A Time for Reconnecting and Saying Goodbye

A couple of days after our return from South Africa Nick and I drive to Bath to meet up with one of Nick’s long-standing and very good friends.  He and Nick worked together, in the sense that John as a lawyer worked for companies that employed Nick over a period of years.  Think the old Stalin and Genghis Khan joke and you have their political standpoints.  The last time Stalin took on Genghis Khan was when we sailed with Nigel in Croatia…………  Ostensibly we are meeting in Bath so that we can eat fish and chips at John’s favourite chippie.  But first it seems right that we should sing for our supper so we meet at the gates of the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden with a view to walking. DSC00010 (2)40 It is a beautiful 18th century landscape garden with one of only four Palladian bridges of the Prior Park design in the world.   The garden was created by local entrepreneur Ralph Allen, with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and the poet Alexander Pope.  The garden is set in a sweeping valley where visitors can enjoy magnificent views of Bath. Restoration of the ‘Wilderness’ has reinstated the Serpentine Lake, Cascade and Cabinet.

Afterwards we head back into the city for our date with Seafoods Traditional Fish and Chips.  We are a bit early so we find a bar and order the cocktail of the day.  It was over-priced and over the top and I cannot remember the ingredients although sitting here at the screen at something short of 5 p.m. I could really fancy one now.  The fish and chips lives up to expectations and we drive home after a spell of quality time with good friends.

The ensuing week is social because we have been away and have friends to reconnect with.   The day after our F&C moment we host a Bookish Lunch at TOW with the Shaxsons, Celia Cas and Jan D.  At the end of the week we do a Jigsaw Evening in which the McGoverns participate.  It’s the Bookish jigsaw, the fun bookshelves with Pun Titles.

There’s more Bookish stuff the following week when Chrissie hosts our soup lunch and chat.  Fellow conchologist and garrulant (you read this word here first) comes to visit on Tuesday.  We talk shells all day.  He lives in Lancashire and seldom travels south and is staying with mutual friends near Wimborne.  He invites us back for a curry at their home on Friday and we engineer that we can accept this on the basis that it will be an early meal and we will be done and dusted in time to pick up Anne P from Poole as she arrives from Cherbourg ready for our willow workshop with Kim.

The day after Ian’s visit I get up early to drive to Cornwall for the funeral of my dear friend Stella Turk.  It is a humanist ceremony which I so connect with.  No singing of hymns in thin reedy voices but readings and tributes from friends and family.  The wicker casket sits before us in the airy chapel perched on a hill and I look through the windows out onto the landscape that Stella knew so well because her cottage is a stone’s throw from where we are sitting. StellaTurkCrem There are many attendees and I meet up with some friends and associates from my marine biological recording days, Richard Warwick, Keith Hiscock, some great and good from the Cornish Wildlife Trust.  They all look so much older, I suppose they think the same of me.  Pam T finds me and points out Jayne Herbert, she who has compiled a selection of Stella’s verse and printed a few copies.

I am cornered several times and by the time I can escape so has Jayne.  We later establish contact via email.  We may collaborate on getting more of Stella’s verse into print.  For the time being Jayne has a page devoted to Stella’s poetry on her website.  At the end of a long day I drive back to Hawkchurch where I am fed and have a chance to catch up with my sister.  Before I leave the next morning we walk a bit in the private woodlands owned by her neighbour.


Twilight at Sunset and a Falling Star

The last full week of January would be busy.  On my list I wish to make a visit to Stella in Cornwall.  Wrapped into that journey will be an errand to be carried out on the beach at Fistral Bay, an overnight stay with a nephew by marriage who lives close by.  I will drive back to my home in Dorset via the village of Hawkchurch on the east margin of Devon to spend a couple of days with my sister.

