ROBINSWOOD HILL QUARRY (nearest postcode GL4 6SX) Treasure Trove of Jurassic Fossils
was a chilly, grey March afternoon when we visited Robinswood Hill Country Park which occupies a hill overlooking Gloucester’s busy city centre.
We came armed with a map waymarking three different trails, but Julie had a particular destination in mind – a Site of Special Scientific Interest – called Robinswood Hill Quarry.
Gloucestershire has a very interesting geological history. In early Jurassic times, the area was covered by a warm tropical sea, the depth of which determined the types of rocks that were formed. This sea was home to many marine shellfish and when they died their shells were compressed into the oolitic limestone which forms the bulk of the Cotswolds Hill escarpment.
Over the years, the rocks have been thrust upwards due to the Earth’s geological actions, they have been eroded by extremes in climate and finally fashioned by glacial processes which have separated Robinswood Hill from the rest of the Cotswolds. This disconnection has provided a very useful corridor along which today’s trucks and trailers, lorries and cars hurtle past on the busy M5.
For many years Robinswood Hill was quarried and the resulting clay was used to make bricks. However, the quality of the clay was unpredictable and many of the bricks were misshapen. As a result, the quarry was closed down in the 1950’s.
Later, when the quarry walls were examined – a treasure trove of fossil molluscs were discovered including many ammonites. Up until now, fifty-four different species have been recorded and this is the reason that the site is so special.
We had to walk through a really old orchard to reach the quarry. The remains of white frothy snowdrops edged the path and happy yellow daffodils punctuated the undergrowth.
The fruit trees themselves though still slumbering were weighed down by large round globes of mistletoe.
The quarry itself was accessed through a small wooden gate and, as it clanked open, four very surprised scruffy looking goats scaled the almost vertical quarry face. I don’t know who was more startled – Bruno and I, or the goats!! These goats have a very important job to do as their delicate nibbling keeps the rockface free of vegetation without damaging it.
At the bottom of the rockface there was a lot of tree debris on the ground produced as a result of the recent storms and Julie examined the rocks for fossils, but she didn’t find anything of note. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the weather can cause large boulders to cleave apart revealing the fossil treasures inside but not today!!
The importance of Robinswood Hill has waxed and waned over the years.
Over 4,000 years ago, it was inhabited by Neolithic peoples and in Roman Times Gloucester’s strategic position on the River Severn made it extremely important. Robinswood Hill provided the all-important city’s water supply, and a two-mile-long pipeline was built by the monks of Greyfriars to connect it with the city centre.
, At one time huge reservoirs under the hill stored the vital drinking water but when alternative sources of water were discovered, these tanks fell into disuse and were subsequently filled in. Today they provide the foundations for the new visitor centre and carpark.
We left the quarry behind us and set off to explore the rest of the Country Park which extends to about 100 hectares and provides a variety of different habitats to explore, and homes for a rich diversity of wildlife.
The path back up the hill was slippery and muddy and low forests of dark green Harts tongue fern clung to the steep damp slopes. Sure pawed as ever, we gambolled our way to the top, but the ground beneath our paws told countless tales of human slippage.
Today, in early Spring, we could only imagine how beautiful it will be later in the year and as we trotted along the paths, we saw swathes of green shoots anxious to break bud. Many of the trees, themselves bedecked with small green buds. were already wrapped in rambling honeysuckle.
At the top of the hill, there were fantastic views in all directions and Julie stopped to catch her breath. A group of rabbits reluctantly disappeared into the undergrowth, but we resisted the temptation to follow them. After all, this was perfect rolling country and I lay down, rolled over, and agitated my back. It felt good. Bruno would have loved to join in but he just doesn’t know how.
We descended down the other side of the hill. The descent was equally slippy and slidy and there seemed to be a dearth of way markers for us to follow. Having said this, the bright and happy yellow daffodils seemed to direct us back to the visitor centre.
As we got closer, there were several intricately carved wooden sculptures dotted around us rather like the flock of wooden sheep that we had encountered at the start of our walk close to the children’s playground.
Our walk had come to its end. Robinswood Hill has something to offer every human age and ability but even more importantly, it boasts a variety of habitats that support a rich diversity of wildlife today – and in the past!
Bruno and I are looking forward to coming here again when the trees are in leaf and the wildflowers are in bloom – It won’t be too long to wait!