Fossil Sponge from Flamborough

This fossil sponge was collected from the beach at Selwicks Bay, Flamborough Head, on a Rockwatch weekend in the early 1990s.

It was embedded in a fragment of chalk that had fallen from the cliff, so it dates from the Upper Cretaceous Period, 95 to 65 million years ago. I drew it for my 1996 book Yorkshire Rock, A Journey Through Time but since then the chalk that surrounded it has split into shards. The collar of the smaller sponge has disintegrated too.

How I imagine it might have looked, growing in the chalky ooze of the Cretaceous sea bed.

Sponges were common as the age of the dinosaurs drew to a close. They had a sac-like body with a central cavity known as the cloaca.

The nearest species that I can find is Laosciada, a mushroom-shaped lithistid, a kind of demosponge, informally referred to as a calcisponge. It lived in deep water, between 100 and 400 metres.

The skeleton of the collar of this sponge is made up of interlocking spicules, which look like little pyramids in close-up. They’re made of silica which, remineralised, forms the layers of flint found in the chalk.

North Landing


IT’S SO WINDY here at North Landing, Flamborough, East Yorkshire, that even the gulls are having difficulty making any progress inland; a gull version of Marcel Marceau’s ‘walking against the wind’ mime. A flock of pigeons is no more successful; they wheel around over the bay and veer off on a less wind-buffeted course.

Flamborough Head marks the border between sea areas Tyne and Humber, pointing out towards Dogger in the centre of the North Sea and German Bight on the far side.

Strong winds tend to bring seabirds in towards this six mile promotory of chalk cliffs, making it a favourite location for ‘seawatching’ but unfortunately today it’s blowing in the wrong direction. If it’s blowing from any direction between north-west and east it can bring gulls and auks, skuas and shearwaters closer to the shore but today it’s blowing from the south-west, tending to keep them out at sea.

You might expect to a lot of white-topped waves in such a strong wind but it seems to have the opposite effect, flattening the crests before they become top heavy. At the foot of the cliffs there’s an effect like beaten brass where gusts bring turbulence down to create temporary patches of smoother sea.

As a change in my watercolour of the cliffs, I started directly with my brush, with no preliminary drawing, painting the shapes of sky, cliff-top and sea separately, as if they were individual pieces of a jigsaw. A contrast to my habitual pen plus wash, which I used in my quick sketch of Howden Minster on our coffee break on the way here this morning.