By Helen Butcher
I live and beachcomb in Cornwall in South West England. I grew up here and then returned to live here a few years ago with my two children—also both keen beachcombers. We live in the small town of Bude, on the rugged North Coast which regularly gets lashed by the Atlantic storms.
In the summer, Bude is a very typical English seaside holiday resort, popular with families. The area is popular year-round for surfers and those seeking outdoor adventure activities. The beaches are large and sandy and backed by towering cliffs. The main beach, Summerleaze, has a huge tidal swimming pool, part natural and part man-made. It was built in the 1930s to provide safe bathing in sea water but away from the dangerous Atlantic currents. It’s a wonderful, free facility enjoyed by kids with inflatables, paddleboarders, snorkelers, and the more serious swimmers.
We usually look for shells, sea glass, pottery, driftwood, buoys, sea beans, and interesting bits of plastic. A real treasure to find are pieces of Lego from the 1997 container spill. The Tokio Express lost 62 containers overboard off Land’s End, the very tip of Cornwall after being hit by a freak wave—one of them filled with nautical-themed Lego pieces. They have been washing up all over Cornwall and beyond ever since. We have a small collection of flippers, sea grass, flowers, and spear guns but we are still looking for a much coveted dragon or an octopus.
I also have a good collection of “Flotsam Army” figures, toy soldiers that we find washed up. Everything is stored in glass jars which I have out on display. I’ve managed to collect a good rainbow of sea glass too—my favorite piece is a tiny blue glass die.
We often holiday on the Isles of Scilly, a group of small islands 28 miles or so beyond the very tip of Cornwall. One of the smaller islands, St Agnes, is home to Beady Pool, a sheltered cove on the Eastern side, backed by the beautiful heath-land of Wingletang Down.
A Dutch cargo ship was wrecked nearby in the 17th century, carrying a cargo of Venetian glass and earthenware beads. Beads can still be found by digging in the sand at the high water line. The ones we have found have a black glass inner, surrounded by a brown earthenware outer. Old Town Café, on the main island of St Mary’s has a wonderful collection of these beads and other items found on the islands’ beaches and is somewhere we always stop for refreshments and a browse.
The St Mary’s museum has lots of displays and information on the local shipwrecks too. These islands are said to have more shipwrecks per square mile than anywhere else on earth due to the treacherous seas and shallow submerged reefs.
I beachcomb with the kids most weekends, either near Bude or when visiting my parents, a two-hour drive further down the coast towards Lands End, the most southwesterly point of England. The beach next to their house in Praa Sands is really good for finding Cowries, tiny and associated with bringing luck, they have become my favorite shell. We always compete to see who can find the most! The beach is a mile long and always good for finds.
We try to beachcomb just after high tide to see if anything new has been washed in. January to March is the stormiest time and great for finds as long as you are wrapped up well.
If we aren’t beachcombing we are still likely to be at the beach—joining a litter pick, or at a rockpooling workshop led by local experts. In the summer, we meet friends to bodyboard and swim and enjoy our beach hut. We keep all our beach kit there, and it’s lovely to shelter in from the wind or rain and enjoy a picnic. Pasties, traditional Cornish pies made from steak, swede (rutabaga), onion, and potato in a crimped pastry case are robust and filling and perfect for lunch on the beach—followed obviously with local clotted cream ice cream.
Other highlights in Bude would include a walk alongside the canal, which is now only used for boating and fishing, a look around the 1830s castle, which doubles as an art gallery and museum, and a wander through the shops in the town. There are lots of shops selling local crafts and surf wear and plenty of lovely cafes.
After your day exploring, I’d recommend pizzas and hot chocolates at Rosie’s, a beachside café next to Crooklets Beach with a lovely relaxed seaside atmosphere.
My bucket list items would be a Lego dragon or octopus from the container spill, a Frozen Charlotte doll, and a Seaham sea glass multi. We are hoping to visit Seaham later in the year for a few days of dedicated sea glass hunting. I also like finding the old plastic Smarties sweet lids with letters of the alphabet on them—I only need a few more to finish my first alphabet.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2020 issue.