The coastline of the North York Moors National Park is famous for its rugged appearance and raw beauty.
The black shales of the Lower Jurassic make up the lower sections of many of the cliffs. These rocks are around 200 million years old and were formed at the bottom of great oceans. The upper sections of the coastal cliffs are made of the same Middle Jurassic sandstones seen in the central moorlands, and it is in these rocks we find fossil plants and dinosaur footprints.
The oceans of the time simply teemed with life, including coiled ammonites, bullet-shaped belemnites and many other animals with hard shells. If these are the most common fossils found, the most impressive are those of the great marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, long-necked plesiosaurs and marine crocodiles. Fabulous skeletons of these animals are on display in Scarborough, Whitby and York museums.
The presence of alum – an important chemical in the dyeing process – in the Lower Jurassic shales has led to entire headlands being quarried away. The result is spectacular, almost lunar, scenery at places such as Sandsend, Ravenscar and other locations across the National Park.
Jet-mining, meanwhile, has left numerous holes running into the shale cliffs, where miners followed the fossilised trunks and branches of Jurassic monkey puzzle trees.