Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A typical road on the Isle of Skye.

I’m listening to Dylan. And driving fast in a small, or wee as the locals would say, car.

“Throw on the dirt, pile on the dust”

Husbands leaving wives. They’re out to roam. Jack woke up early. Got the hell out of home. She wouldn’t change it. Even if she could.

“You know what they say? They say it’s all good.”

Loch na cuilce (Map Link)

It’s a wee two lane road without shoulders. In many places it narrows to single track with occasional wide outs to give way to oncoming traffic.

By way of a pamphlet I read at a pub, I take it the folks here on the bucolic and sparsely populated Isle of Skye take pride in paving over as little land as possible. This is readily evident no matter where one drives. The roads are puny and thin. There are never shoulders.

Some places the roadbed has subsided on the constantly rain saturated soil and shifted off camber.

A local in a pickup truck speeds past, overtaking me in the opposing lane on the outside along a corner now sloping at the wrong angle. It looks like it wouldn’t take much for the truck to roll. But he takes the corner smoothly nonetheless, the truck pitching back and forth with the force.

In the States I have found I can typically take corners about ten miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit.

Here on Skye it seems the posted limit runs about ten kliks an hour too fast for comfort. I’m driving fast, but the locals roll faster. Much faster.

Bearreraig Bay (Map Link). A small stone cottage lies in ruins in the grass down yonder there.

The ruins sit beside a burn or a small creek flowing into the sea.

Despite the narrow lanes and frequent pulling aside to allow passing, everybody is exceptionally polite and easy going. They all wave or tap the horn in thanks.

Though the locals must surely get annoyed with tourists like me once in awhile.

Stopping along the shoulderless road, pulled as far as possible into the weeds. I threw open a car door at one point just as a man was easing by with little room to spare.

He slammed on his breaks as I hopped out onto the road only to come face to face with an old, frizzy white-haired, ruddy-faced angry Scotsman dropping f-bombs on me.

“For ***** sake, man!” he growled in his thick accent. Oops.

Master James Elliott walking down to Brother’s Point to hunt dino prints. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

Same site as noted above. The footprints are found on the beige slab of stone jutting into the sea.

Here on the island layers of sedimentary rock from the Jurassic epoch have been exposed along the seashore. Rock of this particular type rich in dinosaur fossils can only be seen in a handful of locations in all the world.

In a few seashore locations on Skye footprints from several different kinds of dinosaurs have been found, but can only be seen on low tide and are otherwise under water.

Some of the footprints, Brontosaurus in particular, appear to be mere roundish, water filled depressions on the seaweed-covered stone flats. They resemble elephant prints.

When standing back a few yards one can clearly see the trail left by a wandering Brontosaur. There is no mistaking it once you know what to look for. It’s easy to see the sequence of dinosaur footfalls as they wandered what was once a tidal mudflat or shallow lagoon some 170 million years ago.

In other places the fossil prints are remarkably distinct considering their age and location, constantly worn by the wash of the Atlantic Ocean.

A Sauropod print on Brothers’ Point. Note how relatively well preserved the toe prints are for being 170 million years old. To the left one can see the mark left by a claw.

The claw mark left behind as the sauropod’s foot sucked back out of the mud when walking.

The footprint showing its surroundings.

One particular site can typically only been seen in winter when big storms and rough seas sweep the beach clear of loose sediment. Throughout the rest of the year the prints are buried in sand.

A stone’s throw from this site, just above the beach and at the foot of stone cliffs, archaeological surveys tell of am ancient human habitation site some 10,000 years old.

I presume those early humans must have seen the prints, so keen in observation they had to have been and so in tune were they with the natural world in order to survive. The prints are incredibly distinct. One wonders what the ancient humans that lived nearby thought of the prints. The prints show in winter across a now fossilized rippled mudflat of reddish brown hue.

The tracks and the mudstone flat were not visible at the time of my visit. Both were covered by today’s sand which was, interestingly enough, also rippled from the same hydrophysical play that was at work there over 100 million years earlier. A lot has changed, but then again much remains the same. The same rippled design floated overhead in the wind whipped clouds of an otherwise sunny day.

A tridactyl foot print at Brother’s Point. Look for the triangle shape with a fourth point on one side, there at my toe.

The trail down to the rocky headland Rubha nam Brathairean or Brothers’ Point begins from the paved road as a short gravel driveway leading to several cottages perched on the steep grassy hillside overlooking the ragged shoreline below.

Just beyond the first cottage the actual footpath begins. The path leads through a sheep pasture and falls steeply to the rocky beach.

“I’m afraid this isn’t a place for small children,” the lady said in a firm, sincere voice with what appeared to be her husband in tow. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

I didn’t even slow my stride nor give her warning worthy consideration.

“Thanks. We’ll be fine. We’re a rugged bunch,” I said kindly with a smile and a friendly wave. I kept going, leading our five party clan.

I’m used it to it by now. I’ve been seasoned through the years by many odd looks and frequent warnings about places I take my kids being too dangerous for one reason or another. The cliffs. The rattlesnakes. The ticks. The lions. The poison oak. The whatever. Had I heeded all the warnings, my children would be a lot poorer for it and much less capable.

So onward we all walked eager to find the prehistoric treasure we were after. I asked a younger couple on their way off the beach if they’d found the prints. They said just a few small ones but nothing big. They didn’t find anything, I figured by the sound of it. They just didn’t want to admit it. My hope shriveled a bit.

