After a week of ear-numbing northerlies, the low January sunshine is at last winning through. Junior sets to work with his bucket and spade, attempting to create a sand fort that can be seen from space while I take a stroll at the water’s edge.
The stretch of sand that forms Looe beach is ideal for summer holidaymakers to lounge on, but generally offers little to the rockpooler, unlike the surrounding shores. Today is different; probably due to a combination of large tides and strong winds from an unusual direction.
Glistening mounds of shells are heaped the length of the shore, and are being nudged onwards by the incoming tide. They crack under my feet despite my efforts not to trample them.
It’s not unusual to see the odd limpet or a few mussel shells here – the harbour is carpeted with them – but this haul of shells is not just large, it’s more diverse than usual. There’s such a kaleidoscope of blues, whites, oranges and pinks that I have to get in close to focus on individual shells.
Among the shells, emerald-green strips of sea grass glow in the sunlight.
Many of the shells are fresh, some still alive, while others are worn down to their mother-of-pearl lining. I throw the live ones back into the water although it’s probably too late.
Most of these shells are molluscs, either sea snails (gastropods) or clam shells (bivalaves), but among them lies a remarkably intact sea potato. These fragile urchins come from the echinoderm (‘spiny skin’) family and are related to starfish and sea cucumbers. When alive, sea potatoes are covered in bristly spines and live in muddy-sand burrow. These spines quickly rub off if the animal is washed out of its home. What’s left is this white potato-shaped shell.
I’m soon absorbed, staring into the mass of shells. There’s nothing particularly rare here, but I never could resist shell collecting.
I’m especially pleased with the cowrie and the Auger shell (easily recognised by its twisting tower shape).
Before long the tide’s rolling in and Junior wants my help to fortify his sand constructions against the waves. As the sun retreats over western side of the valley, the January chill returns and we walk home in the evening glow. Below the cliffs I can still hear the sound of the waves pushing shells up the beach.