So I sally forth, as I do, on Monday just before lunchtime.  I am rather later than I had intended as I wish to catch a falling tide at Fistral Bay at the end of the afternoon.  When I make the long drive to Cornwall on my own I like to take an easy-to-handle sandwich to eat as it helps to break up the monotony.  Unfortunately the bread makes me sleepy and I must pull over to rest my bleary eyes.  Just under half an hour later I resume the journey and drive to Atlantic Road, Newquay where I leave my car in the first carpark I see.  Unfortunately it is not the nearest in terms of access to the shore by a long chalk, and I needs must ask an itinerant who is sloping along the cliff path plugged into ear-phones and his rolling gait, and demeanour when I speak to him, tell me he is within a gnat’s whisker of being spaced out.  He is on the way to the Spa to buy some tinnies he tells me.  But he is amiable enough and helpful.  It takes me a good quarter of an hour to gain the sand dunes which back the wide sandy bay with its rock platform well exposed on the northeastern margin.

I’ve come to collect some Glycymeris shells, Dog Cockles, the large, showy white clam shells with a chestnut-coloured chevron pattern and which were so popular with the ancients.  They collected the pleasing round shells as talismans, as pendants to string and probably for a range of other purposes for which we can only guess.  In life the robust clams inhabit coarse sand and shelly gravel.  The species is edible and is offered for sale in France under the name ‘Amande de Mer’ meaning Sea Almond.  ese were not collected for food; their worn, beach-abraded condition sometimes with a natural hole worn at the umbo, as they are excavated at archaeological sites, testifies to the fact that they were picked up as dead shells.  Will I find any today?

Right at the top of the beach, in the upper shore sand churned by many footprints and not washed by the tide in recent days, the first shells I find are two Dog Cockles, each holed.  I am much relieved.  I need these shells to create a figure for one of the chapters I have contributed to a forthcoming box, Molluscs in Archaeology, to be published by Oxbow.  The sun has only just set and the light is fading.  I give the search a good half hour and collect x whole or nearly whole shells of which y bear a hole at the umbo.

I had arrived on the beach in the late afternoon as the sun was making hste to sink behind the distant Pentire headland.  In the twilight I allow myself time to look around and appreciate this place.  There are plenty of late afternoon walkers, many with dogs.  In the distance I can see lots of figures surfing.  A couple of youngsters catch my eye.  They are standing on the open wet sands, talking.  I love their stance, the body language I imply.  I hope they have not a care in the world.  The young are our investment for the future.  Luckily my mobile phone has charge; I take some photos, they turn out really well.IMG_5440 (3).JPG

Clutching my bag of shells I find the track down which I came to access the beach.  At the top I have two options.  I can retrace my steps across the golf course or I can hang a right and walk along a track at the top of the dunes towards the street-lit headland to the south west.  I’ve been walking a while and asked a couple of walkers if I am going the right way.  They seem to think I am.  Then I spot a chap in a hooded anorak sitting on a bench gazing out to sea.  I ask him the way and discover I have chosen to take myself well out of my way and it will be a longish walk back to my car.  It’s clear he is not entirely sure which carpark I used.  In the end he offers to give me a lift.  I don’t hesitate for long, he is pleasant and I see he is a decent and mature man when he takes down his hood and I am going to give good human nature the benefit of doubt.  We talk and it turns out he has a daughter in archaeology, he knows about Littorina, he is interested in landscape, the environment.

Gaining my car I phone Richard and Anne Oliver who live in Redruth and tell them I am on my way.  They are giving me B&B and I am going to take them to dinner at the Penventon Park Hotel which is some 200 metres from their house.  Anne greets me and we get to know more about each other over coffee.  I hear about the work she does in social services, she is a jigsaw fan  When Richard gets back we go to dinner and have a delicious meal in the spacious and slightly retro dining room of the grandiose hotel.  I have a jolt of uncertainty as we are shown to our table.  Piano music greets the ear and I see that our entertainer is a woman in a backless and flesh-coloured dress.  For a fleeting moment I think she is naked!

The following day I go to see my friend Stella Maris.  She lives in one of Cornwall’s Secret Places.  She is in her early 90s and her health started declining rapidly about three or four years ago.  These last years are years I don’t believe she would have wished for herself.  I feel this to be so because we talked often.  Now she is bedridden, has dementia and has all her personal needs met by carers who visit several times a day.  Her life-time companion, Rose, shares the cottage with Stella and is kind, solicitous and, with the help of carers and friends, keeps their boat afloat.  This seems fit because for the majority of their shared life it would be Stella who kept house for them both, who occupied herself with all their day to day routine as well as carrying on with her own work in biological recording.  Rose would spend hours in her ivory tower, working on her botanical books.  She has several to her credit.

