The empty shells of sea potatoes, masked crabs, swimming crabs, razor clams and limpets fill my arms, along with a rather battered piece of seaweed. We haven’t reached the rock pools yet, but the sharp-eyed kids at my Beach Explorer book event have done as instructed and brought me all of the strandline treasures they can find. That, it turns out, is a lot!
The long, sandy beach here at Filey in Yorkshire provides a perfect environment for sea creatures that like to bury themselves in the sediment and the evidence is everywhere. The beach is covered in the tiny tubes of sand mason worms and we have no difficulty finding the coiled casts of lugworms that live in burrows beneath our feet.
The cliffs of the headland at Filey Brigg are a fascinating mix of rock types, but look ominously unstable, so we trace a path along the sea’s edge, well clear of any danger. Fish, crabs, anemones and starfish are the top things the kids tell me they hope to see. The silty water among the boulders and pools at the base of the Brigg will make our search challenging, but the children are in good spirits and full of enthusiasm.
On the rocks ahead of us, kittiwakes are swooping down and gathering clumpy beakfuls of seaweed to line their nests. On my walkover of the area yesterday before my evening book talk, I melted with joy at the unmistakeable calls of these pretty little gulls. Sadly, it’s a sound I rarely hear back in Cornwall these days.
The clear limestone pools at the end of the Brigg also took me by surprise yesterday. The distance across slippery boulders made them unsuitable for today’s family event, but I couldn’t resist exploring and delighting in finding fat sea hares, oaten pipe hydroids and lots of busy hermit crabs.
Despite the challenges of our muddy site, the finds come rolling in to our ‘shore laboratory’ tray. We soon have a baby sea scorpion fish, tiny brittle stars, shore crabs, a hermit crab and more.
We even find a great grey sea slug and a large female shore crab with a spongey mass of eggs under her tail. With a bit of help and perseverance, everyone finds sea creatures and the children (and their adults) do a perfect job of looking after their finds – keeping them in plenty of sea water, handling them gently and returning them to their homes.
It’s a long way from Looe to Filey but seeing the faces of the children as they find their first crab moults, see their first open anemone and hold their first hermit crab, makes it all worth it.
My children’s book, Beach Explorer, is all about discovering the beach for yourself through hands-on activities and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of explorers. If these families are anything to go by, Yorkshire has some fine young naturalists in the making!
A huge thank you to Filey Literature Festival for hosting me, Hylands Care Home for kindly sponsoring the events and to everyone who came along for your warm welcome and enthusiasm. Also, thank you to the Hull University Marine Biology Department students and lecturer who generously shared their knowledge of the beach and to the pod of dolphins who treated me to a swim-past on my last morning walk in Filey.
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