Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Fossil hunting at Runswick Bay

The night after our luxury stay at the Ox Pasture Hall Hotel near Scarborough, we headed to my favourite beach in Yorkshire, Runswick Bay.

I spent many a weekend as a child playing on the sandy stretch of beach with cliffs that tower high above the sea level. The picture postcard village is made up of pretty cottages tightly nestled within the cliffs, brightly coloured upturned boats resting on a steep slope and the old RNLI lifeboat house that was in use up until the last 1970's.

Runswick Bay is also the place where my interest in natural history was sparked by the many hours 'fossilising'. For hours, my Dad and I would rummage through loose slate to crack open with chisels and hammers to reveal the fossilised remains of crustaceans. The stretch of cliffs along the bay consist of Jurassic rock making it one of the best places in the UK to find fossils.

The best thing about fossil hunting is that anyone can do it and anyone could stumble across a huge dinosaur! A 13-foot plesiosaur was discovered a bit further south of Runswick Bay close to Filey by an electrician in 2002. He spotted vertebrae while out fossil hunting and traced the skeleton up the cliff!

It was Dave's first-time fossil hunting and I wanted to show him how exciting it is to discover the remains of an animal that lived between 240 - 65 million years ago; a span of time that I can't even begin to comprehend.

The north stretch of the Bay is THE place to hunt for suitable slate rocks to crack open. This side of the beach is very rocky and it's a challenge to negotiate the slippy rocks, rock pools and wobbly stones. The cliffs are made of unstable shale and are prone to frequent landslides which can be dangerous but also means that fresh rock falls to the ground making it easy to reach.

While walking over the exposed rock where cliff once stood, we found this huge ammonite specimen. We spent some time carefully chipping away the surface layer to reveal more of the pattern below. It wouldn't be possible to remove the fossil but it was fun revealing more of it to gawp over.

The tide was on its way in and, having researched the tide times online, knew we only had a couple of hours at most to hang around on the rocks. We spent some time cracking open slate rocks we found lying loose between the bigger rocks and rocky surface of the beach. We found parts of fossils and teeny tiny ones, but nothing impressive. I collected a small pile of rocks to get through, including a spherical rock that I thought might contain an ammonite.

Up until then we had been alone on this rocky stretch but a man appeared with worn clothes and fabric sack. He greeted us as he approached then moved quickly over the freshly fallen loose rock below the cliff face. I asked him if he was also fossil hunting to which he confirmed he was. I watched him for some time while he gather rocks and put them in his fabric sack. He told us he wouldn't spend long on the shale as it was dangerous then he moved a few yards closer to the sea and emptied his bag of rocks on top of a huge rock that acted as his table.

Obviously, my interest in his activity increased and I headed over with my spherical rock to ask him whether he thought it would contain an ammonite. "Yes, most probably," he said. "Let's have a look". He took my rock and gave it a good wack with his brick hammer (a much bigger tool than we had with us). He struck it perfectly because the rock opened to reveal a perfect ammonite. We spent a few moment chatting with the man before he warned us the sea would soon cut us off from getting back around to the village. The time had passed our minds as we were so engrossed in what we were doing, which can prove very dangerous.

We quickly gathered as many of the spherical rocks as we could carry, thanked the man then made our way back around the rocks. He was right, the water was lapping at the last stretch of rocks before the cliff face.

Our plastic bags stretched with the weight of their contents and my arms ached from holding onto my bounty as tight as possible. We didn't have any free hands to support ourselves as we stepped over the rocks and around the pools so we were wobbling all over the place.

The village and beach are at the bottom of a very steep cliff so it was all uphill to get back to the car. Out of puff, we arrived at the car and tipped out bounty into the boot. The sea was still far out enough to enjoy the sandy beach so we headed back down for a short stroll. As we stepped onto the sand we were surprised to see a bat flying around our heads. It swooped right past my head! A bat out in daylight in January at the beach was a strange sight.

We had a fab day at my favourite beach and I can't wait to get back this summer.

We are yet to crack open our rocks so I will write an update when we get around to it. I reckon we have some good ones hiding in those rocks!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A luxury stay at the Ox Pasture Hall Hotel near Scraborough

When I recieved the email inviting me to review the Ox Pasture Hall Hotel near Scarborough with a complimentary night’s stay for two people with evening meal and breakfast, I got very excited. When I visited the country-style hotel’s website and saw the photos of the beautiful building, I got even more giddy.  Dave and I haven’t really had any alone time together for over 5 months and a romantic night away in such an idyllic hotel would be such a treat.

