Portishead is an interesting location with both Carboniferous and Devonian rocks. At Battery Point, many corals and crinoids can be collected from the rocks on the foreshore and there are plenty to be found. Further along Woodhill Bay, fish remains are also commonly found.
♦ Take the A369 from the motorway and follow it into Portishead. Then follow the signposts to Woodhill or Battery Point. At Battery Point, there is a public swimming pool, where you can park.
♦ You can find fossils at Battery Point immediately on the foreshore, which is the first part of this location. From here, the fish beds can be reached by walking southwest, passing a second smaller cliff and reaching a third much higher one.
♦ Ref: 51.38970°N, 2.97284°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦ – Corals and crinoids are plentiful along the foreshore at Battery Point. Fish remains are harder to find at Woodhill Bay, but scales can normally be found by splitting the right rocks.
CHILDREN: ♦♦ – Battery Point foreshore is suitable for children, although they must keep away from the salt marsh and boggy areas. Children and families can find fossils by simply looking through the small rocks along the foreshore near the point. More experienced collectors can walk southwest along Woodhill Bay to find fish remains.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦♦ – This location is easy to find. Parking can be found at the public swimming pool, with easy access down to the foreshore, just metres from the car park. The fish remains involve a fairly easy walk around the bay.
TYPE: – This is a foreshore and cliff location. Corals and crinoids are mostly found in the rocks on the foreshore at Battery Point, although they can also be found in the cliff section. Around Woodhill Bay, fish remains can also be found by splitting rocks at the base of the cliff.
Corals and crinoids are plentiful at Battery Point and in exposed rocks along the foreshore. Brachiopods and bivalves can also be collected. The Devonian rocks at Woodhill Bay yield fish remains – mostly scales, but also complete fish, teeth, jaws and fragments of bone. These can be found in the red-coloured rocks.
The first stop is at Battery Point. Search the rocks lying around on the foreshore, where most of the best specimens can be collected and requires no tools. The foreshore is next to the car park, which makes this spot ideal for children. Take a look in the rocks near Battery Point, where you should see layers of crinoids and some corals. These are again best collected from the loose rocks at the base of the cliff.
Walking southwest, a second cliff of Carboniferous crinoidal limestone can be seen and, again, corals and crinoids can be collected, but this is not as productive as Battery Point and along the foreshore. At the opposite end of Woodhill Bay, the rocks change to Devonian. These are the famous fish beds. In the past, some superb specimens (including complete fish) have been collected here. Look in the rocks on the foreshore.
The rocks of Portishead date back to the Upper Palaeozoic (570–400 Mya). The rocks mainly belong to the Old Red Sandstone (Fammenian) facies of the Upper Devonian (372.2–358.9 Mya) that yield several important species of fossil fish and the Tournaisian stage of the Carboniferous, are all clearly exposed in these coastal sections.
The most common fossils found in this area are fish scales and plates, burrows and crinoids, and if you are lucky, complete fishes and maybe even eurypterids (giant sea scorpions)
The foreshore at Portishead offers an opportunity to walk through a sedimentary succession from the Lower Carboniferous through to the Mid-Lower Devonian.There is excellent exposure of the Portishead beds, the rocks that form the core of the Mendips, and the area has been known for many years for the famous Woodhill fish beds.
At Battery cliff, the Lower Limestone Shales are from the early Carboniferous and consist of alternating limestones and siltstones. The limestones contain skeletal debris and well preserved fossils. The transition from Carboniferous to Devonian cannot be seen, as there is a shallow valley to the south of Battery Point which is infilled with Triassic sediments. The limestone units in Woodhill Bay are made up of a mixture of highly abraded skeletal debris and well preserved fossils of articulated crinoid stems and examples of the coral Vaughania (Cleistopora) which is the index fossil for the Lower Limestone Shales.
At Kilkenny Bay, at the Southern end of the sea wall, cliffs of the Upper Old Red Sandstone (including and including the Woodhill Bay fish beds) are well exposed. This is the Portishead Formation. This means that the rocks get progressively older to the South, eventually changing into the Black Nore Sandstone (of the formerLower Old Red Sandstones).
The sea often reaches the base of the two small cliffs at high tide, so you should ensure you check tide times. Near the fish beds, there is a long stretch of high seawall with no access, so be sure to return in good time and to visit on a falling tide.
The salt marshes and mud plains can be dangerous, so stick to the edge of the bay by walking along the seaward side of the seawall.
Different tools will be required depending on whether you plan to collect corals, fish remains or both. The corals are in fairly soft Carboniferous rock, but the fish remains are in very hard Devonian rocks. Generally, if collecting corals, all you need is a good eye, as many of the smaller rocks containing good specimens can be simply picked up off the foreshore.
Some of the cliffs are very high and often crumble. Therefore, take care and avoid searching where cliffs are overhanging or appear unstable, and wear a hard hat if anywhere near them.
This site is an SSSI. This means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted. For full information about the reasons for the status of the site and restrictions please download the PDF from Natural England – SSSI Information – Portishead