Extinction – What our young people think

Funded by National Lottery Heritage fund, ‘3 intriguing fossils and the landscapes they came from’ project took Skylight’s participants on a journey of exploration around the Borough!  Research inspired a show called ‘Mammoth’  which was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic.

This page contains all the details of our fascinating research and maps for you to enjoy the fossil walks!  Below you’ll find the video which contains the  thoughts of our young people and our journey across the Borough.  




You can also read our blog posts about the different research that took place throughout the project: 

Sparth Bottoms – The scorpion trail research and photos

Syke – The woolly mammoth trail research and photos

Newhey Quarry – The seabed trail research and photos

If you would like to try the Rochdale walks, please find the walk map PDF’s below.  


Syke Moors, when Skylight met Sue & the Mammoth fossil

Syke Moors 

Syke Moors is located in Rochdale, an area of moorland between Rochdale Town, Whitworth and Littleborough. This location was of particular importance to the group for one rather large exciting reason. Keep reading to hear about that! 

Due to the COVID – 19 pandemic, the trail with our young volunteers has been postponed, however, a few staff members and a young person ventured up to check the area out.

The walk up to the moors is in a beautiful pocket of the countryside, and during spring you often see many farm animals such as sheep, cows, horses and ducklings! It is a very hilly area with little hidden rivers. 

The route starts at Skylight Circus Arts, St Chad’s Fold, into town, up what is possibly part of the old road north, Folly Walk, to the top of Syke Common where we take a circular loop exploring the area carved out by the melting Glacial Ice.

On the rim of the valley the glacial layer of stones etc is visible, with a couple of large boulders that may have been deposited by the glacier, overlaying the shale layers.

The shale was easily carved out by flowing water and this continues today in the small stream.

There is a stone flag wall in the valley, these were common around the Rochdale area, even as back yard walls in terraced houses, as well as field boundaries. A stone obelisk in the Cemetery Trail says that they were sourced at Middle Hill, just north of Syke.

hlf funded skylight circus syke fossils
hlf funded Skylight Circus Arts - syke moors

We have found a couple of academic papers on the geology of the area which describes lakes formed in the Littleborough, Rochdale and Whitworth areas by the glacial meltwaters, what must the area have looked like then? – we think it’s too wet with rain now! They will be available for download from the website, http://skylightcircusarts.com/news/rochdale-fossils.

The Rochdale Survey, B Pearson, J Price, V Tanner and J Walker,
The Geology of the Rossendale Anticline By W. B. Wright, M.I.M.E., R. L. Sherlock,
D.Sc., A.R.C.Sc., D. A. Wray, M.Sc., W. Lloyd, B.Sc., 69 L. H, Tonks, M.Sc. 1927
(chapter X, page 131, Glacial and recent deposits.)

A description on the glacial erosion of the area, focusing on Cheesden Brook, Heywood can be found here https://www.heywoodhistory.com/2016/07/ice-age-carving-cheesden-valley.html?m=1

The walk guides will be printed and available soon, also available as a download from the above link.

Hopefully, we will be leading the 3 walks with a socially distanced group in September/October socially distanced of course.

When Skylight meets Sue & the Mammoth Fossil

The reason for this location came from a very special person named Sue. Sue is a friend of Skylight and is the proud owner of a very rare fossil found on Syke Moors. Many years ago Sue’s brother had found what he thought was a bone of an old horse, Sue then went to explain it couldn’t be a horses hoof as they do not fossilise. Sue (a lover of elephants) then began to do a little more research of the fossil in online forums, she found that it was unlikely that it would be a dinosaur due to it being so far North, so Sue decided to venture down to Touchstones Rochdale who connected her with someone who may be able to help. 

A photo of the fossil was sent to all the museums in the North West, and shortly after Sue was contacted by Dr David Gelsorp who invited her to bring her fossil into the museum. Dr David Gelsorp knew straight away what the fossil was, it turned out to be a metacarpal from a Mammoth! Dr David Gelsorp estimated that the fossil arrived in Rochdale around 10 thousand years ago in the last ice age and the fossil itself dates back to about 15 – 20 thousand years old, he confirmed it was a very rare find! 