The Ox Pasture Hall Hotel is located just minutes from the seaside town of Scarborough yet far out enough from the built up area for it to feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere.  Those who enjoy the classic makings of a seaside resort will not be disappointed with the abundance of arcades, fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours and good old bucket and spade shops that the beachfront of Scarborough has to offer.  The resort benefits from two beaches- the South Bay which is the busier stretch of sand close the main amusements and the North Bay which is traditionally the quieter beach.  Just outside the town is the Sea Life Centre, with over 50 different displays of marine life and a wild seal hospital.

Before checking into the hotel, we had spent the day hiking in the surrounding Yorkshire Moor National Park and were exhausted.  On arrival, the very welcoming manager, Alan, lead us to our room and we beamed with happiness at how big and romantic it was. The bed was huge, the bathroom was huge and it even had a separate living area with a comfy sofa and a large TV.  In fact, there was even a TV in the bedroom.  When Dave and I are away we choose not to watch TV and, instead, spend time completely relaxing with each other. It was nice to know we had the option to watch telly though.

We had made the most of the daylight for walking so had arrived after dusk so decided to wait until the following morning to explore the ground of the hotel. It was early evening and we had booked our table for 8.30pm so made the most of our huge room. We soaked in a hot bath then wrapped ourselves in the soft dressing gowns that were provided. After a relaxing snooze we dressed for the evening and headed to the bar for a drink.

After being seated in the lounge area of the bar we were brought a bottle of Porsecco and the restaurant menu. It was nice just to sit in each other’s company, sipping our drinks and taking in the cosy atmosphere. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and one sat quietly by its owner by the sofa opposite. Our meal orders were taken, and when the time came, we were guided to our table situated by French windows that looked out over the lit up front garden.

The waiter brought us each an amuse bouche- a tiny cup of soup with freshly baked bread (we thought he called them ‘Mighty Boosh’. Proves we are not used to such luxury!) and introduced himself. The starter-before-the-starter was demolished quickly. It was delicious.

Next, our starters arrived which were presented beautifully. I chose seared scallops and Dave had herring parcels. When eating out I aim to choose food that I wouldn’t normally have at home and the scallops were the perfect choice. They were cooked to perfection- slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

We both chose the duck for main which was served pink. As a person who loves her vegetables I was slightly disappointed that some didn’t come with the meal but, after all, the menu was gourmet-style. To be fair, I couldn’t have fit any more food in!

For desert I chose sticky toffee pudding served with ice cream and a jug of thick, creamy toffee sauce.  Dave went for the bitter chocolate torte. Sorry but we forgot to take photos as we were so indulged in our deserts!

With bellies full to the brim we headed back to our room and climbed into the generous bed, promptly falling asleep beneath the cosy duvet.

After enjoying the pressure of the hot shower the next morning, we headed back to the restaurant for breakfast. The staff welcomed us cheerily and seated us by the back window, overlooking the courtyard. Several dogs were stretching their legs while their owners watched on from the doors of their rooms.

The breakfast spread had everything I could ask for- yogurt, fruit, cereals, juices and a wide selection of teas.

Full Yorkshire Breakfast was listed on menu. Two of them please!

The bacon was of high quality and the eggs had bright yolks- perfect.

With full bellies once more we took time to get some fresh air and explore the 17 acres of land surrounding the buildings. The beautifully kept grounds are idyllic for a country-style wedding or function and there’s a purpose-built reception building overlooking the grounds and the moor beyond.

By now it was around 10am and we wanted to go fossil hunting at Runswick Bay before the tide came in.  So we made our way, slightly grudgingly, to reception to check out. The attentive manager ensured we had enjoyed our visit and offered to carry our luggage. We would have loved to stay longer at the Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, but all good things must come to an end.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Update on Lindy the rescued hedgehog

Last October we took in a teeny-tiny baby hedgehog that weighed just 250g. Autumn hoglets, as they are known, need to be around 600g to survive hibernation over winter, so this little one was doomed if he were to be left in the wild. You can read the first post about the baby here.

