Following the Bellyford Burn is the disused Pencaitland Railway. This track is now used by cyclists, runners and walkers, and is a lovely walk. The old railway has boards along its way, detailing how coal was mined, and providing information about the old railway. In the middle of the walk are two very large spoil heaps that contain fossil plants from the Carboniferous shale.
♦ The Pencaitland Railway Walk runs for some seven miles, but the pits are situated in the middle of the walk about one mile from the start. However, there are several access points and a main car park is situated about a mile from the pits.
♦ The best access point is from the B6371 from Tranent to Ormiston. Just before Ormiston, you will see a car park after some woods on the east side of the road. Park here and follow the Pencaitland Railway Walk to the west. There are no heaps to the east.
♦ The spoil heaps are on the right and are very easy to see – clearly visible from the path with easy access.
♦ Ref: 55.914645°N, 2.9592302°W
♦ Grid: NT 40141 69477
♦ Nearest Postcode: EH35 5LY
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦ – Fossils here are quite common, but mostly consist of plant stems. Leaves can also be found, but are not as frequent as other sites nearby and are not so well preserved. However, there is plenty of material to look through, as the heaps are freshly turned and cover an extensive area.
CHILDREN: ♦♦♦ – The sites are suitable for older children, but you will need to help them climb the mounds and make sure they keep away from the edges. There are also mine shafts nearby, so ensure they do not wander off.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – The walk is a lovely, easy going trackway from some excellent parking. However, there is a one mile walk to get to the spoil heaps.
TYPE: – Fossils are found within the shale, exposed in the spoil heaps. This is the rock waste from the old coal mines. The heaps are freshly turned fairly frequently.
Not having to worry about tides or weather conditions of coastal exposures is what makes these inland sites so good for collecting, especially when the material is turned over from time to time and kept fresh. You can sit for hours here, on top of the spoil heap with fantastic views across the landscape picking up pieces of shale, splitting larger pieces, searching for plant remains.
It is a shame that most of the fossils are stems. Fossil leaves can be found, but are not as common and are hard work to find. A lot of the spoil is in tiny broken pieces of shale, but, where the runoff from rain has cut down into the heaps, larger slabs are exposed and are excellent to split. The larger material is found below the surface, so it may be a good idea to dig down a little. Calamites and Stigma are common.
Northwest of Ormiston, there are disused pits and mines in the Limestone Coal Formation of the Clackmannan Group. The deposits are from the Namurian Stage (Pendleian Substage) of the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous) between 322 to 326myrs old. The Limestone Coal Formation comprises units of coarse sandstones, siltstones, mudstone, and limestones with thin coals and ironstones.
The Limestone Coal Formation, the Tranent Splint, Four Foot and Diamond No1 seams all outcrop in the vicinity of Ormiston, but there are many faults in the area, which make the extraction of coal both difficult and expensive.
Common sense when collecting at all locations should always be used. The site is fairly safe, but care should be taken when climbing the heap, as the shale can be slippery. Also be aware that there are mine shafts in the area.
Most of the fossils can be found by picking up pieces of shale from the heaps, but the best fossils are found by splitting the larger blocks of shale, which is quite soft. However, you will need plenty of paper to wrap the plant remains carefully, and ensure that you treat these with consolidating material as soon as possible. The best advice is to try to take whole blocks of fossiliferous shale back home, split these open and preserve the fossils immediately.
The large spoil heaps are part of the railway walk. There are no restrictions on access, hammering or collecting.