Friday, 1 October 2004

Archaeological Marine Band Display

A few months back, when I wrote about my bike ride to Grimethorpe, I mentioned seeing a strange little sign on Wombwell Lane that read "Archaeological Marine Band Display" and which seemed to be pointing straight into the untamed undergrowth.
Now what does the wording conjure up in your mind?  Probably vague images of very old American soldiers playing trumpets on the deck of some brave naval ship.
Little did I know that an answerphone message left by a concerned reader would put me in touch with a former Development Director of Stairfoot Brickworks, Alan Winlow, who in turn would take me on a journey from Texas in the West to the Urals in the East whilst at the same time journeying back in time some 300 million years.  (However, even I didn't do this one on my bike).
The Marine Band (known as the Mansfield or Aegiranum Marine Band) is of course a layer of sediment that was created during the Carboniferous Period.  Other layers created at this time are Carboniferous Limestone, Millstone Grit and the Coal Measures, all of which have given our region its distinctive character and its former industrial importance.
The Carboniferous period (350 to 300 million years ago) was a spectacular time in geological history with the formation of the first equatorial rain forests, and rapid evolutionary changes in flora and fauna.  There were also some seventy cases of global warming, when the ice caps melted and sea levels rose.  Of these there were four main ones, and during the last of these the Aegiranum Marine Band was laid down at a time when Barnsley would have formed part of the sea bed.  The band is eight feet thick and contains various types of fossil, some of them unique. As millennia passed the Band was buried under subsequent layers of sediment and rock formation, but then movements in the Earth's crust over long periods of time re-exposed the Band in a number of places - hence Texas and the Urals and also Barnsley. Because of the rapid changes just mentioned, the Band is distinctively recognizable wherever it comes to the surface around the globe.  This makes it one of the important 'markers' in the geological record.
In the early 90's there was an all-weather display at the brickworks, just off the trans-pennine trail, and adjacent to where a section of the Band was exposed on the surface.  This facility was used by many schoolchildren and others who explored its geological significance.  It was part of a wider and very exciting scheme of community involvement and environmental concern in the local area.  Sadly vandalism and changing priorities for the firm that own the site have caused the display to be dismantled.  The exposure of the Band is of course still there and the display boards have been relocated to the western end of the office at the entrance of the brickworks (just next to where an excavator stands on a plinth) and the public can go and look at them there. 
If you decide to take the footpath from the sign to the Trans Pennine Trail it would be best to carry a machete.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Old Moor, Dearne Valley is well worth a visit.  It has a newly redesigned visitor centre and shop, a very good café, the Kids-go-Wild adventure playground, and a short Ponds and Picnic Trail, as well as longer walks to hides looking out over the main reserve.  I understand that the reserve has been there for quite a number of years, but the recent re-launch aims to attract a wider range of people to appreciate the beauty of the area and the wildlife.  In autumn the reserve is visited by thousands of wading birds and if you don't have your own binoculars you can borrow them from the visitor centre (in exchange for car keys or phone).  The children's play area was a big hit with Imogen and Jemima - the various slides and climbing frames being made in the form of giant wooden birds and animals;  a favourite was to be 'sicked' out of the frog's mouth and down the slide!
The Gannets Café is excellent value (cup of tea 59p, plain baked potato 99p, with other home-cooked meals and cakes etc. available).  There is lift access and on warm days you can sit on the balcony and look over the reserve.
The visitor centre is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, from 9.30am to 5pm (4pm 1st Nov to 31st Jan).  Admission is free to visitor centre, shop and café.  For reserve, trails, and play area: Adult £2.50, Child £1.35, Family £5, Concessions £2.  All free to RSPB members.
The reserve is the other side of Wombwell near Broomhill at the Junction between the A6195 and A6023.  Tel. 01226 751593