One fine morning earlier this month I found myself on the slipway at Robin Hood’s Bay. I was there to help Will Watts of Hidden Horizons with a large school trip. Will was to take one half of the group of rockpooling for an hour, while I led a fossil hunting session, then we’d swap. So there we were at 9:30 am, marveling at the warm weather and the serene tranquility of the bay at low tide. There was hardly a better place to be in all the world.
Suddenly the calm of the bay was broken by the arrival of our party of 50 revved up 10-year-olds, all desperate to find something exciting on the beach. After a brief intro we headed south along the scar. On every fossil walk this is the most anxious and exciting bit because each walk is different. Every day the tide comes in twice and pushes the rocks and pebbles around. Occasionally it does more than that – it shifts vast quantities of sand and rock, burying some areas of the beach and exposing others; it washes debris onto the scar, rips lumps out of the cliffs and scours the beach. Going to the coast after a big storm is like entering a house after a teenage party – stuff lying everywhere with the guilty party sleeping gently just nearby.
So this could be the trip where all the fossils are buried under sand, where all the pebbles have gone, where the scar is just blank rock. Fortunately it never happens like that. Sometimes you see oodles of fossils straightaway, often it takes a few minutes for everyone to get their eye in. But then, almost miraculously, the fossils start to appear – crinoids and bivalves most commonly, then come the corals and the ammonites, the gastropods and the belemnites.
And every trip I tell myself not to worry, there will be fossils, and there always are. But a bit of nervous anticipation adds to the thrill of discovery – don’t you think?