Stella is a star whose light is dimming, slowly and inexorably.  Each time I see her she is diminished and I marvel that, given how little she eats, she yet has reserves to hang onto her life.  I have brought a book to read to her, Hare by Jim Crumley.   Stella says very little these days but I can tell that the reading gives her pleasure.  I guess this is the comfort of a human voice, and one, in truth, that she knows well.



A Month in the Country

July slips by, days of bookish lunches (what a shock to discover we had a Leaver amongst our number), bridge, supper with local friends and Pims and Croquet one Saturday afternoon at Middlezoy.  Actually, forget the Croquet, or any garden game for that matter; it was an excuse to quaff some good drinks and eat some excellent barbecue food.

We have a long-standing agreement to receive Nick’s cousins at St Vaast towards the end of the month.  Nick goes back to play host for a couple of days leaving me to spend another week in England before making the crossing myself.  In that week there is a supper party at Canterton House where Paul, Viv, Maddy, Andrew, Lis, my sister Liz and I eat some of Viv’s delicious vegetarian food.  I cannot believe it when they tell me they may be on the move.  They have put in so much work on their house and the extensive hillside garden but they have always had itchy feet and another project awaits them on the other side of the valley.  We take a post-supper walk round the garden and admire the variety of hydrangeas that they have in flower.  My niece Lis takes a team photo.

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That night I am staying with Liz who lives on the east margin of Devon.  The next couple of days will be taken up with a visit to Reskadinnick to visit my dear friend Stella Maris.  She is very elderly now and is a fading star.  I find her comfortable in her life-long home, cared for by Rose and local support services.  I sit and read to her for a couple of hours whilst Rose is taken out for a break and to do shopping.  The book has been lent to me by Liz and is called ‘A Sting in the Tale’ by Dave Goulson and describes his ‘Adventures with Bumblebees’.  I find the low rhythm of my own voice very calming, the whole experience quietens the body.

I leave the Camborne area not long after 4p.m. and drive to Clifford Bridge where I have friends with whom I have stayed before, when breaking the journey between my Dorset village and Cornwall.  It is initially good to see them but since the Referendum things have changed, and when the conversation turns to how we all voted there is a divergence which is not easy to overcome.  I am keen to ditch the payneful discussion as soon as possible and would not want to return to the subject with them.

Leaving the next day I am planning to call in and see my mother before heading for Winterborne K.  I drive past the lovely farm shop at Morcombelake and notice that they have a display of willow contrivances on their forecourt. billandben I buy some of their snails, a couple of butterflies and a large flower thing that reminds me of ‘Weeeed’ from Bill and Ben.


Barfleur Crossings and Potty Endeavours

Since March Nick and I have been living a restless life.  Never in one country for more than a fortnight at a time, with intervals sometime less than that, our weeks have been peopled with friends and family in both our countries of residence.  We like visitors, and I at least, enjoy a shifting stage on which to live my life.  Nick is less convinced so some of my exploits have been solo efforts.  Like Orkney, and my time in Godalming when I cared for Ted whilst Demi was on holiday.

With the arrival of Jenny and Lesley in St Vaast we then find ourselves at the end of our hosting activities for the time being.  When we shift our location next time we will be going to join some dear friends on their boat at Frejus with a 3-week sailing spell in view.

In recent weeks I have been crossing the Channel on the Barfleur for a mid-week interlude, in order to visit my mother, play some bridge and when I can, tidy up the garden, notably the pots.  potsIMG_6011 (2)Although the winter in Dorset was not generally severe, there were a couple of very cold snaps when the temperatures descended into the minuses and I lost quite a lot of tender plants which I had raised in St Vaast.  All the tulips and daffodils I grew in pots are spent too so they need to be placed in a sheltered place and fed.   With summer in view I need to be pragmatic.  Things in pots do well during autumn, winter (if I choose the plants wisely) and spring.  Because there is enough rain.  Trying to have summer bloomers in pots only ends in tears when the weather is dry and I am not there to water.  So my new strategy is to leave these pots fallow and set ‘arrangements’ on them.  No shortage of shells, pebbles, boulders and other objets d’art chez moi!  And if a few pretty weeds sprout around my arrangements well that’s ok.  Whilst I am at it I haul out jugs which I keep in various cupboards and create a random.JugRandomIMG_5961 (2)

