The intrepid duo take a short break in Whitby:
“Well after all the science trips we have been on, we finally reckoned that maybe we should have a holiday. OK, actually Dr Mel decided that she needed a holiday and we kind of sneaked along in her bag when she went to Whitby.
Whitby is a seaside town in North Yorkshire, which by a bizarre co-incidence is twinned with Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, which is where we passed through on our way home from the Antarctic! Spooky! Whitby is famous for many things. There is a museum here to their most famous son: Captain James Cook, who was born near Whitby and started his sailing career here. He circumnavigated the globe and mapped the coasts of New Zealand and Australia. It was also home to the Arctic explorer William Scoresby, but most people know Whitby because Bram Stoker set part of his novel ‘Dracula’ here.
Here we are, soaking up the sun at the ruined Abbey. The abbey site has been occupied since 657 AD, when a monastery was founded here by Oswy, the King of Northumbria. Since then the original building has been destroyed, rebuilt and added to, before being permanently destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1540 (way before we were born!). Although all the local history was really interesting, we were really here because Dr Mel wanted some time by the sea (and so did we). This is us on one of our beach trips!
Whitby is on what is known as the Yorkshire Jurassic Coast. So Dr Mel got up early on Sunday morning to go beachcombing for fossils at low tide. She particularly wanted to find a nice ammonite. Ammonites are extinct sea creatures. They were shelled cephalopod molluscs that looked a lot like the Nautilus that we can still find today. But you can often find their fossils around the UK coast. We did not have long fossil hunting because low tide was really early that weekend, but here we are with Dr Mel’s best fossil from the trip: part of an ammonite, you can just see the spiral shape of the shell.
This spiral with its ribbed pattern is very distinctive for each species, so it is easy (if you are a geologist) to know which species is which and when they lived. This makes them very useful species in the science of stratigraphy. This is the field of geology that studies rock layers. Ammonites were abundant all over the world, but also evolved very quickly. So they are used to identify the age of different layers of rock (amazing what you learn from museum trips: the Whitby museum has some fantastic fossil exhibits and information about the local geology). Please don’t ask us, which species our piece of ammonite is, we have no idea. Let’s just say we were intrigued and have asked Dr Mel if we can go back again when the timing of the tides is better and we don’t have to get up at 7am on a Sunday! Oh dear, guess we’ve had our holiday and now it’s back to work. Who knows where we will go next.”