Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Fossils on the Great Orme, Llandudno

Today was a day for fossil hunting on the Great Orme, the great limestone headland that edges the Victorian resort of Llandudno. I'm having a bit of a geology obsessive phase and last night I did a search online to see if the Orme had fossils. After all, it has so many other things. Much to my delight, I found that it does. We've spent a lot of time on the Orme hunting down beautiful views, WWII remains from the gunnery school there, and wonderful stone formations. It's a unique place with a lot of rare and unique plants. It has a Bronze Age copper mine, a neolithic burial chamber, and various other archaeological remains. It even has its own herd of feral Kashmir goats, donated by Queen Victoria. But I didn't know until last night that it also has fossils.

Up near the summit car park is a relatively modern (in the scheme of things) quarry where for years people have spelt out messages on the side of the hill with small stones. Most prominent is a large Christian cross on the hillside. Parking can be had for a small price in the summit car park or free, if it's not busy, in a few places on the side of the road. Off to the left of the quarry is a long cliff face and gully in an area that is covered by mounds and looks as if it's been the subject of some industrial work - more quarrying, I assume. It's at the end of this long, low, curving cliff that you come across slabs of rock that have fallen, which are absolutely covered in brachiopod fossils. There are also corals to be found. The ground is covered in broken up small stones, some of these also bearing fossils. The fossil layers seem to be mostly from the top levels of the low cliff and are apparently from the Carboniferous era, 330mya, which was a surprise to me. With them being right at the top of everything I'd expected them to be younger than the ammonites we found at Lyme Regis (200 and 195mya). I have a lot to learn about geology.

However old the fossils are, you can be secure in the knowledge that they're older than your mind can really grasp. When these shells sank into the deep mud and were covered this land was the bed of a warm sea, not an upthrusted mountain of rock that people climb, panting and sweating, in the heat of summer. When these creatures were alive the dinosaurs hadn't even evolved, let alone gone extinct. Human beings were not even a wisp of an idea in a primitive mammal's mind. Look on these fragile shells and think of that.

Near where we parked, the road winds back down the Orme with the Bronze Age copper mine just visible as a reddish scar in the mid right, the tram halfway station in the distance, and cable car wires strung across the left of the picture.

Looking the other way, towards the summit carpark and cafe building. The weather was moist, freezing cold, a little misty, but not raining at least.

To the left of the quarry the low cliff and gully leads away back towards the side of the Orme that overlooks the Conwy estuary.

These layers of stone are just magnificent.

The first fossil I came across, a brachiopod I assume, in a boulder on the ground.

You can see just how much rubble there is on the ground. Dog is in the distance, exploring.

Some of the mounds which I assume are spoil heaps or something.

More beautiful strata with a great crack all the way through. It's these messy looking top layers that hold the fossils.

This rock face is absolutely packed with fossils.

One of the fallen slabs at the end of the cliffs, more or less a lump of fossils concreted together with rock.

The same again. These could have been put here for display, they're so prominent.

The slabs in situ in front of the low cliff.

The view in the other direction, with the Conwy estuary and Deganwy emerging from the mist to the left and the mountains around the coast past Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan to the right.

More fossil shells, the edges visible as cross sections.

Some of the layers full of fossils looking very fragile and precarious in an overhang.

A loose fossil on the ground.

Another loose fossil, the shape of the shell overlaying the rock beneath like a crust.

Some of the very fragile lumps of rock in situ at the very top of the cliff, under and embedded into a layer of soil about eight inches thick.

We wondered if these were fossil coral or some such.

Another coral type thing.

And another corally lump.

More shells in cross section.

Looking away from the end of the cliff back out over the sea towards Anglesey and Puffin Island.

The quarry proper. The cliffs we walked along are to the left, but you can see the strata marvellously here, an odd little bit of wall, and where someone has spelt out their name in stones.

You get a better view of the hill covered in stones from the summit, further away, but you can get an idea of it here. The huge cross is to the top left.

A bit closer, and the cross is a bit more visible.

And so we took ourselves home. The Little Orme is just visible in the background.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Bwlch y Ddeufaen, Conwy Valley

Well, this one is a couple of weeks old. Just after Christmas, while the internet was out and during a time when the snow was low over the mountains, we decided to take the children up the hill to Bwlch y Ddeufaen (the pass of the two stones), in the hope of finding enough snow for them to play with. It's a tricky business getting up there with the wrong car. Too much snow and you can't drive up, not enough, and there's no fun snow to play with. Tractors had no problems and four wheel drives were fine, but our car is neither. Lots of other people had had the same idea, so parking was tough, and we didn't get to walk off to some of the more amazing sights up there - the two standing stones towards the west that the pass is named for, or the burial chambers and standing stones to the east. Instead we just had fun walking on the part-melted and refrozen snow.

In good weather access is no problem, with a small gravel carpark at the west end of the road for those who want to cross the pass and see the two big standing stones, and a wide verge for parking at the east end if you want to go towards the burial chambers, Maen y Bardd and, as I've heard it referred to, the witch's or bitch's kennel, and a few more standing stones. A Roman road crosses the pass too, and I believe there are remains of mediaeval hut platforms. There's a very low stone circle off to the south side of the road, as well, so this place is packed with history. People have been using the pass for thousands of years, from the neolithic inhabitants, through the Romans and the mediaeval era, drovers in more recent times, and nowadays mountain bikers, walkers, and the majestic span of electricity pylons which also use this natural gap in the mountains. There was a brief proposal to run the A55 Expressway through this pass, so complain as people may about the pylons, they can be grateful the place hasn't been devastated by a three lane highway.

Exploring the standing stones and burials chambers (through this blog - I've been many, many times before, because this beautiful place is right in home territory for me) will have to wait for better weather or a time without children, but it was still pretty up there for the short walk that we managed.

First little dodgy bit is driving down the hill to Roman Bridge, but we didn't crash. I'm not sure why it's known as Roman Bridge, because the bridge isn't Roman. (In the wall beneath the hedge on the right down here is a stone shaped just like the sole of a shoe, which tends to be kept clear so you can see it.)

Up near Cae Coch (a house, now a holiday cottage) where the road turns sharp left towards the Bwlch and the track goes sharp right along the Roman road towards the burial chambers. There's a little parking here at the edge of the road. The children who lived here used to walk to school every day. I suppose it's not so far down the Roman road, but still, it's rather extreme.

The remains of a building. So often up here where you see a small stand of trees a house or ruin is associated with them. If I had a house this high up I'd plant some trees round it too.

Looking back towards Pen-y-Gaer (left, site of a hill fort) and Pen-y-Gadair (right), my home mountains.

On up the road, where the snow was very icy, melted a little and refrozen so there was a hard carapace over everything. The wheel tracks were more treacherous than the snow in most places.

Snow, footprints, ruin, wall, mountains.

They like doing this to the footpath signs around here.

Dog vs Snow.

A pretty view of Pen-y-Gaer and the valley beyond.

I'm not sure what this peak is, but it's at the end of Tal-y-Fan.

Sheep footprints, perhaps?

As the light starts to go it's time to head home.

And we found a small traffic jam on the road as everyone else headed home too...