Saltwick Bay, North Yorkshire

Saltwick Bay is located along the Yorkshire Coast, between Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, and can be accessed from the Cleveland Way, which passes the spectacular Whitby Abbey. The geology of the area is predominantly Jurassic in age, with the site often being described as a ‘fossil treasure trove’. The bay yields a wide variety of specimens, including common ammonites and belemnites to rarer finds such as marine reptiles, Whitby Jet and even dinosaur footprints. Even though Saltwick Bay is close to Whitby, it is still a very productive locality and you never leave empty handed. In fact, it is a good location for families and beginners.

The walk to Saltwick Bay from Whitby itself is approximately 2.4km and provides many picturesque views of the abbey, the harbour entrance and the remarkable coastline. The steps leading down to the beach are located just past Whitby Holiday Park, but can sometimes be slippery during winter months. It is also recommended that you check tide times for the area before arriving, as high tide can limit the extent of accessibility and could potentially cut you off.

Saltwick Steps
Fig. 1. The steps descending down the cliff to the bay.

Once you have made your way down the steps, fossils can be found immediately among the scree or in the shingle. However, it is advisable stay away from the base of the cliffs, as rock falls are common, with loose fragments of shale constantly falling down.

From my experience, the best fossils are found to the right of the bay, past Saltwick Nab. During your walk, you will encounter the remains of a Scarborough trawler, known as The Admiral Van Tromp, which ran aground in 1976. This accident lead to the death of two crew members and, even to this day, the circumstances of the accident remain a complete mystery. However, this shipwreck simply adds to the wonder and atmosphere of the bay.

Saltwick Nab
Fig. 2. The Nab is a prominent feature of the landscape at Saltwick Bay, as seen from above.

Ammonites are very common in the bay and, due to their easily recognisable features, they are possibly one of the most collected fossil groups along the Whitby coastline. The most common species is Dactylioceras commune, whose shell is evolute (that is, its outer whorl does not cover the preceding ones) and has fine, branching ribs, which are closely spaced. This particular ammonite is often found in nodules that have to be split open using a geological hammer, which then shows both the positive and negative fossil. If you intend to do this, wearing safety goggles is strongly recommended, as fragments of shale often fly off when the nodule is hit with a hammer.

Fig. 3. The shipwreck to the south of the bay.

The Dactylioceras commune specimen in Fig. 4 was found inside a small nodule, which, when split open, shows both a positive and negative fossil. The actual fossil is the positive side (right), while the impression of the ammonite creates the negative (left). Like most fossils at Saltwick Bay, Dactylioceras commune is Jurassic in age and approximately 178myrs old.

Fig. 4. Dactylioceras commune.

The ammonite, Hildoceras, can also be found in this area, with many specimens being discovered as both positive and negative fossils. Hildoceras lusitanicum is common and can be recognised by its evolute shell, widely-spaced ribs and distinct keel (Fig. 5). Hildoceras bifrons can also be easy to find and both species are approximately 180myrs old.

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