The Devonian rocks at Pendower Beach contain shell impressions, but are poorly preserved and trilobites are extremely rare. However, as with all Cornish fossil locations, this site is mainly for fossil enthusiasts and geologists who are not expecting lots of finds, but who can appreciate an interesting location.
♦ Pendower beach is located east of St Mawes at Gerrans Bay, on the south coast of Cornwall.
♦ There are two access points to the beach. The western access is at The Pendower Hotel and is the easiest to find. It will also allow you to inspect the raised beach geological feature, although you will need to walk the length of the beach (approximately 15 minutes) to reach the fossil bearing rocks at the eastern end.
♦ However, direct access can be made from Carne at the eastern end, but, although closer, the approach road is harder to find and very narrow, steep and twisting. In either case, you will need to take the A3078 St Mawes road from the A39 and then look for the signed turning to either Carne just after the petrol station or The Pendower Hotel a few turnings further along.
♦ Parking is restricted at both starting points, although extra spaces may be laid on at peak times.
♦ In the summer, it is likely to be crowded with holidaymakers, so it is best arrive early.
♦ Ref: 50.206324, -4.944019
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦ –
First, a word of warning about the nature of collecting in Cornwall. If you are used to coming home with bags full of beautifully preserved specimens, then Cornwall is not for you. Almost all Cornish fossil sites yield relatively few specimens and you must be content with one or two finds (at most a handful) from each location. Even then, the preservation is often poor, with fossils mainly being preserved as flattened impressions. However, having said that, the area is under researched and collected, so if you can bear to drive past Dorset, why not give it a go?
CHILDREN: ♦ – Pendower is not suitable for families or beginners. This location is mainly for the amateur enthusiast and geologist.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦♦♦ – Access to Pendower beach is fairly easy. There are two starting points, which provide immediate access to the foreshore.
TYPE: – Pendower is a cliff and foreshore location. However, please be aware of the SSSI restrictions. In particular, no hammering of the bedrock or cliffs is allowed, but collecting from loose material is.
At first glance, the rocks at this site do not look too promising. However, you must look carefully. The smooth boulders of quartzite do not seem to be as productive as the ones with uneven surfaces, which, if you see, pick them up as they may contain fingernail shaped indentations of shells (see photo).
Fossils are preserved as impressions on the rock and can be very difficult to spot especially, in the dry. It’s best to immerse your rock in a nearby rock pool and then hold it up to the light. As the water dries, with luck, you will see the fine ribbed impressions of the brachiopod Orthis sp. and, very rarely, trilobites (these may be of scientific value if found, so you must take any such find to a museum).
There are many tons of rocks to search through and, although you may not see much at first, with practice, you will learn to recognise the type of blocks that are likely to contain the fossils. Just remember to leave enough time to return back to the beach, as there are no access points further along towards Nare Head.
A little further on, you will start to encounter much older rocks from the Ordovician period called quartzite. This rock is scattered all along the beach and the blocks vary in size, with some being some several metres high and weighing many tons, while others are just the size of small pebbles. This rock is a type of fine grained sandstone that has been mixed with quartz. It is extremely hard (harder than granite) and comes in many different colours. It is in these rocks that you will find the remains of shells, and, rarely, trilobites from the Ordovician period.
The main rocks of the area are from Devonian period and are mostly mudstones that have been altered into weak slates. They are strongly inclined and, to the east of the beach, there is a fault which divides the rocks between the Portscatho Formation in the west and the Pendower Formation to the east.
Running along the back of the bay is a fine example of a raised beach. This was formed relatively recently (within the last two million years) and shows that the relative sea levels were once higher than at present. The raised beach sits directly on the Devonian rocks and is a classic example of unconformity, as the rocks that span the period in between (approximately 350myrs) have completely disappeared.
Occasionally after winter storms, a submerged forest is uncovered, which contains many familiar species of trees. It is thought that these forests – examples of which can be found all over the South West – are around 3,000 years old and show that, unlike at the time of the raised beach, the relative sea levels have sometimes been many metres below current levels.
Apart from microfossils from the Portscatho rocks, there are no fossils to be found in either the cliffs or raised beach. To collect fossils, you need to head to the eastern end of the bay and travel back in time to the Ordovician period where you can find brachiopods and, sometimes, trilobites.
Pendower beach is a generally safe area and, at low tide, there is a beautiful, large sandy beach (ideal for children). However, there is a small risk of being cut off by the tide, but, due to the shape of the bay, you can see the approaching tide from a long way off. The fossil bearing rocks at the eastern end are very jumbled and contain many fairly deep rock pools and large steps. For this reason, we would not recommend this area for small children, as it would be easy for them to become separated or slip and injure themselves. Older, more responsible children should be fine, but please wear suitable footwear (boots/wellingtons).
Pendower has SSSI restrictions, so hammering on the cliffs or bedrock is strictly prohibited. For this reason, we recommend you take a camera to photograph any fossils and a field lens for looking at them onsite in more detail.
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 – Pendower Beach