Easter Weekend Round Up

It felt like the Easter weekend went on and on, and on. How rare is that feeling? We did our final house unpack on Friday and Saturday in the sunshine: sorting out all of the boxes of things on the drive that were being held in the garage, which then allowed us to sort through and arrange the canoes, the 9 bikes, the wetsuits, the 5 tents and camping gear, the gardening paraphernalia.....etc

montage weekend.jpg

I found some bits that really made me smile including a list 'about me' I wrote when I was 10, where I professed to want to work with acids (!) I didn't know a single person who had gone to University - it came purely from the Sweet Valley High books I was reading at that time. 

We also dug out a load of other things that were good to finally bring indoors - like our original NASA moon maps, charts and data from Gemini. Much loved acquisitions. 

We then had a lovely bike ride (though I got The Knock for the first time in years) and went out for dinner in the evening (Chinese from an actual restaurant not a takeaway) - isn't it great to really talk together! Oh, and I squeezed in an hour to print stock for Blue Eggs and Tea. I've never held stock - printing or making everything on demand as we go along, so this was a real landmark moment for the taking back of my time for things like drawing. 

Early Sunday morning we set off for the second half of the weekend over in Norfolk visiting family. We walked the dog, I practiced my photography shooting in RAW, I fulfilled another ambition of sitting on a hay bale (!) and we generally ate food and chatted, before heading home via the north Norfolk coast and a quick walk at Hunstanton. 

The lighthouse at Hunstanton, Norfolk. 

The lighthouse at Hunstanton, Norfolk. 

We got back after the shops had shut and didn't have anything in the house to eat - freezer or otherwise, so we ate easter eggs for dinner and passed out shortly after 10. Bliss. 

I really do love having a bit of time off! 

Weekend Round Up: Gardening

This weekend we were supposed to get back up north to see folk, but for various reasons couldn't, so instead spent the weekend working on the garden. This is only the 2nd weekend we've had a chance to get to grips with it since we moved in, so I am pretty pleased with our progress. We have a rectangle garden with beds stuffed with builders rubble so the ground takes a lot of prep before you can plant it up. We have a tree, and we overlook a graveyard! Our garden is nothing special objectively speaking, but I'm determined to make it special for us. Whilst it's fairly sparse at the moment I'm hoping with time we'll get the mismatched fences covered with trailing varieties, and do something with the lawn etc.

Rununculas in, along with all sorts of shrubs, roses and climbing plants such as quince, black eyed susan and a mystery clematis that was already here when we moved in. 

Rununculas in, along with all sorts of shrubs, roses and climbing plants such as quince, black eyed susan and a mystery clematis that was already here when we moved in. 

Also, I have *never* mown lawn before (except for a quick go at home when I was a kid) so this was something I really wanted to do, and was another weekend first for me. Our soil in notts is very claggy and clayey and the lawn suffers, but we've taken it back to let it breathe and will reseed in the coming months. It was overgrown and hard work with a tiny Flymo. 

'Geisha Girl' Japanese Quince - so beautiful. And may bring fruit to go with my cheeeeeeese. 

'Geisha Girl' Japanese Quince - so beautiful. And may bring fruit to go with my cheeeeeeese. 

I've cut away a nasty pyramid wire frame support, released the bushy clematis within and begun to reshape it against the fence, and added with it a beautiful Japanese Quince and several rununculas. I've also planted out two rose tubs into the ground for a bit of a rose corner. And i've added some height at the back of the bed with a mix of taller herbaceous perennials. Still to come: honeysuckle and some shorter perennials. 

We moved the cherry blossom again, and added in some shrubs including a fairly hard-to-come-by orange globe buddleia in a bid to get more butterflies this year. 

Always the more helpful of the two cats. Although arguably more morose. Stanley. 

Always the more helpful of the two cats. Although arguably more morose. Stanley. 

