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98mm. Stromatolitic Jasp-Agate. Please click on the image to alter the background.
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Photograph by Ingrid Warden.

A lot has changed in the time between the procurement of this specimen, and the writing of this vignette concerning it.

 

Back in April 2019, I had just recommenced collecting regularly as the languidly lengthening daylight hours allowed. One particular location along the Angus Coast intrigued me. It's a rough and treacherous walk from anywhere, and I had succeeded in finding several beautiful, albeit generally small agates where none to my knowledge had previously noted their occurrence. They were not bountiful, but with a great deal of legwork, often during inclement weather, they proved to be there. I had been searching the place since the previous August. It was a bewitching experience, as I had read how one might access the location, via a very steep gully south, and it was truly hair-raising, albeit exhilaratingly so. Later, I discovered a far safer and less steep way down, via the course of a stream. It got very overgrown with ferns and brambles in summer, but it was much preferable. 

 

One evening after work I decided to push yet further north along the coast, past the aforementioned place, to investigate another spot that I had only previously seen in photographs. I first missed the well-hidden access point, another very steep gully, and backtracking eventually proved fruitful. After a little edgy scrambling, I made it down. It was a grand amphitheatre of stone and scree, with no easy escape route, indeed at that stage I did not know that the place was accessible from further north by walking along the coast at low tide. Though again, that is a route not to be taken lightly, or rushed.

 

I had only a couple of hours before darkness fell on that initial occasion, so I took in a brief reconnaissance on the most likely-looking shingle bank. A few small coloured agates were found eventually, though they were by no means commonplace. They resembled those at the previously mentioned location further south. One I collected that day had a core of smoky quartz within red outer fortifications and folding opal-infused onyx. Though I only discovered that later. It was a grand place though, I felt drawn to it. There was the treacherous topography, the feeling of remoteness, together with the knowledge that it was mostly unknown as far as I was aware.

 

So I returned again the day after next. This time I decided, rather than returning via my point of access, that I would instead find another way up that I also knew to be extant. So, I made my investigations, again collecting more agates of a similar sort, then plumbed onward along a coastline I had never explored. The piece above was collected not long after I began doing that, and I at first dithered about taking it with me at all. I saw whorled formations in Jasper, it did not display any sure agate-patterning on the outside. I had the notion that it was a fossil of some sort, and the word "stromatolite" was in my mind. Ferrous stromatolitic Jasper, of a sort similar to certain forms of "Mary Ellen Jasper" encountered around Lake Superior. It was good-sized and intriguing, so I popped it into my rucksack along with a few other pieces found in the area, and moved onward.

 

I could not find the way up I had expected to be explicit. Sunset was approaching and I was unsure if I could return the way I'd come down as I did not yet know how the tides behaved here. So I struck up a steep slope that looked surmountable. It was initially, possibly in the past it had been used more frequently, however as I gained height, so the slope became more precipitous. My rucksack was heavy, and pulled me backwards as the ground became old overgrown screes, loose underfoot so that you had to dig your heels in to gain purchase. My heart was in my mouth, a coppery taste tingled on my tongue and adrenalin kicked in. It was steep enough now, where I thought I was surely approaching the top, that I could not see where I was headed as the summit was obscured, and so I began scrabbling using my hands to pull myself up. I had not paused for breath properly and now I was too frightened of falling backwards to do so. I noticed then that clumps of nettles were everywhere here, growing in the loose rough stones. I could not avoid stinging myself repeatedly. Later I found that these were examples of the "small nettle" which despite being lesser in size than its more oft-encountered larger relative, the common nettle, made up for that fact with a far more pernicious venom. Properly afraid now, I rushed for what I hoped was the top, scrambling up over and through ever-more unstable detritus, and thank heavens, it was. I collapsed in a very grateful heap in front of an old wooden gate. My hands were saturated with small nettle stings. White risen sores covered every scrap of flesh. I could not feel them properly for several days afterward. Driving was a bit awkward. The numb tingling sensation was a good reminder that following that particular trail again, was unwise.

 

Still not quite catching my breath, I made for the car, a walk of forty minutes at top speed. I arrived just before it was properly dark. An unexpected adventure, so early on in the exploration of a new location.

 

I waited until the September of that year to cut the piece, and upon seeing the multi-coloured whorls above a strongly marked central agate fortification that itself sat above a base of layered Jasper, I was elated. Whorls as well-defined and detailed as these I had only seen in agates from Scotland's west coast, most famously near the Carsaig Arches on the Isle of Mull (coloured examples also very rarely being found in the Ayr and Dunure areas, as well as on Kintyre.) Yet here they were in a glorious piece I had found myself along the rosy Angus Coast. This is my absolute favourite find, and likely will remain so. I took a great deal of time in polishing it.

 

Is it a stromatolite? Well, perhaps inevitably, that's a subject open to debate. I have had the benefit of speaking to an enthusiast of such material, as well as more than one geologist. It's about the right size apparently; stromatolites are generally quite large, with most being bigger than this piece. The whorl-like formations are also correct, here with those structures being later replaced with pastel shades of agate. There are clear vugs of quartz within these structures however, and this is the clincher. Vugs of this nature can only form within a vesicle in andesitic basalt. Or can they? Is there another possibility? Of that I am not yet sure. Regardless, it is a emphatically whorled Jasp-agate, and I have not as yet seen any similar material, aside from a single agatized stromatolite collected at Lake Superior. I have seen photos of many purportedly "agatized" stromatolites, but upon inspection they are clearly Jasperised, showing no clear agate patterns or formations. I have a handful of other examples collected at the same small location, though they are all quite disparate in appearance. None are as finely marked or coloured as this one.

 

Since that evening, now many moons ago, I have spent myriad magical and mysterious evenings, afternoons and early mornings at this place, in deep forbidding fog, in brilliant July sunshine and in freezing January airs. As such I have come to know it very well, and as with other locations deeply personal to me, I find myself returning there in thought, in times of anguish and fear, and in times of uncertainty and tumult. It is a comfort to have a place that feels like one I may alone know so well, far removed from the daily trials of an increasingly restricted existence. Yes, I have been foolhardy at times, in the pursuit of my quarry, that is: the unexpected, the overlooked, the irregular and the unfairly maligned. However I do feel that I have lived more vibrantly through having those experiences. Every time I am gifted the pleasure to go, I recognise that a deeper part of me becomes more aware, in being a ghost of that landscape, a life that is living through that haunting, and in doing so, is itself being haunted in return. 

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