Nick and I pulled into the carpark after the so familiar drive across the peninsula from Penzance. Through St Buryan, Drift, Treen – the names still work their magic of expectation and finally the right hand turn which takes you down to your destination. There are few cars, it all looks just the same as it always did on those early morning trips, 25 years ago, when we brought basic breakfast to beat the crowds and have the beach to ourselves.
We take the barest minimum down to the shore, newspaper, novels, and a small shovel and some plastic bags. No, we are not going on a clean-up mission. My mission is to collect some of the choice shellsand for which Porthcurno is renowned in conchological circles. A teaching workshop on sorting shell-rich sands in order to retrieve the numerous minute shelly species that are deposited daily on the driftlines, is planned by the Conchological Society in a few months’ time. I am here today and can collect some raw material.
There has been some trampling along the main driftline – identifiable by the still damp barely disturbed sands on the seaward side and the numerous footprints in the dry sands the recent high tide did not reach. There are a few minor strings of shell-rich deposits nearer the sea. I take my small shovel and skim the cream! Round the small headland to the east there are bolder deposits of numerous white clam shells, Spisula solida. We collected a bucket of these as they popped out of the sands on the tide turn when we were here, ‘en extended famille’, for my father’s 80th birthday in August 2001. The clams sense the rising water table of the incoming tide and rise, perhaps involuntarily, to the surface. Dan and Emma made a wonderful paella with them at the cottages in Porthleven where we were staying at the time.
Today mixed in with the white bivalves there are bright orange, pink scallops and tiny cerise tellins. This shellsand is coarser and will make an interesting contrast for the sorters. I take my bags back to our pitch on the beach and tell Nick that I am going swimming. Still nursing his recovering toe, it was as much as he could manage to get across the mobile sands but he is happy with his novel and he’s a great people-watcher!
The waiter at breakfast had told me that he swam at Porthcurno recently and three days later he went down with a chest infection. Well I don’t buy that so I’m going to risk it. Even before my toes make contact with the water I know it will feel like meltwater. It always did and I hope it always will.
There is a crisp chill to the seawater off Porthcurno, it is tingly cold but soon my blood is racing around and it turns my skin rosy. I swim then I waft a bit arms outstretched. I stand upright and jump up and down, I think it’s joy! Rocked by the gentle waves I can look down through the crystal water to a seabed of pale shellsand with no blemish. The sands are rippled and there are scattered crescents of sunlight patterning the surface. I have this sea almost to myself. This is the best of Cornish swimming, it’s a purfication.
Before we leave I take my camera to the shoreline. How can I begin to capture the moment? There’s a group of schoolchildren and they’ve had their picnic lunch at the top of the beach. The teachers have escorted them to the water’s edge and they are rolling up their trousers and paddling. Jumping the waves, squealing, wading just a bit too deep and ‘OMG I’ve got wet’! Happy the children whose school is close by this golden beach.