On the other side of the garden we took a part a hideous composting bin and used everything that had been amassing for 10 years from the previous owners in the ground. It stank, and it was full of an abnormal amount of egg shells, face wipes and ear bud sticks. I gagged a lot but persevered. The compost itself it wonderful, but here's a tip: face wipes only degrade on a geological timescale, and as for ear bud plastic sticks....

Suki disapproves of all the yuk earbuds too as you can see. 

Suki disapproves of all the yuk earbuds too as you can see. 

In it's place we have started a little woodland evergreen garden, which we'll add more alpines to in due course. It currently contains our christmas tree. I also had a hankering for eucalyptus because although it's not native that grey disc foliage rocks my world! 

Finally, I planted in some dahlia bulbs, sowed a load of poppy seeds, gave the tubs some attention, checked on the veg patch, cut a low-hanging branch off our corkscrew willow and went on a search for my leftover wedding bunting, which we'll add to the decked area for completion. 

Trying out some bunting. We made about 50 metres for our wedding so I need to dig it out and repurpose. Better out than in as they always say. 

Trying out some bunting. We made about 50 metres for our wedding so I need to dig it out and repurpose. Better out than in as they always say. 

Despite spending what feel's like a months salary on plants, I'm pretty pleased with what we'll hopefully have in the next few months. It's a long term thing getting a garden to mature, but I feel we've made a valiant step in the right direction this weekend. 

Apologies for the rose standard in the foreground. Forgot to move. 

Apologies for the rose standard in the foreground. Forgot to move. 

I wish I had taken a before photo so that you could feel pride on my behalf! ;)

Geologists Guide to Fossil Hunting at the Beach

Geology done well is fascinating and eye-opening. You learn things that you can't unknow and that will enrich your view of the world around you. Fossil hunting is the perfect opportunity to be transported to a different time and place, and it can be so much more than pacing up and down a windy beach. Today, I'm focusing on maximising your fossil hunting at the Jurassic coastline.

1) Know the rocks on which you gaze because this will save you timeThere are 3 main groupings of rock: Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic. Fossils are in the second. In the sediments. Sedimentary rocks are classified down according to grain size mainly, from mudstones (very fine) shale and siltstones, limestones and sandstones (coarse). Each type signals the environment in which it was created. At the coast you will have a mix of rocks, but the primary rock type you're looking for here is the rock laid down when Britain was under water. These are your mudstones (low-energy environments. Maybe tidal flats or deep sea) and this is where the marine animals lived and died, and are the Jurassic sediments that give the place its name. Stuff in here will be between 201-145 Million Years Old. Your ammonites being the most well known fossil here. But there are lots more. Go read! So the action is happening in the dark blue, flaky rock that is easy to break up (fissile). You can ignore thoughts of igneous (e.g. volcanics) and metamorphic (too heated for fossils!). 

This is the grey blue mudrock with rather great ammonite fragment. Don't cut it out to keep. Leave it for others to enjoy! 

This is the grey blue mudrock with rather great ammonite fragment. Don't cut it out to keep. Leave it for others to enjoy! 

2) Aside from the sedimentary rock, coasts are often topped with a hefty layer of sediments from the last glaciation period. This may show itself as thick mud, that is on it's way to one day being rock, but not yet. And when a cliff collapses you will see a lot of this gathered at the foot - the bit people are clambering on. This is good for fossils because they often become mixed up in this. 

This was such a score! Devils Toenail. It's actually a bivalve. A sort of hinged shell. And is really amazingly preserved. Quite hard to come by. And this is in the sorter glacial muds and 'till'. I didn't need a hammer. Just a good eye and a pebble for carving!

This was such a score! Devils Toenail. It's actually a bivalve. A sort of hinged shell. And is really amazingly preserved. Quite hard to come by. And this is in the sorter glacial muds and 'till'. I didn't need a hammer. Just a good eye and a pebble for carving!

3) It sounds obvious but at the coast your main quarry will be fossils of animals from the sea. Dinosaurs are less common. So you can have a conversation with kids about what sort of animals those might have been based on what we see today. (Tip: an ammonite is basically a squid like thing in a shell). Having a discussion about what these animals might have looked like is a great way of staying occupied when you're not finding a lot! Creating narrative makes it a lot more real.

