Notes From A Small Island #2


Happy Ewe Year:
Chinese new year is coming up in mid February and I’ve just noticed on my calendar which one it is…
…the year of the sheep!

Quite appropriate for my first year on Skye, I think. Though I think every year is a sheep-y one up here!

2015sheep1

‘Up where the mountains meet the heavens above
Out where the lightning splits the sea
I would swear that there’s someone somewhere
Watching me…’:
Driving to the gallery this morning I had to stop to let some sheep cross the road. There’s blue sky and sunshine dazzling on white hills and I have the windows fully down to feel the breeze.
Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ comes on the radio and I crank it up and sing along to the top of my voice. AS it nears it’s finale I make a dramatic gestural flourish out of the open window to the sheep coming onto the road on the right…
And make eye contact with three old crofters perfectly camouflaged as they lean against a five bar gate only a couple of metres away from my door.
They give me an amused wave and as I sheepishly return their greeting I hear one of them say to the others, “that’s that English girl…”
Oops.

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

My Precious:
It occurred to me yesterday that someone watching me look for fossils might think I’m some kind of real-life Gollum.
The large boulders on the beach aren’t easy to navigate swiftly so I’ve taken to spider-crawing over them on my hands and feet as I peer and peek between the gaps. Every now and then I’ll squat down and pluck an interesting stone out of a stream or rockpool, inspecting it up close and rolling it between my fingers. Some are shoved greedily into a pocket but most are flung back to where they came from.
I haven’t started saying “my Precious!” yet but then I still haven’t found anything particularly exciting… it might only be a matter of time!

A belemnite fragment I found in Bearreraig Bay

A belemnite fragment I found in Bearreraig Bay at the start of January

Here Be Dinosaurs!

10431480_557529586303_1990130117751215851_nI make no secret of the fact that I can be a bit of a geek. Two of my favourite ‘geeky’ subjects include geology and wildlife, things which are both in abundance on Skye.
Put these both together and you get something else, something that this island is also well-known for…
fossils.

Alongside the usual ammonites and belemnites there is some more unusual, charismatic evidence of a prehistoric era; the Staffin dinosaur footprints.

With Staffin being only ten minutes away from my new home I couldn’t wait for my chance to see these famous fossils. A couple of days after moving in I waited for the late low tide then set off for the beach.

The dark sands of Staffin Beach

The black and white sands of Staffin Beach at low tide

Pulling up in the car park above the beach I looked down over the boulders and scanned the rocks below.
Luckily I’m familiar with the appearance of fossilised sea bed and I spotted the section of tell-tale yellowish ripples from the rocks above before I’d even got down to the beach.
I raced down to them and searched…

“Oh WOW!”
I couldn’t help exclaiming out loud.
It was ridiculous, the most unrealistic-looking thing.
A huge, great big footprint that looked like cartoon or prop from a B-movie. Had someone been filming the next Jurassic Park and forgotten to take one of the set pieces home?
If it looks unreal in my photos believe me, it was more incredible in real life.

Looking down at 165 million years.  (The erosion between the three toes makes this look even more cartoonish!)

Looking down at 165 million years.
(The erosion between the toes is what makes it look more ‘cartoonish’)


A few steps further and I came across more. Three-toed, of all different sizes pointing in all different directions.
Seeing them reminded me of something I’d read online that said the prints looked like the dinosaurs were playing a game of Twister. It’s a pretty apt description!

Looking back 165 million years!

Three toes indicates that this was some kind of raptor. It’s thought that they might be from a Coelophysis, a fast-running carnivore of about 2-3 metres long.

I was surprised to find that, unlike other important sites in the UK, these rocks aren’t protected and sectioned-off. In fact, they’re barely marked at all bar a small diagram on the sign in the car park.
Because of this (plus factors such as the tides and shifting sands) a lot of people arrive and leave having never found them.

-In fact, when I brought the Ranger family to see them they had been completely covered by a thick blanket of sand that would have been impossible to dig through. That time they were not to be seen.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have found them either if I hadn’t already known a little about the rocks to look for.

Vicious looking claw-prints

Vicious looking claw-prints

When I posted a photo of my wellies being dwarfed by a print on Facebook one of my friends was incredulous. It couldn’t be real, surely?
His reasoning that they couldn’t have withstood millions of years of erosion was a fair point. However, as they were only discovered in 2002 (by local B&B owner, Cathie Booth), they haven’t actually been exposed for that long.
You can read more about the discovery here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2210169.stm

Are there mini dinosaurs here too?! A reminder of the progress of evolution...

Are there mini dinosaurs here too?! A three-toed reminder of the progress of evolution…

Soon enough they’ll disappear again properly, permanently eroded by the moving tide and feet of visitors. Maybe the rocks behind them will give way to reveal more, maybe they wont. I suppose this is just our short space of time where we can look back at prints made in another, far-away short space of time.
Geeky or not, I think that’s pretty frickin cool.

I wonder what else is hiding in the rocks at Staffin beach...

I wonder what else is hiding in the rocks at Staffin beach…