But after just a few minutes on the exposed sheet of bedrock I found one of several of the best preserved prints. It was the first dinosaur footprint I had ever seen first hand. Sweet!

Another dinosaur footprint site holding Brontosaurus tracks.

I had previously captured a screen shot from a short video posted online by a major world-wide news agency, which had announced for the first time ever the world class find just two months before I arrived on Skye.

Using landmarks briefly shown in the video clip, I was able to pinpoint the site and proceeded from there to scan the area, walking systematically back and forth until I found the first print.

If I’m a pirate, then this is my type of treasure hunting. I may be genetically incapable of asking for directions and I certainly cannot bring myself to ask for location information on these sorts of sites. That would be a gross violation of etiquette. But it also takes something valuable away from the whole experience.

And so I gather cryptic clues from the Internet and various print publications and have fun piecing them together. Finding what I’m after without asking for directions or, God forbid, GPS coordinates is itself alone hugely rewarding and makes the experience far more enjoyable.

That is all.

Brontosaurus print.

Same Brontosaurus print sequence as detailed above showing here four distinct prints filled as puddles on low tide, the three animals Elliott in the background.

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6 Responses to Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Skye, Scotland

  1. Rainbow Saari says:

    What a delightful place. Well done, Elliot’s all, for exploring where others consider it unsafe for kids. Capable adults grow from kids who are allowed to discover their capabilities!

  2. rangerdon says:

    Scotland! Of course – I should have guessed: Elliott. As good a Scots name as there is. On my paternal side I’m a MacDonald and a Scott, but the oilman grandpa BH Scott was in the manufacturing business with an Elliott – I think Amos, the famous UC Berkeley football captain. Having been to Scotland, to the Borders, to track down the legend of the first Ranger Scott, I envy you your trip deeper into that land. And how lucky your children are. They will always have a sense of your Scottish heritage, and destiny. Interesting statistic is that a large percentage of those who traveled to the moon were Scots or at least Celts. Apollo 11: Armstrong, Collins (Welsh), and Aldrin (his mother, a Moon indeed, was from Scotland.) As Mike Collins wrote – “because we are wanderers.”

    Many thanks for this.

    By the way, if you ever visit Pipe Spring National Monument near Fredonia AZ – there are dino tracks alongside the short almost-hidden trail that few ever hike. If you ask nicely, the rangers may tell you how to find them.

    Cheers, Ranger Don

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Thanks, Don! Good to hear from you.

      Interesting note about the moon. I did not know that.

      For such a relatively small land, the Scots sure have made a mark on history. They seem to be disproportionately represented in many a great field of pursuit.

      This compelled me to pull from our kitchen drawer the great Scottish Tea Towel, “Wha’s Like Us,” that I’ll now have to quote in its entirety regarding great Scottish creations.

      Wha’s Like Us – Damn Few And They’re A’ Deid

      By Tom Anderson Cairns

      The average Englishman, in the home he calls his castle, slips into his national costume, a shabby raincoat, patented by chemist Charles Macintosh from Glasgow, Scotland.

      En route to his office he strides along the English lane, surfaced by John Macadam of Ayr, Scotland.

      He drives an English car fitted with tyres invented by John Boyd Dunlop of Dreghorn, Scotland.

      At the train station he boards a train, the forerunner of which was a steam engine, invented by James Watt of Greenock, Scotland.

      He then pours himself a cup of coffee from a thermos flask, the latter invented by James Dewar, a Scotsman from Kincardine-on-Forth.

      At the office he receives the mail bearing adhesive stamps invented by James Chalmers of Dundee, Scotland.

      During the day he uses the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

      At home in the evening his daughter pedals her bicycle invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, blacksmith of Dumfries, Scotland.

      He watches the news on his television, an invention of John Logie Baird of Helensburgh, Scotland,

      And an item about the U.S. Navy, founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland.

      He has by now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation he picks up the Bible only to find that the first man mentioned in the good book is a Scot, King James VI, who authorised its translation.

      Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots.

      He could take to drink, but the Scots make the best in the world.

      He could take a rifle and end it all but the breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.

      If he escapes death, he might then find himself on an operating table injected with penicillin, which was discovered by Alexander Fleming of Darvel, Scotland.

      Or under anaesthetic, which was discovered by Sir James Young Simpson of Bathgate, Scotland.

      Out of the anaesthetic, he would find no comfort in learning he was as safe as the Bank of England founded by William Paterson of Dumfries, Scotland.

      Perhaps his only remaining hope would be to get a transfusion of guid Scottish blood which would entitle him to ask “Wha’s Like Us”.

      • rangerdon says:

        Don’t forget the other Scottish MacAdam, a botanist, when you eat a macadamia nut. As far as Apollo goes: Shepard, Bean, Gordon, David Scott – and Armstrong, Aldrin/Moon, and Collins. Not bad for a tiny, cold country where the national dish can’t be imported to the US and oatmeal is the grain of choice. There’s a good book about this – How the Scots Invented the Modern World, by someone who’s not Scottish.

        Great quote, too, and I’ll borrow it. Hope you and your family can have many such adventures – what a gift to them, Jack, and to us, as you share the stories.

      • Jack Elliott says:

        Ha. Of course. MacAdam. . .macadamia.

  3. We don’t get annoyed with people who DO pull over, only those who refuse to for miles on end! All the time I’ve spent on Skye and I still haven’t had chance to go to see the dinosaur footprints. I was busy doing the mountains before but, now I’ve done them, I’ve got chance so must go down to that beach!

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