When the tides are perfect, I always hope that the weather will be perfect too, but this is Cornwall in late winter and strong southerlies are whipping up the waves. I plan my rock pooling accordingly, choosing Porth Mear, a north-facing beach between Newquay and Padstow to avoid the worst of the storms, accompanied by Junior and a new friend and fellow rock pool enthusiast.
Whatever the conditions may be, it’s a welcome chance to grab some fresh air after months of writing my new book Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides, which is out on 2nd May with September Publishing.
I give Junior a camera to use and he’s straight on the case, trying out the settings and attempting to capture a blenny at the back of a hole in the rock. He spots some jelly nearby; the eggs of a sea lemon slug and we soon find the animal itself. We place it in water to watch its gills and ringed rhinophores (head tentacles) emerge.
We edge further down the beach, keeping a nervous watch on the swell that is breaking over the rocks and exploding through the gullies. Junior takes photos of everything and is entranced by the blue-rayed limpets, manoeuvring himself through every possible angle as he tries to capture the iridescent turquoise lines on their tiny shells.
We find two thriving colonies of St Piran’s hermit crabs, with dozens of shells of all sizes in and around one pool, all occupied by these hermits. They are immediately recognisable by their red antennae and blue-tinged claws, but they stay firmly tucked away in the recesses of their borrowed shells.
Junior is keen to show our new friend a gully where we often make interesting finds, but even as the tide dips to its lowest point, we are unsure whether it will be accessible. We climb to a high vantage point to look down at our favourite spot, but with foaming waves crashing over the rock face on one side, we admit defeat.
I lead the way over the rocks to another sheltered inlet and we clamber down into a deep cleft in the blue slates. The wet rocks are so steep and slippery that after sliding to the bottom I briefly wonder if I will be able to haul myself out again, but I am soon distracted by the richness of the rocks here. Three-spot cowries abound and a large edible crab is resting under an overhang.
Our friend carries on over a huge boulder to look at the pool on the other side. We discover cup corals at the same time; there is just a scattering of them on our side, but many dozens in the pool out friend has found.
Junior and I cross to take a look and balance precariously on the edge of a deep pool, leaning under a steep shelf of rock to try to take photos of the corals that are tucked away there. Most of the scarlet and gold cup corals are a deep, warm orange, but some are bright yellow like tiny suns.
Within a couple of minutes, we can feel a shift in the sea and the waves are breaking harder and closer to us, so we abandon our efforts to take photos and slip and scramble our way out of the gully.
Back on the beach, all seems calm and fish huddle under many of the rocks, waiting for the tide’s return. As always, this shore abounds with Cornish clingfish and worm pipefish.
Under the rocks we find a host of crabs and a few Candelabrum cocksii hydroids, which are fascinatingly variable in colour and shape, extending and contracting their bodies and proboscises.
Junior is especially pleased to find a bright orange Lamellaria perspicua (Dalek snail, as he calls it). It looks like a slug, but keeps its shell hidden under its soft body, exploring the rocks with two small antennae and a tubular appendage like a Dalek’s gun held out in front of it.
A short, prettily marked white worm with chestnut banding catches my eye, but I have little time to take photos as the waves are roaring in.
We watch the sea reclaim the shore from the safety of the tideline while we munch our sandwiches and check through our photos. Beaches can be challenging this time of year, especially when it’s stormy, but the vivid colours and strange lives of the creatures we have seen today, together with the chilly temperatures, send us home with colour in our cheeks.
9 thoughts on “Blustery Rock Pooling in North Cornwall”
Fantastic photos – looking forward to your book 🙂
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Thanks Trisha. I can’t believe the book is nearly ready… very exciting!
Will be buying your book on publication. Superb photos.
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Thanks so much Andy. I couldn’t be more pleased with how the book is looking – I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
I enjoy your posts even more in the winter!! 250 miles is, even for me as a rockpooling addict/fanatic (wife’s description) with three disciples (8, 5 & 5), too far to go to dive into Cornwall’s terrific coastline but you make up for it with your posts.
Keep them coming!!!
Robert Hayton M: +44 (0)7825 625 698
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Hi Robert, Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I hope you and your family do get to come to Cornwall sometime soon, but in the meantime, I’m very happy to fuel your addiction. 🙂 Best wishes, Heather
Hello, I’ve only just seen this! Very happy to have been up your rock pooling ‘friend’! It was a lovely couple of days & I’ve watched the latest full moon from landlocked Hertfordshire & had to make do with going through some photos from our trip & planning when I can get down next. Only definite trip is in October but I’m sure I’ll get down before then….
So sorry you couldn’t make it down this month, but it was lovely to share the February tides with you. It took me a while to write up the blog as editing my book took over, but it’s all on track now. Let me know when you’re next down and I’ll look forward to catching up. 🙂