So on Thursday we sally forth like so many children on an ‘igventure’ (Nick’s childhood word). We are very gung ho, there is much banter and jokery. We are, as a group of shellers, plainly excited about what we might find at the beach. When Bas and I looked at the shore the previous evening the tide was in and there weren’t many shells lying around. The only clue we have is that offshore islets and the general aspect of the shore mean it is very sheltered and marine invertebrates like that.
Rosemary has made a picnic lunch for us all which is VERY KIND in my book. We’ve chosen a site near Plockton and we have to negotiate two gates which straddle an ancient single-track railway, and then proceed along a progressively rural track, through another gate and we can then park on the low bank above the shore. The tide is well on the ebb when we arrive. There is a small cascading burn which is flowing under a bridge and down onto the foreshore. This means it would be unsafe to eat any gleanings from this particular beach.
There are the usual cockles, mussels and winkles to be found, also a few oysters. As the tide goes down we wade in the still, clear shallow water, finding boulders to roll and underneath, treasures. I turn up a large specimen of the Snow Scallop attached to the boulder by its byssus. It is sitting alongside living cowries and a sea slug which when dark orange looks just like a dried apricot. We take numerous photos and roll the rock back into position.
The beautiful white scallop, well-named then, is restricted to the western coasts and islands of Scotland. It lives nowhere else as far as is known. I wrote a paper about this in 1986, my first venture into science. Something of an undertaking at the time given my background in modern languages and the paucity of O-Level qualification I had in science.
It became quite a labour, the numerics including the dreaded standard deviations, being done by hand. With no Internet to search out information in those distant days, it involved visits to Museums and libraries to search literature and measure shells. Young son Dan, who was 10 at the time, clearly felt the pinch because he commented to the effect that he hoped I would never undertake something quite so self-absorbing and time-consuming again.
Before the tide turns we have taken weeds to wash and have scrubbed boulders to sample all the microscopic species we’ll never spot with the naked eye. Sorting these sieved residues later reveals a fascinating array of tiny snails including a trio of species which look like minute whelks (less than 2mm high) with purple-ringed apertures. These are a find.
We take all our samples away in bags and pots and then sit on the grassy bank watching the tide flow towards us and eat sandwiches, much fruit and Kit Kats. We return to the house. It is my turn to cook our supper so I produce ‘Christine Street’s’ curry. We plan the next shore.