Embrace the grey fear

A photograph of a solitary early Jurassic fossil oyster, Gryphaea arcuata.

Wild winter walks on the north-east coast of England? Absolutely!

I parked at the western end of Redcar beach. Majuba, it was windy! Coatham’s sand dunes were frantically migrating south. The offshore wind turbines looked certain to take off. Those small-dog-walkers who’d foolishly unleashed their hounds watched them saltate off to Saltburn.

Redcar beach by Majuba Road, looking north, January 2023.

The sun was shining, though, and perhaps all this aeolian erosion would be good for fossil-finding?

Not to begin with. The beach was pebbly by the car park, but most clasts were so sand-plastered and sand-blasted it was hard to see much. Once examined, many turned out to be industrial anyway.

Propelled by wind power, I marched east, admiring ripples and dunes, and thinking this would be a great place to teach aeolian sedimentology, if I still did such things.

Aeolian processes on Redcar beach, January 2023.

I reached the Beacon, wondering whether the wind was responsible for its spiralized appearance, and found a fossil forest in the foreshore. I am not the first person to notice this, and it wasn’t as well-exposed as in 2018, but walking on 6,500 year-old, tree-stumped peat will never lose its charm.

Two trunks from an antique land.

Walking on 200 million year-old Jurassic seafloors won’t ever lose its charm either, and shortly after passing the lifeboat slipway I was able to do that too. One of the things I love about Redcar Rocks is just how remarkably, ridiculously shelly the storm beds are. Devilishly shelly, really: such quantities of Gryphaea arcuata as to defy calculation.

Picking through the stones at the foot of the sea wall, every other pebble seemed to be a Jurassic oyster. In under a minute I had a cache of more than a dozen devils. I love running fossil hunts at Filey, Cayton, Ravenscar and Runswick, but you often have to search the shingle quite carefully to find decent fossils. Here it was almost too easy. OK, it might not appeal to specialists who think they’ve seen enough gryphaeids, but as an accessible, sandy beach for introductory fossil-finding, Redcar can be beaten. And anyway, no-one should ever get tired of spotting a beautifully preserved icon of evolution, no matter how many they’ve previously found.

Redcar Rocks at low tide, January 2023.

With a lucky few added to ammonites, ironstones, erratics and anthropogenics, I’d soon built up a decent geological handling collection for the education team at Kirkleatham Museum. These will be used with local primary schools, and it will be wonderful if we can then get the children to become creative curators of their own collections.

It will also be wonderful if we can make more people who wander Redcar seafront aware of the time-travelling they can do just a few yards away. I popped into the Redcar Palace and had a lovely chat with the Tees Valley Arts team there: James, Beth, and Aphra. All being well, we’ll be able to offer some ‘Palace Palaeontology’ over the coming months, taking people out onto the rocks to learn about the fossils, then bringing inspiration back to the Palace.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, as I walked back to the car, I realised people could p-p-p-pick up some Palaeozoic pavement palaeontology as they strolled along the esplanade.

The paving slabs of Redcar seafront are muddy Belgian limestones, packed full of fossils, such as these productid brachiopods. The penguins are incidental.

So cast aside your doubts, wherever you are. Get out for a windy, wintry walk, and sand-blast the grey fear away. It’ll do you a Jurassic world of good!

Earth scientist in York, fossilist across Yorkshire. Co-director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering, facebooking, and instagramming as @fossiliam.


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