4) Over time and weathering the soft parts of the animal get removed and you end up with a cast, or simply an impression left in a piece of mudstone. Impressions are really a lot more common than solid fossils themselves and can be found with some ease. And they look beautiful. You should also look out for 'trace fossils'. These are the slivers and impressions and bore holes. The little signs of biological life. This is a rubbish photo but the nearest thing I have to hand. Rocks with curious patterns. 

Rocks with unusual patterns and marks are often trace fossils of some sort. I should have found a great example. But I didn't think to at the time. 

Rocks with unusual patterns and marks are often trace fossils of some sort. I should have found a great example. But I didn't think to at the time. 

5) Because so many people pile onto the fresh rock falls where they've seen someone else do it, they forget to look on the beach! Don't forget that where the tide rises to and over, is as good a place as any to find fossils. They may be a little more weathered than fresh out of the rock face, but othertimes not, and like my ammonite may have pyrite (fools gold) forming, which makes it all the more precious to me. You have to remember that the sea washes away the silty particles but the heavier items will drop out of suspension to be found in amongst the pebbles. I found some cracking stuff under a load of seaweed where no one else had looked.

This is my prize ammonite found on the beach after a thorough investigation around my feet.  Meanwhile lots of rock smashing went on at the cliff to clearly no avail. be armed with knowledge rather than metal!

This is my prize ammonite found on the beach after a thorough investigation around my feet.  Meanwhile lots of rock smashing went on at the cliff to clearly no avail. be armed with knowledge rather than metal!

6) I'm a bit of a Scrooge about smashing rocks. You can get a long way without a hammer. Whilst I like a bit of rock-cracking as much as the next geologist I also believe that you need to be responsible to your environment. Millions of people descending on Dorset every year can do serious damage to the cliff face and you risk undermining it's stability and beauty.

7) As well as fossils you can get really into the funny features you find on sedimentary rocks. Holes, and casts, and patterns that all indicate what was happening when this rock was being created. This is Step 2 of the geek out, but really your imagination is the limit of what story is recorded right in front of you. You can look at layers going from blues to red and this signifies the change from a marine to a terrestrial environment. Amazing. 

Pebbles getting trapped in small indentations can turn to holes and then deepen because the pebbles get trapped and whisked around!

Pebbles getting trapped in small indentations can turn to holes and then deepen because the pebbles get trapped and whisked around!

8) A true love of fossils isn't about 'look what I got' it's about 'hey this thing lived 140 million years ago' - it's about understanding the world as it was. OUR history as a species in the context of geological time. Fossil hunting is about finding the past and imagining the way things were when our landmass was part of a supercontinent located in the tropics! You don't need a hammer to open your mind....

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Finally - pragmatic points:

  1. wear eye protection if you're smashing rocks, and never go to the foot of a cliff without head protection. Cliffs are dynamic and if you hang around a cliff in spring you will hear debris fall all day long. 
  2. Check the tide times. Don't get trapped whilst on a mission. 
  3. Go in spring: spring tides, april showers, spring storms and fresh falls as a result all make this the best time to find treasure!
  4. If you go to a fossil hunting hot spot there is bound to be a shop. The owner is likely a rock geek and will have made an amazingly rich guide on sale for about £2. Buy it.
  5. You need to get down low. So that you ache in the shoulder blades at the end of the day. Standing up right, looking with that 'museum walk' we do as adults will find you precisely nothing

So that's my uber-brief guide on fossil hunting at the shore. And I've missed out a lot. And there's so much more detail I could share, but I won't. And when you have a grip on this then there is the world of limestones to love. And crazy things like marine fossils on the top of mountains!.....another post, another day maybe.... 

And don't forget the bits of things! The fossil fragments, the weathered fossils, the shells, and porcelain fragments washed in from goodness knows where. 

And don't forget the bits of things! The fossil fragments, the weathered fossils, the shells, and porcelain fragments washed in from goodness knows where.