Fossils and finds: three beaches on the Yorkshire coast

What I love most about a visit to the beach is that it begins with the big picture – the wide open view, the distant horizon, the sweep of a bay – and then drills down into the detail. Every shell and pebble a potential treasure, each tiny find worth examining.

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Last week we returned to North Yorkshire and visited three beaches.

Runswick Bay. First surveyed from above over cups of tea and sandwiches while overhead dark clouds gathered. We looked out at the cliffs, and down on the sand, the colours fading then disappearing altogether as the weather moved in.

Once down on the beach, the weather improved.

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Our first find was a piece of jet. Polished. Light. Warm. We found a piece of sea pottery to carry out a quick scratch test. Golden brown.

Further up the beach, where hob holes puncture the cliffs, the bay yielded fossils, sea glass, beach agates, and the eye-catching indigo of blast furnace slag. A piece of crystal looked like an orange segment when wet, but, as with so many beach finds, looked unremarkable when dry. Stones of all colours – reds, greens, and ambers – made us want to know more. What is their make-up; what are their names?

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At Sandsend the tide goes out to reveal banks of pebbles; structures running down the beach from sand to shoreline. As the afternoon wore on the sun became brighter, and in the golden hour the cliffs towards the south, and the arches of Whitby Abbey, were highlighted.

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This was the light for seeking what I wanted to find most of all – carnelians. They glowed in the afternoon sun.

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Ladybird books have a lot to answer for!

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Sea glass shines in the afternoon light too. But here I become choosy. For me, flat pieces of broken glass are just that – broken glass. They may have slightly rounded edges, or that sandpapered finish . . . but what I look for are mermaids’ tears. Pebble-shaped nuggets. Droplets. Sea jewels.

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At Saltburn-by-the-Sea, we found more banks of pebbles to wander over and muse upon; some mounds of large stones, others of medium, and then of small. The journey of the rocks, from pebble to sand, was evident all around us.

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In places the sand turned black, covered in tiny fragments of sea coal, which glittered in the light. Larger fragments that might have been jet proved not to be.

Fossilised Gryphs – sea-worn and tumbled – rested among the pebbles, smoothed and polished, unlike the rough ones that litter the fields here around the House.

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We found fragments of Ammonites and Belemnites too. And so many new pebbles to identify.

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