Fossils, rocks and more

The falling tide reveals the inter-tidal zone

As a contrast to ‘heading for the hills’ in the wonderful sunny weather we had earlier this week we took a walk down to the beach . We headed to the Black Isle here on the east coast of northern Scotland. Close to the tip of this peninsula of land (no, it’s not an isle at all) is the village of Cromarty made famous by Hugh Milller, who lived here and who was one of the most important Scottish Geologists of the 19th Century.

Hugh Miller wrote several books based on his ‘geological ramblings’ going into great detail about the geology, sites and finds he made. The beach at Eathie was one of those which he regularly visited as it was of great geological interest to him and is where he famously collected fossils in the 1800s. He created the path down the cliffs for geology students and fossil collectors. This path is part of the ‘Hugh Miller Trail’.

We parked in the small parking area and headed downhill enjoying the shade of the pine trees. (How rare is it to say that in March!). The path is fairly steep, but was dry and no problem at all.

When we emerged at the bottom onto the shore, we headed 100 m south long the beach to the old salmon fishing station bothy. This now houses a few display/interpretation boards about the area.

According to the Scottish Geodiversity Forum

The rocks at Eathie formed during the Kimmeridgian period of the Late Jurassic (between 148 Ma and 142 Ma). They are generally sandstones and black shales with a few limestone beds. Syn-sedimentary sandstone intrusions cross-cut the black shales in places. These are the result of the liquefaction of sand by earthquakes, followed by their intrusion into local solidified sediments. It is most likely that the earthquakes resulted from movement along the Great Glen Fault which forms the sea cliff to the back of the shore at Eathie.

I collected samples of some of these rocks (as part of a Geocaching ‘Earthcache’ challenge) and arranged them on the windowsill of the old bothy to photograph.

A small selection of the many different rocks at Eathie Beach.

Ammonites and fish fossils are to be found in these deposits that are exposed on the foreshore. The site is designated SSSI (Special Site of Scientific Interest) – it is illegal to use a hammer to break off or break open fixed rock deposits here. Some fossils can be found loosely lying in various locations, however Eathie is probably the most collected site for Jurassic fossils in the whole of Scotland. I wandered around the beach immediately in front of the old bothy and found a few small Ammonites in the flat pieces of very soft black Oil Shale deposits.

Ammonite in shale

We weren’t here just to look for fossils, but to enjoy all the delights of the rocky coast. We headed north along the beach as we wished to see if it was possible to get along as far as McFarquhars’s Cave which we had visited on a previous visit. We’d checked the time tables and we were here just after high tide. We managed about 3 km along the beach before the boulders became too large to scramble over and ahead the sea was still hard up against the cliffs. These cliffs were the home to dozens of shags, some of which we’d seen sitting on the rocks in the sun.

Shag – Phalacrocorax aristotelis
In the breeding season the adults develop a dark glossy green plumage and prominent crest on the front of their head.
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

I really like exploring the inter-tidal zone; I’m fascinated by living organisms that are perfectly adapted to cope with spending half their life submerged in the salty seawater and half exposed to the air. The afternoon’s stroll revealed lots of interest.


Common Limpets – Patella vulgata
Adult limpets usually return to the same area of rock after feeding. They form a small depression, known as a scar, by rubbing against the rock. This scar ensures a tighter fit for the shell, helping the limpet avoid desiccation.
Common Limpets (Patella vulgata)

Acorn barnacles – Semibalanus balanoides
When the tide is in, barnacles open their shell-like cases to release feather cirri which filter feed on zooplankton.
Acorn barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides)

Spiral wrack – Fucus spiralis
Spiral wrack survives the long periods it is out of water by the fronds curling as it dries so that there is less surface area. The fronds produce slimy mucus to keep them moist.
Spiral Wrack (Fucus Spiralis)

Kelp holdfast
A holdfast is the root-like structure at the base of an algae (seaweed) that fastens the algae to a hard substrate. Holdfasts are different from roots in that they do not absorb moisture.
Kelp holdfast


Shell and pebbles

Rocks – beautiful rocks

Rock mosaic

Roe deer tracks.
Yes, the deer are even down on the beach in this part of the country. We found a (fresh) dead young roe deer fawn lying behind the fishing station bothy.
Roe deer prints on the beach

The inevitable flotsam
Beach wreckage

We hope that these sailors made their way back to the harbour safely!

5 comments on “Fossils, rocks and more

  1. Some lovely photos there Sheila. Me and the kids love a bit of coastal foraging, looking for crabs, fish and the like in the rock-pools. On a sunny afternoon we’ll all poke around for hours. I need to take a trip down to the “Jurassic Coast” in Dorset down my way for some fossil hunting

  2. Me too (especially if Andy’s there cause he has a knack of finding and catching interesting crabs and fish and whatnot). Wonderfully evocative pictures Sheila. The rocks are stunning – am I right in thinking that some are quite small whilst others are huge?

  3. Must get back to the seaside. I keep diverting myself onto mountains but I forget how much I enjoy the shoreline and all the bits and pieces you can discover. Mind you I cover a fraction of the distance on the beach – too much to see. Do you find the same?

    Great photos Sheila! I assume this was a tickless adventure 😆

    It was always agates I was on the hunt for (limited number of locations) but I quite fancy a fossil hunt.

    Great sediment patterns in the rocks!

    • Our progress was slow, both because there was so much to look at and also because it was slow going underfoot. There was very little sand and it was mostly walking on very uneven stanes.

      I didn’t pick up any ticks, but I bet they were there. There are roe deer about – we saw the prints in the sand and saw the dead one – and at one point we had to walk on the narrow strip of grass, broom and bracken. between the cliffs and the large boulders.

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