This is an area extremely rich in Silurian fossils, but which is also a challenging place to collect fossils from. The locations discussed in the guide are suitable for those who are used to exploring and walking. However, it is a beautiful landscape, with many different types of fossils to be collected. In fact, the area is famous for its rich diversity of fossil species, some of which are unique.
♦ You can access this part of the Pentland Hills from Carlops along the A702. You need to park at the car park at Carlops. From here, walk south from the village, where there is a narrow road to the west. This starts on a fairly sharp uphill bend and then passes the Carlops water treatment works.
♦ Go past the works and you will pass Fairliehope, where the road changes into a track. This is very rough, with a lot of debris and large stones. Follow this and you will eventually come to the top of a hill with a view of the reservoir and North Esk Cottage. Walk down to the reservoir.
♦ Ref: 55.80687°N, 3.35177°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦♦ – The area is highly rich in fossils and there are plenty to be found. However, some are poorly preserved.
CHILDREN: ♦ – This location is not suitable for children, because the walking is too difficult. We recommend this location for anyone used to trekking in the hills or anyone who likes a challenge.
ACCESS: ♦ – It is a long walk to the location and the road is private. Even if you obtain permission to use the road, it is of a poor quality and suitable only for 4 x 4s. Getting to each burn is also a challenge, with plenty of uphill walking, with steep slopes, overgrown paths and water to cross. We also highly recommend that you visit during the summer and not during the winter, as conditions tend to be too dangerous at this latter time.
TYPE: – Fossils are found mostly in the cuttings along the burns, where years of erosion have cut through the bedrock. There are also a few disused quarries and outcrops among the hills. These can be found in the small burns around the North Esk River, which has cut through Silurian rock.
Fossils are everywhere in the Pentland Hills, in particular the area around the North Esk River. If you only have time to visit one burn, then you must visit Deerhope Burn first, as it is the easiest to get to (although even this burn is still a long and difficult walk).
Along the burns, you will find a number of cuttings, which the streams have eroded from the sides of the hills over many years. These often cut through the various Silurian formations listed above. Fossils are best found washed out in the stream beds or in the scree slopes. There are also a number of disused quarries in the area.
There are many different fossils to be found here, but the most common are bivalves, brachiopods, trilobites, corals and cephalopods. The truth is that you just never know what you might time.
This guide concentrates on the area around the North Esk River. However, there are other areas in the Pentland Hills that are rich in fossils. It is highly recommended that you purchase the book Silurian fossils of the Pentland Hills published by the Geologists Association.
The Pentland Hills is famous for Silurian shales, siltstones and mudstones (which are 423 to 443myrs old). These are rich in fossils. There are four main formations covering the Wenlock and Llandovery stages as follows:
Deerhope Formation (Deerhope Burn and Gutterford Burn)
These consist of laminated fossiliferous siltstones, mudstones and shales, with no sediment coarser than siltstone. Signs of bioturbation are common in the fine-grained sediment. Fossils include rugose corals, brachiopods, bivalves, trilobites and pelmatozoans.
Cock Rig Formation (North Esk River in old quarries)
These are medium- and coarse-grained, locally flaggy, cross-stratified sandstones, interbedded with clast-supported and poorly graded conglomerates.
Wether Law Linn Formation (Wether Law Linn Burn)
These consist of silty mudstones, mudstones, siltstones and fine-grained sandstones.
Henshaw Formation (North Esk River and Henshaw Burn)
These are red medium- and coarse-grained sandstones and conglomerates, with finer grained sediments.
There are a number of important safety notes to consider, the main one being that these locations are in the middle of nowhere. Therefore, ensure that you take plenty of water, food, a first aid kit, a map, compass, good walking boots and suitable clothing. Some of the burns are difficult to access, and you should take extra care as some of the slopes can be steep and slippery.
Do not visit this area on your own. Mobiles will not work, so if you do get into trouble, you will need someone else who can get help. And do not visit during winter, as the conditions are dangerous at this time and water levels will be too high. In addition, take midge spray and follow the countryside rules. In particular, take your litter home with you and stick to the paths.
This is one of the most challenging locations featured on the UK Fossils Network and is only suitable for those used to this level of exploring.
You will need a pick and trowel at these locations, as the beds are quite soft. However, the most important items to take are paper and containers to wrap and keep the fossils safe, as they are very fragile. A compass, map, food and drink are also essential.
This site is an SSSI. This Special Site of Scientific Interest, means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted.