Tis the season for overspending, overindulgence and over-exhaustion, so what better way to recharge the batteries than some fresh air and rock pool exploration? It’s a family tradition for us this time of year to head in the opposite direction from the shops and to take a breather on the beach.
Christmas cards don’t often depict the traditional Cornish winter weather for good reason. Between the fog and the persistent mizzle, we have to imagine the view through the valley to the beach. Even when we arrive on the shore, we can barely make out the sea, although we can hear it crashing over the rocks and surging up the gullies.
The lower shore might be unsafe, but there’s no shortage of colour and variety in the sheltered pools. The rain kindly stops for long enough to let us enjoy our potter through the pools and we have the beach to ourselves.
Other Half finds a large common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, tapping at a shell and we wonder if the crab’s about to move house. Looking closely, the shell it’s interested in is smaller than its own shell and when I look inside there are legs in there. Most likely our hermit is carrying a female around with her until she moults, hoping to mate with her when she does.
The rock pool wildlife couldn’t care less that it’s Christmas, but the bright anemones can’t help but look festive and are all the easier to see now that the seaweeds have died back for the winter.
Stalked jellyfish are also easier to see on the remaining short crops of Irish moss and red seaweeds in the pools. In a short stretch I find Haliclystus octoradiatus and a beautiful red Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly.
Another jelly blob catches my eye, just a minute red speck among the seaweed. It seems to be moving, so I focus in with my camera to reveal a baby sea hare grazing its way across a tuft of seaweed. Its red sides seem to be snow-speckled with white and its black-fringed parapodia look like a tiny chimney pot.
In a few months’ time, if it survives the winter, this slug will swell and grow into a fat brown lump many times this size, feeding on the spring growth of seaweed.
Zipping across a shallow pool, a fish smaller than my little finger heads for the shelter of a low rocky ridge where it lies still, relying on its camouflage. The young shanny obligingly sits still for a couple of photos.
Soft rain begins to blow into my face as I work my way back over the slippery rocks to rejoin Other Half and Junior, who are entertaining themselves with the noble sport of throwing stones at other stones.
With our wallets intact and our appetites renewed, we’re ready for the feasting to begin.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. Here’s to more rock pooling adventures in 2019!