At the south end of Spittal beach steeply tipped rock strata tell of ancient upheavals while piles of fallen rock recall last winter’s storms.  Walking’s not easy on the unsteady litter of broken stone and the newly fallen pieces don’t have the immediate attraction of the beautifully waterworn ridges further along the beach.


rocks Spittal beach


To a trained eye this place has a beauty and fascination of its own.  ‘Wonderful Lower Carboniferous fossils over there’ commented the geologist we met on the beach. That casual opening gambit tested our interest and an enthusiastic response led to an impromptu guided tour.  Geologists need good imagination to jump from a heap of shattered rock on a windy Northumberland beach to the steamy swamps of the Lower Carboniferous era.


Carboniferous forest. Artwork of a flooded forest containing primitive plant species that existed during the Carboniferous period (360 to 286 million years ago). These included Lepidodendron, an ancient lycopod also known as a scale tree. The Carboniferous forests gave rise to the coal deposits that fuel industry today.


‘Like Louisiana’ explained our guide, ‘except the trees were giant ferns and horsetails’.



Once you get your eye in, this part of Spittal beach is littered with fossils.  I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for the fossil worm tracks.


fossil coral lower carboniferous Spittal beach


The fossil coral is distinctive but, to the untrained eye, looks pretty much like spotty rock.



The imprints, roots and fossil stems of ancient plants are different.  It doesn’t take such a leap of the imagination to see this Lepidodendron stem lying in a long ago swamp where giant dragonflies flit between the trees.



On the other hand, the ‘long ago’ bit is a serious imaginative leap.  These ‘scale trees’ (which were actually a giant relative of club moss) were growing between 300 and 350 million years ago, at a time when Scotland was joined to North America while the rest of Britain was attached to continental Europe.



‘Sorry’, said the geologist as he left us scrambling over the rocks, from one fossil root or stem to the next. ‘Once you’ve caught the bug, that’s it’.  I’ll be back tomorrow for another look. No one’s found a giant dragonfly on Spittal beach yet.

(Click on any photo for a closer view)