You can hear Sue telling her story to our group of young volunteers here:

“It was really cool to meet someone so close to home who had found a historical fossil! To know the fossil I was holding had been through the ice age made me feel like I was holding a time capsule, and it was nice to share the experience with Sue and the group who were just as fascinated as I was!” – Young person

“It was really nice to meet Sue because her story was really cool to hear, the fossil was heavy and smooth, it made us think how we can put part of her story into our show because we could show a journey through time” – Young person

meeting sue - mammoth - yp - hlf - skylight circus arts

This fossil was the inspiration for a Skylight performance called Mammoth that was scheduled to be performed by Spotlight, a performing group of young people from Skylights youth circus. The performance was due to take place at Graciefields Theatre, Rochdale Feelgood Festival and Hollingworth lake. 

The performance discussed many ideas about the history of fossils and the landscape in and around Rochdale. Taking the audience on an adventure through time to learn about these stories, and how global warming is changing the shape of our land today. Unfortunately due to COVID – 19, just a few weeks before the show was due to take place, it was cancelled. 

A short trailer that gives a taste of the performance will soon be available on our website. 

skylight circus arts poster performance mammoth 2020

Skylights adventures for fossils – Broadfield Park, Sparth Bottoms & Rochdale Cemetery

A group of young people, silver circus members, Skylight staff and volunteers ventured out on a walk through Broadfield Park, over to the site of Sparth Bottom Quarry, finally reaching Rochdale Cemetery trail to investigate the area. This was part of a project funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund to research the grounds of fossils in and around Rochdale, linking to the appearance of Dippy at Number One Riverside in Rochdale.

Broadfield Park Boulder

it was really interesting to hear about the history of Rochdale. I was amazed to hear stories about the areas of land and rocks that we pass every day, not realising their importance in history. Skylight is right next to Broadfield Park, which I go through all the time to get to Skylight, I didn’t realise that the huge rock was a boulder that came from the most recent ice age!”  – Young person

The boulder placed in Broadfield park sparked interest in some of our members who continued to research further into its history, the young people found that:
“the glacial boulder in Broadfield park is estimated to weigh five tons! It is said to have been dragged by the glacial flow all the way from the Lake District to Castleton until it was moved to Rochdale – Broadfield Park. It is made of Andesite which is a fine-grained intermediate volcanic rock and came from the most recent ice age. It was really interesting to see!” – Young person

Sparth Bottoms

As the group approached the Sparth Bottoms site, the young people were particularly interested in this site as they had previously been told about the Rochdale Scorpion which was found here (the shape and movement of the scorpion were used as some inspiration when creating their performance ‘Mammoth’). 

The young people found out more information about the Rochdale Scorpion, by later doing online research and visiting Touchstones Rochdale that had a replica of the scorpion fossil on display! (insert pic of scorpion display). 

One young person found out that:

“Eoscorpius Sparthensis, but known commonly as The Sparth Bottom Scorpion, was found in 1903 at Sparth Brickworks. Scientists believed that this scorpion was the only one of its kind that had been discovered. It was also the first fossil to represent a complete scorpion from the Permian period. The fossil is now kept at the National History Museum in London.”

They also discovered information about an even bigger fossil, a fossilised tree! By visiting Touchstones Rochdale they also found out that
“Between the ages 1890 and 1904, even more fossils were discovered such as fish, trees, ferns and land snakes, we couldn’t believe that some of them were estimated to be around 300 MILLION years old!”

The group continued to share information found about Sparth Bottoms and the fossils found in Rochdale, and one young person realised she had a family connection to one of the palaeontologists. She was so excited to share the story and information, this is what she said:
In Rochdale Sparth Bottoms, Harold Howard discovered the Rochdale scorpion with a colleague and a friend called James Maxim (my relative). The Rochdale scorpion was in the area of a fully fossilised tree with other fossils like the scorpion,  molluscs, anthropoids and fish fossils. James was mainly interested in discovering fish fossils. Once he made these discoveries and donated them to the Rochdale Museum Service, James then became a lecturer at the University of Manchester to teach students about fossils.”

Rochdale Cemetery 

The group then continued their adventure trail and reached Rochdale Cemetery, this was also a place of interest as the cemetery actually holds a Geological Trail, one of our young members describes his experience of the trail

“A while ago I went on the Sparth Bottom walk. It’s a good route and I ended up researching a bit about the area. Features of the walk like the boulder and the quarry have been mentioned already, however, so I will discuss the cemetery.