On one of my visits with Mum I take some of our holiday scrapbooks.  When my children were young in the late 70s and early 80s we had a series of hols in Cornwall and my parents joined us.  BessysCoveThese were happy times of the classic seaside holiday and we made scrapbooks using pictures, bits of writing, postcards and assorted tickets, pressed flowers and the like.  I thought these would be fun for the children to look back on in adulthood and their own children love looking at them too.  That this is an activity which gives so much pleasure to my mother is a real bonus.  When we first started going to Cornwall our first couple of visits were based at Port Isaac but then we discovered Prussia Cove and we never looked back.

The Grandeur of Granite: Rocks which Rock and don’t Roll

Our short week in Scilly is drawing to a close.  I’ve not rated St Mary’s very highly during past visits.  It is the largest and most populated of the islands with an urban centre attached to the harbour at Hugh Town.  It lacks the wild rugged ambiance of the other islands.  At the time of our visit the island is getting ready for an invasion of folk who will be coming

map_stmarysfor the annual gig-racing festival.  Something like 150 gigs have been transported to St Mary’s in the preceding weeks and stored in fields prior to being brought down to Town Beach by Hugh Town from where the boats will be rowed to their starting buoys for the race back.  Around 4000 people mill around Hugh Town and its pubs during the weekend.  We are due to leave on the Friday when the event kicks off with the veteran’s race in the evening.  But on the day we are on St Mary’s there are gigs and crews very much in evidence and we get a flavour of what is to come.DSC00308 (2)

Our mission of the day is to walk round the Peninnis headland.  We make a circuit of The Garrison and across the top of Porthcressa Beach to approach the headland.  BlogIMG_4072 (2)Around the cliff top there are some very fine examples of granite tors and rocking stones.  We complete our circuit with a wander round the cemetery attached to St Mary’s Church in Old Town, final resting place of the late Harold Wilson.  We cross over the island to regain Hugh Town where our senses of smell draw us to a pasty shop and afterwards we have a hour or so before we are due to take our boat back to Tresco.  I find my way into a show selling sailing clothing and treat myself to a couple of things that I will enjoy taking to Fefe and Francois’ boat for our Mediterranean experience with them in June.

I Stagger on St Agnes

Full English, Smoked Haddock, a Kipper…… it is not an easy choice at breakfast time.  I choose the Full English and am not disappointed but already know what the following morning’s choice will be when I see Nick’s kipper which is proper.

We board our boat for St Agnes and as we walk up from the quay we glance at a sign outside the Turk’s Head inn which invites us to order our lunchtime pasty to avoid disappointment.  map_stagnes

It is low tide and the boatman tells us that the bar which connects St Agnes with Gugh will be exposed throughout the duration of our time on the island so we cross the sandy ridge and follow the coast round Gugh. 1BlogIMG_3969 (2)  The coastal granite structures are striking indeed and later in the week John will tell me that the tors on the Penninis Headland on St Mary’s are held to be some of the best examples of weathered granite outcrops in southwest England.

Having completed part of the circuit we recross the bar and find ourselves at the Turk’s Head just before 1 o’clock when we have an appointment with a pasty.IMG_3977 (2)

After our pasty and a pint we start our circuit of St Agnes, walking south a bit then turning west towards Higher Town.  Before we reach the centre we take a track south which leads down to Wingletang Down and the coast at Horse Point.  It is then a matter of following the coast right the way round to rejoin the Quay at Black Point

During our walk Nick photographs birds and takes a panorama view at St Warne’s Cove.  DSC00180 (2)

At every turn there are different vistas to enjoy and at Troy Town we find the famous maze.  Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, or variations on that theme.  It is presumed that this is because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. IMG_0234 [1233958] IMG_3993 (2)Continuing around the island we loop Periglis Cove with its short causeway to Burnt Island.  There is a small water body with resident geese, with goslings, and walking round the track which skirts the pond I stumble and fall but thankfully no damage is done.  It is then just a matter of walking around the sea wall at Porth Killier, site of former settlement by Bronze Age people who left, inter alia, large middens of limpet shells.  I worked on these shells in 1998 which were excavated as part of a watching brief prior to the construction of the sea wall, and this is what I wrote as an introduction to my Report to Cornish Archaeological Unit based at Truro. 

