Winter walks: Saltburn Gill on the morning of Wednesday 18th January 2017

Posted on 23rd January 2017

The Cat Nab car-park had just been cleared of debris from the recent extreme high tide by Council staff and it was overcast but pleasantly mild for the time of year…a perfect start to pointing at things whilst gently ambling along Saltburn Gill.


First stop the site of the Lime kiln works (now demolished) and then to point out where the water mill and high wooden walkway (used by miners walking to Huntcliffe Mine) were in the late 1800’s. After the Autumn walk Jacky from the Wildlife Trust lent me a fantastic, if highly specialised, book by John Harrison on the watermill history of North Yorkshire. In it I found that the first recorded mention of watermills in Saltburn was in 1272, with a peak number of four AND a windmill by 1304.  [Later in the walk we reached the top of the millrace where the beck had been dammed, 15m higher than the mill and about 600m upstream according to the First Edition OS map.]


Over the footbridge and into the tunnel of blackthorn which appeared festooned with lichen. I tried a couple of days before to identify some of them – it’s not easy. So we hunted for the three types of lichen instead: Crustose (flat against the stem), Foliose (small, leaflike & lying on top of the stem) and Fruticose (branching and dangling off the stem). We saw mainly foliose including a pinkish one and some tiny red pin-pricks of fruiting bodies amongst the greys and yellows, and then, one small fruticose lichen.


We were lucky to have Alan Simkins (a director at the wildlife trust and a mushroom expert) on the walk and he started spotting one of many tiny fungi …a species of micro-fungi showing as tiny spikes of black growing on an old decaying cow parsley stem…who would even know to look? And I say lucky…it took us two hours to walk 600m (disclaimer: this is actually only half an hour longer than it usually takes us 🙂   ).


He did very cleverly find what are now my two favourite fungi – yellow disco fungus (because disco) and the amazing yellow brain fungus …. which…. wait for it…. is a parasite on another fungus that grows on dead twigs; absolute shoe-in for a Dr Who villain.

We stopped in front of one of the many rock faces that rise adjacent to the path – sandstone in broken layers and looked at the erratic boulders at the top within the soil; the boulders dropped there during the last ice-age when the glaciers melted. Lower on the damp, shady rock face grew mosses, lichens, liverworts, and baby ferns.


The evergreen ferns were particularly noticeable (hart’s-tongue and hard shield-fern). We also discussed the shape of the winter twigs – thicker for the ash, catkins and cones for the alder, and differentiated the shape of oak trees – thicker and twistier for the English or Pedunculate Oak at the start of the Gill and taller with longer trunks for the Sessile oak up high at the top of the steps.

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At the bottom of the steps Kate found an otter spraint on one of the boulders in the stream – impressive turnaround for a beck that only a few years ago was so polluted by iron run-off from an old mine that nothing lived in the water.


Further round the corner we noted the minor anticline, a local oddity in the rocks which appear folded.


And so we returned back to reality, past the first few shoots of Ramsons peaking above the soil and the stooped new stems of Dog’s-mercury which should be in flower in the next month or so.

(FYI, Chocolate stop was sparkling wine flavour, milky mint, and a dark Pistachio.)

There is more information about the geology of the area at the local Riggs website . Information about the geology that can be seen at Saltburn Gill can be found within the Management Plan for Saltburn Gill  scroll right down and click on site name