil locations in the UK and I was delighted to find it totally fulfilled my expectations, bearing in mind that we had covered just one small area. There are further spots heading north, and at the centre of the bay and on the south side, all highly fossiliferous. Without doubt we will return to this prime location the next time we are in the area. Burniston Bay and Port Mulgrave – both highly recommended.


Anonymous said...

Thankyou for sharing your story. I found it very interesting. I would love to visit that beach, but being a bit arthritic, I have a bit of difficulty climbing etc. Is it easy to access the beach, or is there steep hills to negotiate? Please let me know if you will.
Bernice (Field)a 72 year old who wont become chair-bound

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