As part of ‘a well integrated land/sea subsistence economy’ (Bell 1984), Scillonians from the Bronze Age onwards were gathering food from the sea shore. Limpet shells, often in large quantities, are found on most settlement sites in Scilly from the prehistoric to the Post-Medieval period (Ratcliffe & Straker, 1996). Previously there have been 2 studies (from Scillonian middens) of limpet shells – which usually make up the bulk of any domestic midden – Halangy Down (Townsend 1967) and Samson (Mason 1984). Evidence from a site at Porth Killier suggests that heavy exploitation of marine resources took place in the Bronze Age (Ratcliffe & Straker 1996). During 1996 excavations at Porth Killier took place prior to construction of a sea wall. Within the prehistoric remains present a substantial shell midden was identified, from which samples were taken and have been analysed for the purposes of this report. Prior to these excavations carried out by Cornish Archaeological Unit, eight bulk samples were taken from six of the layers exposed at Porth Killier by Vanessa Straker in September 1989. The shells from these samples also form part of the marine mollusc analysis described in this report.

Back at the Inn and suitably refreshed we repair to the bar where we compare notes on our respective days with John and Jenny before supper. IMG_4009The following day Nick and I will plan to spend time on Bryher, possibly my favourite island of the group based on my visits to Scilly so far.  Mike and Carolyn plan to visit Bryher in the morning and the Abbey Gardens in the afternoon.



Twenty Minutes in a Twin Otter

It takes less than twenty minutes to hop across from Land’s End to St Mary’s Island in Scilly.  This trip was planned back in the autumn when Carolyn confessed to never having visited the Isle of Scilly and that this was a destination on her bucket list.  And so it was that the Derricks and we agreed a five-day slot into which we squeeze as much island discovery as possible.

Our friends picked us up from Winterborne K on Sunday morning and we drove to a small restaurant in Okehampton to break our journey and have some lunch.  Onwards to Penzance and the hotel that Nick and I have stayed at before.  We enjoyed a pleasant stay, with a good dinner, comfortable room and hearty breakfast.  Carolyn drove us to Land’s End airport where I spotted a former geological colleague from Royal Holloway College, John Mather and Jenny.  They will be staying at the New Inn too.  We boarded our flight.  I have not flown in such a small aircraft before, one in which the cockpit is open and enables the passengers to watch the pilots at work.  I felt safer in this little ‘plane, flying at a height at which you do not feel you have lost touch with land.  I had great views of the Cornish mainland as we left the coast, and of the Longships group of islands with its lighthouse, just over 1 mile offshore.  These rocky islets, together with the Seven Stones Reef and our destination, the Isles of Scilly which are approximately 28 miles southwest — are part of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature.

Landing on St Mary’s was a hairy moment, IMG_3891 (2) not for any reasons of risk or safety, but because the little ‘plane is able to take off and land over a relatively short distance and as we approached the runway a substantial rock outcrop rose to greet us through the little window and as we sped past it, the wheels bumped gently onto the tarmac and we had arrived.

We were taxied to the port where we boarded a boat which delivered us to Tresco.  A wagon ride to the New Inn…….. and we had arrived.  The Inn is largely unchanged since we were last on Tresco, the atmosphere is at once lively (one has the bar and restaurant staff to thank for that) and calm and restful too.

