The landscape here at Scarlett is one of the most varied and interesting on the Isle of Man.
The most striking feature is the limestone rocks. This whole area has been quarried for centuries, first of all near to the sea, and more latterly, in the 19th century, in the huge quarry behind the visitors’ centre. This is now home to an abundance of wildlife. Swans nest here, and you can also see ducks, moorhens and other waterfowl. During the summer months groups of spectacular water lilies are also in evidence. The limestone itself was formed around 330 million years ago, when the Isle of Man lay thousands of miles south of here, near the equator.
In more recent times, the limestone has proved very useful as a building material. Limestone cuts cleanly, is hard wearing, and stone from this quarry has been used to build most of nearby Castletown, including the great Castle Rushen, started in the 11th century.
Limestone is also useful for farmers, and when the stone is burnt, in huge kilns like these ones below on the beach, it produces quicklime, which can be spread on the land as a fertiliser, and used to form the basis of a powerful lime render for buildings. Heated to over 1100F, the fires in here would be kept burning for months, as workmen removed the lime powder that would fall out through the bottom. The remains of a 19th century stone jetty and weigh house, where the stone and lime were exported, can still be seen near the car park.
This limestone was formed beneath a warm tropical sea, and as the millions of tiny sea creatures died and fell to the bottom, their shells helped form the layers of sediment that were later compacted, under huge pressure, into rock.
These layers can clearly be seen, and they provide rich pickings for would-be geologists. If you walk along the path and over the stile, you’ll see a small limestone building in front of you. Close to its westerly wall are some fossils, typical of limestone. Here you can see the remains of crinoids, tiny animals related to starfish. Parts of their tube-like bodies were frozen in time millions of years ago in the rocks here.
This dyke is next to a storm beach, an area where powerful easterly storms throw up stones and flotsam and jetsam.There are other striking geological features to be seen at Scarlett. About 65 million years ago the Atlantic ocean began to form when what is now North America tore apart from Europe. The earth’s crust cracked open, allowing molten rock or magma to flow up. Here is one of those very cracks, and they’re known as dykes. They can run for up to 100 kilometres and go down 25 kilometres into the earth’s crust. In this one, below the footpath, the sea has eroded away the softer rock leaving a distinctive gulley. But nearby, another smaller, dyke still has its original material in it.
But there’s more to Scarlett than just limestone. During the millions of years when this was forming, there were often volcanic eruptions under water, and there’s plenty of evidence of these today.
Here there is lava from an ancient volcano, thought to be out in the nearby bay to the east, and rising out of the sea here, at the end of a lava wall, is the stack, in fact a plug of lava in one of the vents on the side of the volcano which, when it cooled, formed into columns of basalt – one of the types of volcanic rock.
If you look closely you’ll see that many of these volcanic rocks have tiny holes in them - vesicles, where bubbles of gas were released in the molten lava, and you can also see that as the lava was flowing it has carried along pieces of other rocks which have been set into it, like currants in a cake.
The clean air of the Isle of Man means that lichen, which is sensitive to pollution, thrives. There are more than 500 varieties of this strange plant on the Island, and this part of the coast is a perfect place to see some of them.
Not surprisingly in this area, there is bird life in abundance. Herons, Oyster Catchers, Plovers and Cormorants are just some of the birds that you might see if you tread carefully. Indeed, the Cormorant might have given his name to the area. Some think that the word Scarlett is derived from the Old Norse SkarfrKlyft – Cormorant’s Rock.
At all times of the year there is something to see here, but through the spring and summer months the flowers in particular are in abundance.
Sea Campion, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Stonecrop and Squill, Rock Samphire and a riot of Sea Pinks, create an endless carpet of colour in amongst the rocks and sea grasses.
Looking down over the footpath is the bright orange tower of the former Coastguard watchtower which was continuously manned if the sea state reached force 5. It was decommissioned in 1971 but taken over by amateur radio enthusiasts who restored it and now regularly use it.
To learn more about the geology around Scarlett, follow this link to the Manx Geological Survey: http://manxgeology.com/volcanics/
Follow this link to the Manx Wildlfe Trust for more information on reserves throughout the Island: http://www.manxwt.org.uk/
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