Dinosaur footprint on Staffin beach, with a 10p coin for scale
Although the vast majority of Skye is composed of fossil-free basalt rocks, there are exposures of sedimentary beds in several places around the coasts. Many of these exposures are difficult to reach, and many of them are rich in fossils. For the casual fossil seeker, the most attractive of Skye's sites are the ones with evidence of dinosaurs. Luckily, two of the best places to find them - Staffin and Duntulm - are very easy to get to.
Any collecting of fossils, or damage to fossils or prints at any of these sites can lead to a fine of up to £40,000.
Dinosaur Prints at Staffin
On the beach at An Corran, Staffin, are some remarkable footprints. They were left by a family of dinosaurs that walked across the sand here some 165 million years ago. To put that in context, the gabbro rocks of the Cuillin were formed about 60 million years ago, and they were carved by the glaciers of the last ice age on Skye just 11,000 years ago. These are very, very old footprints. To be able to see and touch them in-situ is an amazing experience. There is a sense of connection with these beings from an unimaginable distance in time.
The dinosaurs that passed here were Ornithopods, herbivorous creatures who walked on two legs. They, along with the carnivorous Megalosaurus and the omnivorous Cetiosaurus and Stegosaurus, contribute to Skye's reputation as the 'dinosaur isle'.
There is a fair cluster of footprints on a bed of sandstone on the beach. The prints are covered by the sea at high tide, and are often covered by sand in the summer. The best time to see them is after a winter storm, when the sea has swept the sand away, but it's worth a look at any time. You may be lucky. The main prints are not too far from the ramp that runs down to the beach at Staffin.
Dinosaur Prints at Duntulm
Score Bay, Duntulm
In 2015, there was a major discovery of fossilised dinosaur footprints on the shore near NG410738 just south of Duntulm Castle, at the north end of Trotternish. These prints, visible only at low tide, make up the biggest trackway in Scotland. They are prints of sauropods, a group of huge, long-necked dinosaurs that includes the brontosaurus and brachiosaurus. They date from about 170m years ago, in the Jurassic Period, and are among the very best tracks of their kind in the world. Some of them are huge, and the shape of the feet that left them is very obvious. It is awe inspiring to stand exactly beside where these massive creatures once stood.
Dinosaur Prints at Rubha nam Braithrean
In early 2018, a team of researchers from Edinburgh University found and photographed about 50 footprints in the tidal area close to Rubha nam Braithrean (Brothers' Point). Most of the prints were made by long-necked sauropods - which stood up to 2m (6.5ft) tall - and by theropods, which were the older cousins of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
It is a little more difficult to get down to - and back up from - Brothers' Point than either Duntulm or Staffin Beaches, but there is a path most of the way. The large prints are in the tidal area before you reach the point itself. Directions to the point can be found here.
Whether or not you find prints on the beaches, if you are interested in fossils in general, and dinosaurs in particular, the Staffin Museum at Ellishadder (NG506657) will be worth a visit. They have lots of stuff there, including more dinosaur footprints, the world's smallest dinosaur footprint, a dinosaur leg bone and various other fossils.
There is no electricity in the building, so wear warm clothes on a cold day!
The Museum is open between 09:30 and 17:00 - mostly - but not in the winter...