During the afternoon we walked north from the Inn along the coastal path which takes us past Cromwell’s and King Charles’ Castles, J8 tresco.map2 then you clamber up track and over to the east side by Piper’s Hole.  You can follow the path round Gimble Porth and over the Point to reach the Island Hotel complex.  IMG_3923 (2)We meet up with John and Jenny Mather along the way.  Pressing on towards Old Grimsby you pass houses with gardens containing flowers just a bit too tender to find on the mainland and the Echiums are in full and glorious flower. IMG_3948 (3)IMG_3936 (2) Turning inland our way takes us past the school and the church, to eventually drop us onto the lane which leads down to the Inn.

Before supper we settle at a table in the bar and play a game of Barbu.  We are so absorbed by our game, and have not mastered the house drill for ordering food at the bar, such that we risk missing the boat for our evening meal.

When we go to bed we have chosen our destination for the morrow and will be picking a boat up at New Grimsby to take us to St Agnes and Gugh.



A Village Week, a Falling Star and a Plethora of Shells

Arriving back in the UK on Tuesday, we drove back to our village where Book Group would be meeting in the afternoon at our usual venue, The Greyhound pub.  We discussed Driving Over Lemons, a rather lack-lustre read for me.  I was not engaged by the author, former Genesis drummer Chris Stewart, at all.  Generally his genre, sort of travel books, is not my cup of tea.  A few wasted hours then, but in the interests of village involvement I stick with it.  Bridge the following evening was altogether more stimulating and on Thursday I factored in a yoga lesson, a visit on Friday to see Mum and on Friday evening the McGoverns and Cadecs came for a curry supper.  What with the village walk on Saturday I felt back on track with village activities.  We walked in wind, rain and cold but it didn’t matter.  A decent pub lunch followed.  An optional extra on Sunday was a SSAFA curry lunch at Bryanston School.

The week that followed was largely spent out of the county.  On Monday I drove there and back to see my dear friend Stella Maris, who is a fading star.  She has been a leading light in my adventures with shells.  Now, in her 90s, she is a tired lady, destined before long to become stardust.  How lovely that she knows me, smiles with pleasure as she recognises my name, my voice.  It is just a whirlwind of a visit to the Camborne area.  I meet Pam at the cottage so we can sort out some of Stella’s collections that need to be rehomed.  This is a job she started as much as 15 years ago, perhaps longer.  In the interval she has assiduously sought out people and institutions to whom she could pass on useful objects and books.  Once Pam and I have completed our task I take her, Rose and Andrew to lunch.  We return to Shang-ri La to await the arrival of Dave Fenwick who is coming to collect some shells and after tea round table in the parlour I head for Dorset with some boxes of this and that including a small collection of Drift Seeds and Sea Beans.

On Wednesday Nick and I slip down to Clifford Bridge to say with our very good friends, Bas and Rosemary.  Bas and I have plans to work through his shelly queries, gleanings from the hauls of seabed sediment that were taken during boatwork which took place during the field trip to North Wales.  I took three of these dredged samples back to The Old Workshop to process, sieve, sort, identify.  I think Bas must have worked through at least ten such hauls.  There are lots of specimens to look at because Bas is nothing if not meticulous.  This is a man for whom the maxim that ‘the best is the enemy of the good’ could be a blessing and a curse!


During our visit we give a day to walking the land around Haytor, taking in the famous granite tramway and some exceptional Hut circles in the neighbourhood of Hound Tor.  It is quite a long trek, intermittently uphill and downalong and we feel virtuous when we return to Mill House for lunch and a short nap for me and Rosemary.  Our treat is to eat at the very special Old Inn at Drewsteignton.

On Friday morning we cannot tarry for long.  There is just time for me to spend an hour or so working through a few more of Bas’ samples before we have to leave for Winterborne K because I have a special family party to prepare for on Sunday 21st.


Beachcombing: a Dialogue with the Sea

It has been my delight to walk strandlines throughout my living memory.  I have found some ‘treasures’ for sure, but there are others, as illustrated in The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline, that have eluded me.  The possibility of filling some of these gaps is a reason I will never tire of walking a strandline where I find one.


This Guide to Beachcombing has been written by Dorset residents Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher, people with a complementary range of expertise in marine biology,  scuba diving, outreach, photography and a solid commitment to conservation.  They are seasoned and highly knowledgeable beachcombers and have shared so much of their knowledge and enthusiasm in their book: a beachcomber’s compendium which offers a well-informed insight into the processes and materials that contribute to the formation of strandlines: the ephemeral drifts of rejectamenta that the sea has deposited for us to find.

