The North East has some great beaches but my favourite place has always been in Whitley Bay. From the first moment I saw the Lighthouse, I fell in love with St Mary's Island and with a bit of good fortune, it happens to be the closest beach to my house. What a magical place and it remains so whatever our famous weather is up to! I have been there in sunshine, rain,wind and snow. I have had my face sandblasted far more times than I care to mention and have arrived back home with my face so numb that I can't feel the big grin on my face that I always get whenever I go there. For a memorable 20 minutes one autumn day, I was also the only person on the beach with just a heron for company. It stood so close to me that I could almost have touched it.
I have also been accosted on the beach by so many dogs over the years - all unable to resist coming up to see what the heck I'm doing ferreting around in the rocks! One gorgeous young retriever also brought me his ball to throw for him in case I felt the urge. He was followed shortly afterwards by his embarrassed apologetic owner.
In fact, what I am doing on the beach is beach-combing. I love it. The beaches at Whitley Bay happen to be some of the best for doing this. So many rock pools and pebbles, seaweed and other little treasures! This does not include however, the big ugly triangular black fish that have a face only a mother could love!These are often washed up on the beach after a storm,and found lurking amongst the piles of kelp.One day, I will finally get to find out what they are called.
In fact, it was on a cold winter's day after a storm that I discovered my best find. A large rock with a fossil in it. I was so excited! The fossil was about 15cms long and looked at first like a lower leg bone. Unable to resist, I staggered off the beach with the fossil and took it home. Then the guilt set it - I had removed a fairly large rock from the beach! The guilt lasted only a week and then overcome with curiosity, I took it in to the Great North Museum in Newcastle to ask for it to be identified properly.
The staff at the museum turned out to be great and they were as pleased as I was with the fossil. It turned out that I had found a section of stem from a Giant Horsetail Plant from the Carboniferous period. My fossil is actually 320 million years old! It pre-dates the dinosaurs!I was chuffed to say the least and was allowed to take my fossil back home. [Naturally, the Museum already had a similar fossil that was at least five times the size of mine]
So, Whitley Bay was once a swamp with giant amphibians as the only life around. It's amazing to think that it ended up as a costal resort. Of course, giant amphibians can still be seen just off the North East beaches - wearing rubber and attached to a surf board!I have found many more fossils on the beaches at Whitley Bay- much smaller but all quite beautiful. A pamphlet I bought in the visitor centre at St Mary's says that the area is rich with fossils from the Carboniferous period. Which just goes to show - finding out a bit more about your local area is really great.
I will definitely be at St Mary's again for the Heritage days [ taking place from the 9th to 12th September] and I know that I will discover yet another fact about my favourite place. I may even do a spot more beach combing!