Tucked away in North-East Yorkshire, Port Mulgrave is a small, abandoned beach which was once a famous port for exporting ironstone. The few people who still flock to this place do so for another one of its riches. Fossils.

A fossils enthusiast myself, I recently went to Port Mulgrave with my dad and it turned out to be quite an adventure, a memorable day that I will cherish for years to come.

At the top of the beach, there were a couple of houses and a field with curious cows, but apart from that it was quite remote - the only way to get to the top of the beach was by car. In addition, we arrived there before sunset, which was the best time to go looking for fossils, so all that I could see were roads that twisted and turned and a curtain of fog that surrounded the car.

From the top of the hill, the only way to access the beach was a narrow path which led us down to a steep, slippery flight of cobbled steps. This was the beginning of our adventure! At the bottom of the steps was a makeshift access to the beach made by the local people. It involved going down a very slippery and steep muddy slope while holding on to a strong rope which had been secured to a heavy load at the top. Before the trip I had done some research on how to get to the beach and saw that there was an alternative route to reach the beach via another flight of metal steps. Alas, this information was out-of-date! The metal staircase was now merely a dangling mass, rendered useless after a landslip in 2021.

This Is Local London: The rope climb at Port MulgraveThe rope climb at Port Mulgrave (Image: Raghav Vaidya)

The rope route was daunting at first. My dad and I had to continuously check behind us to ensure we were placing our feet in the right places as on one side there was a drop that led to some thorny bushes! We were guiding each other and soon that initial fear dispersed. The descent was exhilarating throughout and the landing on the beach was rewarding. I looked up and could see nothing but the muddy path and the endless rope.

At the beach we went down another set of cobbled steps and could see old fishing nets, fishermen huts and even a tunnel entrance to an old mine, which was now bricked up.

When I started looking for fossils, I realised that my hard work coming down the slope did pay off. Port Mulgrave was rich with fossils, and I found ammonite (marine mollusc) fragments, fossilised wood and Whitby Jet -  a rare type of fossilised wood. Luckily, I also found marine reptile and plant remains.

The best complete ammonite specimens I found were towards the middle of the bay, near the landslip and I found them in round rocks called nodules. These usually gave signs that there was an ammonite inside, as the ammonite’s keel (or edge) was poking out. My fossil hammer and chisel came handy when I wanted to open the nodules and my safety goggles and gloves kept me safe. Usually, these would be Dactylioceras ammonites which are approximately 180 million years old. Below is an image of one that I found.

This Is Local London: 180 million year old Dactylioceras ammonite180 million year old Dactylioceras ammonite (Image: Raghav Vaidya)

While the possibility of finding older, more significant fossils had filled me with nervous energy, I had to keep reminding myself to not go near the cliff face as it had been constantly eroding and rocks could fall without warning. I did not find anything more valuable or exciting than I had already had; it was time to head back.

Going up the slope was quicker but more tiring than going down. At one stage of the climb there was a section of the slope, which was very steep, so I had to push the rope firmly to the right. If I loosened my grip the rope would become a catapult, sending me to the left, where the slope suddenly became steeper. After reaching the top it felt even more rewarding as I had managed to find some fossils.

I would recommend going to Port Mulgrave for anyone who has an interest in fossils and fossil hunting and someone who can manage the route to the beach. For younger children, there are plenty of beaches near Whitby which are safer to access and are good for finding fossils.

If you are interested in going fossil hunting, go to https://ukfossils.co.uk/. Here you can find coastal or inland sites near you that contain fossils and information about where to find them.