One of the main things to investigate is a geological trail, set up there in 1855, (so likely to be one of the earliest geological trails in England). It’s a series of different labelled rocks forming a trail, going from oldest to youngest rocks (with about 30 in total). As the trail is now very old, it shouldn’t be too surprising that about 4 of the very soft stones have fully eroded away. In the intervening years, the layout of the cemetery was rearranged so some of the placings of the stones have become a bit illogical, the first stone now being positioned in a ditch, behind a wall, with no path leading to it whilst the last stone of the series is right behind the lodge at the main entrance. As we entered via the front gate, we did the trail in reverse.

The first few stones are not the type to keep very well over time, with one of them being scarcely more than a small, chalky, pile (apparently also soft for a rock as my father would attest having chewed a bit that crumbled off).  The condition of the stones improves from then on, with the labels on them being more and more legible. Written on each stone is the name of the company/quarry that donated it and the type of rock, e.g. Aberdeen granite from Mc Donalds (This is a real stone and is near the start of the trail, but due to the rearrangement not near the entrance).  I tried taking an etching of one of the less legible ones but unfortunately don’t have it to hand. I think someone else has a picture of it, though it’s still quite illegible.

So yeh, it was a fun trip.

Oh, final mention – The first and last stone have some special messages on them as they aren’t part of the main trail. The first has the inscription starting with “In the beginning, God made the Heavens and the Earth”.  While the final one ends in… “Speak to the earth and it will teach Thee.”, which given what we’re looking at right now feels quite relevant.”


  • The walk began at Skylight Circus Arts, opposite St Chad’s Parish Church, originally a Saxon church,  a beautiful piece of history, with some original stones remaining. 
  • The group then exited the park onto Drake st, they crossed Manchester Road at the traffic lights and walked up to Mandale park. The group then ventured down through the paths, this was the site of Sparth Bottom Quarry, where the scorpion and trees were found.
  • Sparth fossil Observer article and pictures can be found here.
  • On the promontory to the right stood Rochdale Castle, a wooden Motte and Bailey,  it was inhabited until the 13th century. Castle Avenue and Castle Inn are nearby.
  • At the bottom of the path, there is a left turn by the sewage works and solar panel farm. To Roch Valley Way, Turn right up to Bury old road, cross at the traffic lights to the Cemetery. The Finishing Stone is to the right of the Cemetery office, just over the wall.

A online link to the trail can be found here


We are also in the process of creating a physical map with information about the trail. If you are interested in receiving a copy please get in touch.

Other links and information about the trail










An interesting insight into another person’s adventure around the cemetery can be found here. 





Heritage lottery logo full colour version
This project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Fossil Walks and Research!

Our Heritage Lottery Fund Project has started!  Our project will be researching Rochdale Borough Fossil finds, local glacier landscapes and much more!  Our research will be used in a performance and we’ll be organising walks for local people to explore Rochdale’s pre-history past.

This weekend, our research group, young and old, tested the proposed 5.2k walk.  We walked past the erratic boulder in Broadfield Park, continued through Mandale Park, Sparth Bottoms Quarry (home of the Rochdale Scorpion!) and finished at the geology rock trail in Rochdale Cemetery.  The Victorian rock trail consists of 28 stones representing the earth’s history, although a couple were missing or eroded.  We were all fascinated by the discovery!

“Thank you Heritage Lottery Fund, I can’t wait to find out more!” Participant

“It was great to get outside, It was like a treasure trail!”  Participant

silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite


If you would like any more information about Skylight’s work please call or email our Creative Director Martine on 01706 650676 / martine.b@skylightcircusarts.com

Heritage Lottery Funding!

We are very excited to announce that we have received Heritage Lottery Funding!  

Our groups, volunteers and staff will be having lots of fossil fun!  We’ll be researching Rochdale’s fossil history and glacial landscapes.  Research will feed into a very special performance.

Thank you to National Lottery Players for making this project possible!

“Thank you Heritage Lottery Fund, I can’t wait to find out more!” Participant

“We can’t wait to learn about the erratic next door!”  Participant

silver circus juggling in mr kite
silver circus juggling in mr kite


If you would like any more information about Skylight’s work please call or email our Creative Director Martine on 01706 650676 / martine.b@skylightcircusarts.com