The opening sections introduce the strandline and give advice on how to get the best out of beachcombing.  For members of this Society, walking the strandlines is a familiar activity and indeed, regular recreational beach walkers will recognise many of the items described in the book.  From the outset the value of reporting and recording sightings is emphasised.  I thought the information in these opening section would be familiar territory for me until I  met the concept of ‘water parcels’.  They are discrete bundles of water with properties, determined by slight variation in temperature, which differ from the surrounding sea.  Think of them travelling through the water as clouds float through air.  This phenomenon helps to explain an intriguing feature of strandings; how two or more long-haul drift items may wash ashore on a UK beach within metres of each other, having travelled thousands of miles together.

There is a short section entitled ‘Keeping Safe’ which advises on the subject of tides, weather, unstable cliffs, soft muds and sinking sands. A mobile phone should form part of one’s kit and hands should be washed after poking amongst detritus and decaying material. However one glaring omission in the safety section is the matter of dangerous debris.  Stoppered plastic and glass containers are often washed in with their contents.  This may be seawater but could equally well be something hazardous or toxic. Other potential dangers are explosive items such as marine flares, and sharp objects.  This is all the more important if you have young children with you.

The contents pages indicate the exhaustive coverage of  what you may, or may not, expect to find washed up on a beach.  A short introduction to beaches leads into seaweeds then  molluscs right through the range of organic items that fetch up on the shore.  I was particularly taken with the section on Mermaids’ purses:  egg cases of twelve elasmobranch (sharks, skates and rays) species are illustrated.  Many people have heard of Mermaid’s purses but fewer have probably heard of a Mermaid’s glove (a sponge).  Collectables such as jet, amber, seaglass, desirable driftwood pieces….. all these are described and illustrated.  Sea beans, or drift seeds, are unusual and highly prized and I learnt about the Outer Hebridean folklore surrounding Mary’s Bean, a protective talisman.

However this book also deals with the downside of beachcombing and what the sea is saying to us.  Carcasses, skeletal remains, oiled birds, live and dead strandings of cetaceans and turtles tell a sorry story.  The tides dump tons of detritus: plastics, fishing litter, land-sourced and sewage related detritus and the economic consequences and the problems for wildlife are only too evident.  This is a necessary part of the dialogue the oceans have with we landlubbers.  It throws our non-biodegradeable rubbish right back at us.  Unfortunately all to often marine animals ingest plastics such as bags and, increasingly, balloons which end up in the sea.  They become ensnared in netting, the unnecessary loss of life is very sad.   Concluding sections in the book give a more positive perspective:  the strandline has its own ecosystem of plants, insects and arachnids and supports a variety of coastal birds.

The guide combines the attributes of a concise yet comprehensive treatment of beachcombing and strandlines.  A stellar feature of the book is the profusion of excellent photographs which accompany descriptions of the common and rare beach finds, natural and man-made.  What a useful book this would be to have on the bookshelves of houses in coastal towns and seaside holiday homes.

Postscript: At the time of writing this review the western and southwestern seaboards of the British Isles and Ireland are being pounded by persistent westerlies and southwesterlies, with sea states reaching high numbers on the Beaufort Scale.  News of strandings, seemingly with unprecedented frequency and abundance, are being reported on the newsfeed of the Facebook page linked to Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher’s book.  Four species of goose barnacle attached to floating substrates were cast ashore over a November weekend in Newquay.   Three Jewel Box Clam species (Chama) have been identified on plastic Stone crab pot, probably drifted from Florida, which fetched up on Praa Sands in Cornwall.  Most spectacularly a huge piece of flotsam, a section of a US spacecraft, measuring about 10m (32ft) by 4m (13ft), was spotted floating at the sea surface between Bryher and Tresco.12278723_1098281743529312_5533964571901374062_n Just failing to make landfall off the north end of the islands, it was towed ashore by local boatmen. They said “We’re grateful for all those who helped in its recovery, it was a great example of the community working together.”  What a pity no-one in that community thought to suggest that hosing the item off, there and then, might result in a lot of useful and interesting biological information being washed away.  As Steve commented on the Essential Guide’s Facebook page, “I’m afraid the ‘ authorities ‘ felt the need to steam clean them (the goose barnacles) all off , including numerous other species which would have settled, a one-off chance to study growth rates and potential invasive species on an object with an exact date of entering the Ocean…..”  Let’s hope that Steve and Julie’s guide finds it way into wider and wider circulation.

