As surely as night becomes day, we all turn into our parents while we’re not watching. And so it is written in the genes that I shall collect old, obscure books on Cornwall. One of my recent acquisitions is the sweetest little book on shell collecting in Cornwall – published by Tor Mark Press in the 1970s.
I’ve always had a soft spot for shell collecting, unable to resist any vaguely good-looking treasure on the shoreline – and I know enough to feel lucky if I find a cowrie. But I don’t really do identification, much less labelled display cases. This book is so geeky about it all, it’s brilliant – within a few pages, I could feel myself getting sucked in like the tide.
In the chapter entitled ‘Making a Collection’, it advises: ‘The labelling should be as neat as can be managed and as well as the name should include at least the bare detail of the locality where each shell was found and the date. A separate catalogue of the collection can also be compiled and maintained, with fuller data.’ Ah, simpler times…
Also in the same series I noted ‘Pebbles on Cornish Beaches’! Hasn’t got quite the same ring to it, has it, though I’m curious to find a copy just to see how they manage to fill the pages. ‘Here’s a round pebble, here’s an oval pebble, and here’s an irregular white one!’
Anyway so here’s what I learned from ‘Shells on Cornwall’s Beaches’ by Ann Pascoe:
1/ Cornwall is very good for shells, thanks to its protrusion & the Gulf Stream
2/ The best beaches for shell collecting are generally on the south coast of Cornwall – Falmouth Bay, Gorran, Mevagissey and St Austell – but also Whitsand Bay (Sennen) and, best of all, the Isles of Scilly.
3/ A very sheltered cove or estuary inlet is likely to be rubbish for shells.
4/ The chances of finding a ‘valuable’ rarity are higher in West Cornwall, as you may chance upon something that has travelled further than usual.
5/ Good times to go hunting are after a southerly or westerly winds and also spring tides.
This post gives me ample excuse to mention my cute silver cowrie charm, hand-cast from a cowrie found on St Martins on Scilly by jewellery designer Fay Page. I gaze longingly at her clusters of mini gold and silver shells in the window of Cornwall Contemporary gallery…