The hedgehog rescues in the local vicinity were all at full capacity so, after speaking with a hedgehog expert, we committed to looking after the baby for the duration of winter. Seven whole months to be exact!

I tell you now; the hedgehog rescues are doing an amazing job. I have just the one hedgehog who creates enough poo to build one of those eco round houses. The hedgehog rescue who gave me advice has 80 of the smelly creatures!

Looking after Lindy (the name we have given her) was quite a novelty at first, but the constant replenishment of towels and the amount of poo I need to remove from said towels, is beginning to get a little tedious. However, I know it’s for the greater good. It’s estimated that there are around 1 million hedgehogs left in the UK compared to a huge 30 million in the 1950’s. It’s not good news. So when I’m scraping poo off towels and scrubbing the inside of her heated box, I feel happy to be doing my bit for saving our beautiful spiky friend.

In three months Lindy has bulked out quite a bit. She’s an eating, sleeping, pooping machine. She's gone from a weight of 250g to almost 850g! She's more than than trippled her original weight.

These are ‘before and after’ photos to show what she looked like when we rescued her compared to what she looks like now. Although she looks pretty much the same length, she is actually more curled in the latest photo. Her width is clearly larger, though. Beefy hedgehog!



Come the end of April it will be time to let Lindy back into the wild. Hedgehogs love woodland so we are in the ideal place for her to be. I hope she sticks around when she goes back into the wild.

The other week I discovered a wonderful lady, Emma, on Twitter who recues hedgehogs and makes jewellery to raise funds to pay for their upkeep. Her Etsy shop is called the Little Silver Hedgehog, which is full of her delightful handmade silver jewellery. If you are looking for a beautiful gift for someone who loves nature, do take a look at the Little Silver Hedgehog Etsy shop and maybe buy a present from there.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

We found a poorly barn owl

 On Thursday afternoon I was in the pickup with Ian, my step dad, driving home when his hawk eyes spotted a barn owl snoozing low down in a tree on the verge. We will often stop the car to observe any interesting animals we see but this time it was concerning to see a barn owl perched only a few feet above the ground, with its eyes closed and during the day.

Concerned for its safety and fearing it has been hit by a car and was therefore injured, I hopped out of the car and slowly approached the bird to see how it reacted. I got quite close before it attempted to take flight further into the wood behind, but he couldn't gain any height. It flapped slowly and glided to the ground. I perused it closely. When it landed it looked exhausted. I clasped my hands over its back and wings and it hardly resisted. There was something clearly up. To keep the bird calm I tucked it under my coat, being careful not to get my hands in the way of its sharp talons, and headed back to the vehicle.

Quite coincidently we were all but a hundred meters from the home of a falconer friend. He has years of experience caring for birds of prey and has successfully rescued and released several before.

On arrival he sent us through to his outdoor shed to take a look at the barn owl. On removing it from beneath my coat and passing it to him it was clear the bird was very thin. He felt its breast bone which is a good indicator of a bird's weight. The poor thing was just skin and bones.

Barn owls have incredibly light feathers which enable them to fly silently to hunt prey. Most birds waterproof their feathers by taking secreted oil from a glad located above their tail with their beaks and preening it through their feathers. Barn owls, however, don’t do this becasue they need to keep their feathers soft for silent flight. The lack of feather waterproofing makes barn owls extremely sensitive to wet weather and the horrendous amount of rain we have had and their waterlogged environment is most likely the cause of this barn owl's suffering. With waterlogged feathers, it can't hunt and is susceptible to getting cold quickly. Barn owls need to eat regularly to maintain their weight, so just a few days without feeding will result in a thin, weak bird.

Our falconer friend said he would care for the owl and try to get some food into him straight away. If the owl would eat, there would be a good chance of it surviving the night and putting on weight over the next few days.

We eagerly awaited news from our friend the next day. In the evening he called to say he managed to get some meat into the barn owl's beak, which it gulped down. He then left meat close by it overnight. When he returned in the morning the meat was gone. We were so happy with the news.

Our friend is going to continue to feed the owl and monitor his weight over the next few days. The worry is that this horrible wet weather isn't due to stop anytime soon so he will keep the owl in until the weather improves.

I'm looking forward to seeing the barn owl released back in the same spot we found it, when the bird is healthy and the weather has improved. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

It's looking promising for our feathered friend. I'll keep you posted on its progress.