In search of Tyrannosaur Featheri – fossil hunting for wellbeing
Alex, who has essential tremor, shares his personal story about living with tremor and fossil hunting.
I am newly diagnosed with Essential Tremor since late 2022. I’m pretty convinced I have had it bubbling under for quite some time, and it’s become more pronounced since 2017. As I was also diagnosed with Dyspraxia in 2003, I am fairly used to being a bit unco-ordinated, but ET adds another dimension. ET effects my hands, arms, trunk and sometimes my voice.
Alex the fossil hunter
A few years ago, I took up fossil hunting in earnest during a difficult time in my life after a close relationship ended. I will explain the title of this blog a bit later. At the time I wasn’t really thinking about the health benefits of fossiling but as I work in an NHS charity (Creative Minds) which specialises in creative approaches in health it didn’t take long for me to realise there were direct and spinoff benefits for me and others. I’m going to admit here that fossil hunting poses a few challenges for me. For one thing I don’t drive, so I’m either reliant on friends who drive or reliant on walking or public transport. This can restrict where I go and when and how much I can carry. Secondly, I have no head for heights (as in, I can get scared on a thick-pile carpet) and so the steep cliffs can be an ‘issue’. Also, as my co-ordination isn’t top notch to begin with (hello Dyspraxia my old friend), clambering about on slippery rocks isn’t my natural habitat. However, I was determined to enjoy fossil hunting no matter what the challenges were. With regular trips I got more confident and stronger. I only tackled the beaches I felt able to, but I found I could push myself to go further with each visit. Tackling the more difficult terrain was easier with a companion. Road testing footwear and different grips I have arrived at a number of solutions for some of the slippery surfaces and the scrambling about. To reduce issues with hydration and fatigue I take plenty of fluids including protein drinks, and snacks. Safety is constantly on my mind so I avidly weather and tide watch so I’m never too late off the beach and I take appropriate precautions with clothing, phone apps, and carry a first aid kit. Bearing in mind my disadvantages I have really surprised myself at what I could achieve.
So, I spent a few years up and down the north Yorkshire coast and found an abundance of fossils; ammonites, marine reptile, shells and all sorts of goodies.
Pictures of some of my finds from left to right: rare ammonite cluster, rare large ammonite, rare coral (hand polished by me)
There’s been a few trips to the other places: Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland. The scenery is often beautiful and dramatic, and it fills my heart with glee. Fossil hunting has given me so much – new friends, constant learning, fresh air, and exercise. In fact in health terms its good fit for the 5 ways to wellbeing: 5 steps to mental wellbeing - NHS (www.nhs.uk). As a Dyspraxic I have always struggled with routine forms of exercise, so getting strenuous exercise as a by-product (or by “stealth” as I like to call it) has been a real bonus. My fossil collection has really grown but is also a ready source of presents and gifts for others. I have been able to learn to hand prep some fossils myself using a Dremel, sandpaper and various bonding solutions, varnishes, and waxes. I’ve even set up fossiling education sessions for people I know through work and given away hundreds of fossils to patients, colleagues, friends, relatives, community services, mental health wards.
Unfortunately, as my tremors have gotten worse my confidence with the beaches of the north Yorkshire coast has been affected. Plus, I now seem to be more prone to travel sickness in a car (its at least a 2 hour journey from my house) and my knees (a separate issue) don’t seem to be so up for the strain. My ability to take photos or paint with varnish is being hampered by the tremors. However, I have not let these issues stop me so far. Now I more regularly visit the Holderness coast. Here the beaches are relatively flat and free from obstacles and the cliffs are nowhere near as challenging. Yep, it’s not got the dramatic landscapes, but it has its own more subtle charms. The place is not so busy, and the people are friendly. Almost everything I can find on the north Yorkshire coast can be found on the Holderness. That’s because the rocks were dumped in the clay (which makes up the Holderness) during the retreat of the last ice age or carried across the sea in longshore drift. Some would say it’s not nearly so prolific as the coast up north. It’s a game of roulette as to what turns up but there is so much variety in the finds. Here I have found marine reptile, mammoth, crustacean, ammonites, belemnites (squid-like creatures), wood, jet, sea urchins, coral, and an abundance of bivalves molluscs and shells. On the Holderness you can find rare ammonites and blocks of ammonites which are very hard to come by on the north Yorkshire or Cleveland coast where they originate.
So, I still get plenty of exercise and I can travel by myself via buses and trains as its bit easier to get to than Whitby and the like. I really want to carry on fossil hunting for as long as I can, building up the collection and keeping me motivated. Fossil hunting was a little lifeline at a sticky patch in my life and its still proving its worth whilst I get to grips with my Essential Tremor. Of course, I recognise that safety is paramount and lots of people with tremors are not going to be able to do lots of vigorous fossil hunting. However, fossils are still worth studying and collecting. Britain has some great museums and shops. Many museums offer virtual tours and there are many Youtube channels run by collectors that show their exciting hunts and can be like tours of the fossil landscape.
And to answer your question “why did I mention Tyrannosaur Featheri in the blog title”? Well, whilst there are no Tyrannosaur Rex found in the UK, at least 3 species of the Tyrannosaur family have been and if I happen to find a new one that’s the name (Tyrannosaur Featheri) I’m giving it! (I can dream, we all should).
Do you want to share your personal story? Then get in touch.