WHat do Howick Bay, Northumberland and Guryul ravine, Kashmir have in common?

For the third time this summer John and I ran a successful and enjoyable field weekend in Northumberland aimed at first year OU students with an interest in geology and ecology (see Fieldwork versus virtual reality). Highlights of our ecology day, learning how to survey plants and lichens on Cullernose Point, included cabaret provided by a pod of dolphins cavorting just a few hundred metres offshore.

Students surveying the vegetation at Sea Houses

Our second day was spent looking at the early Carboniferous limestones and sandstones which make up many of the layers of spectacularly-folded and tilted sedimentary rocks around Howick Bay and the Whin sill which intrudes into these.


The Whin sill of Cullernose point behind the whale-back folds of Swine Den

Some of these sedimentary layers are rich in fossils – both trace fossils of burrowing animals such as Eione and fossil crinoids, corals and plant material.


Eione miliforme burrows in sandstone at Howick Bay


Tiny crinoid stem fragment in the Acre limestone at Howick

However this time we also found another fossil, intriguingly like the bryozoan fossils we had found just a month or so earlier in the Guryul area of Kashmir (see Back to Guryul).

Our mystery fossil in the sandstone at Howick Bay

Day 5 - Bryozoans 2

Bryozoan (Fenestella sp.?) in sandy limestones of the Permian Zewan formation, Guryul

The Guryul site is of particular interest to geologists for being one of the very few places in the world where the oldest Triassic sediments can be seen lying directly on top of the youngest Permian ones. The Permian/Triassic boundary was around 250 million years ago so these rocks are much younger than those at Howick but it would not be surprising to find bryozoans at both.   These colonial filter feeders were the last major phylum to appear in the fossil record, some 485 million years ago in the early Ordovician, but were common throughout the Paleozoic era and there are still some 4000 extant species today, mostly inhabiting marine environments.  However it now looks as if our ‘mystery fossil’ is probably actually a colonial rugose coral, perhaps Lithostrotion.

Day 5 - Bryozoans 3

Another Bryozoan, possibly Penniretepora sp., also in rocks of the Zewan formation

We’ll be running a trip to Howick Bay again on June 10-12 next year as well as another trip to Kashmir and Ladakh from July 30. If you’re interested in finding out more about either trip, e-mail me on h.a.kelly@open.ac.uk.

Wednesday 1st July – Back to Guryul,

The traffic on the way to Guryul was bad again and it took us a good hour and a half to get there. It was quite hot when we arrived, despite the haze, but there was a bit of a breeze. The first time we stopped to talk I discovered I’d ‘lost’ my camera – I was cross with myself, but pretty sure it would be in either the car or shikara, so not unduly concerned. Helen ended up as expedition photographer instead.

The day seemed to go well – John went through the basics of drawing a field sketch of the whole scene, which was new to at least some people.


Field sketching at Guryul

After that we walked up to have a closer look at the Panjal traps volcanic rocks before venturing into the overlying sediments. Even at this altitude (under 2000 m) some of us can just feel it’s slight effect, making us huff and puff a little going up the hills. We were hoping to find Gangamopteris fossils in the sediments and found some possible candidates but the fossils in the shales of the Zewan formation above this were much more impressive – plenty of bryozoans, molluscs and crinoids. Everyone enjoyed finding these and we probably spent more time fossil hunting than John had intended.


Bryozoan fossils

We then walked round the corner for a quick look at the site of the Permian-Triassic boundary before dropping back down the hill and heading for the vehicles and lunch.


Looking across to the Permian-Triassic boundary

We were happy to see a pair of hoopoes, repeatedly, as well as the paradise flycatcher we’d seen here on Sunday. A group of people who needed to change cash at the bank rather than using an ATM headed off promptly after lunch to get to the bank before it closed whilst the rest of us had a more leisurely lunch then headed back to the houseboat. We got to paddle the shikara again on the way back.


It was a very humid afternoon, with thunder rumbling around, though nothing dramatic happened where we were in the end.  Helen and I did a little more shopping – I bought some pretty paper mâché stars and a small scarf as gifts. Tahir brought Dr Butt over to talk to us pre-dinner – he had some good anecdotes about excursions he’d made as a young geologist, covering long distances on foot. Tahir and Dr Butt had dinner with us, then most people retired to the houseboats to pack.  As an older Kasmiri Muslim, Dr Butt wasn’t fasting, which fits with what the book I’m currently reading (The Collaborator, by Mirza Waheed) says about how Kashmir became much more conservative in its Islam during the 1990s. Dr Butt proudly told us he is 71, so he grew up at a time when things were very different in Kashmir.