Polyvalent at Polzeath

We’ve booked a holiday house at Polzeath and although the drive proves to be nightmaringly tortuous for some, because this is the first day of the school holidays, midnight finds us convened at a house which sleeps the full complement – 17.  There’s fish pie and French cheese which we eat in relay, at intervals as people arrive.  The 7 children roar around the ground floor, finally being shoved off to bed at 1a.m.  Some adults have already caved in!

On Saturday morning the kitchen is a hub.  Starting with croissants, pain au chocolat, local bread and lemon curd we each break our fast and during the course of a morning Daniel puts in a lengthy stint with the omelette pan.  Ems is in training for her half marathon, Joel starts to prepare for our Japanese feast.  The children organise a fashion show complete with make-up and then excursions are made to the beach to fly a kite, frolic in the water draining onto the beach 😦 and then repair to the house for hot showers, cookies, Madeleines, hot chocolate.  I look at the clock.  It is only 1p.m!

A pleasant interlude on my bed with my current Booker title is followed by a leisurely afternoon, the lull before the food preparation session which will be supervised by our chef for the evening, Joel.  During this lull CJ puts in the hours she needs to fulfil a working day.  Dan snoozes, Barns and Nick sort out potential activities for the week, the children visit the local shop with Ems to buy supplies for the midnight feast and then play hide and seek.

At this point my blogging schedule – if there is one – goes to pot.  On Sunday many of us walk the coast to Rock.  This is a very pleasant amble with small children and takes in cliff top, upper shore rock platform, sand flats at low water.  Arriving at Rock we find a bar for a drink and order portions of chips to dip.  Then it’s back to the house except I make a detour via the White Stuff shop to look for the dotty jumper which Anne P wants to buy but is no longer available online.  When I come out everyone has walked on so I hasten in their footsteps, as I think, but then realise that I have lost everyone.  I climb to high ground and Sam who has lingered spots me and tells me Nick came back to find me.  It takes some minutes to locate him then together we three make it back to the house.  In the event we are the first to arrive at the house as the others have stopped in The Oystercatcher to have a bevvy and play some pool.

During the week we aim to keep the children active and we also enjoy cooking for each other.  Lukie cooks a great beef and dumpling stew, CJ and Ry bbq some chicken and then she cooks us Persian lamb which is a triumph.   We loved the sushi and Teriyaki chicken Joel cooked with sous-chef help.  The treasure hunt which I have lovingly organised is well received and leads into a flash egg and rabbit hunt in the large garden.  The large garden really is a boon, the children rehearse over and over again a dance sequence that they perform just before we leave on Friday morning.

In order to relive some Cornish memories of yore we make a musselling foray to the shore one morning.  I select Constantine Bay as a likely locus for our gathering and sure enough we do find plentiful supplies on the rocks there.  Leaving the beach I notice that there is extensive algal cover of Porphyra.  I have made laverbread in the past but only with the raw material bought from a fishmongers.  But I gather some as it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity and after consulting the internet I see it is not big chore to wash and simmer the weed for a good long time after which you sieve and liquidise the resulting gleep.  I make batches of laverbread patties with bacon pieces and we eat this for breakfast with black pudding and poached eggs garnished with spinach and a basil leaf,  prepared by Dan.  This is his gastronomic contribution.  Always goes for a bit of style.

It is Barns’ and Dan’s idea to make this an electronic device-free week.  The children are allowed no interaction with i-phones, i-pads, i-pods.  They play games and the adults play with them.  Ruby notices this because she tells her father he is awesome for playing with the kids and not going on his computer!  You couldn’t ask for better affirmation.