Who’s been walking on my beach?

Year of Natural Scotland – Winter Treasure Hunt

ardivachar beach

I have always loved the seaside in winter and on crisp sunny mornings I need no encouragement to abandon the domestic chores and take a walk on Ardivachar beach. Perfect for a solitary meander, watching the wading birds feeding along the tide edge and scanning the horizon just in case – well you never know what you might see in these magic islands. This stretch of white shell sand runs south for 5 miles until it reaches Howmore River, but even on the days when the wind necessitates a brisk walk, I rarely manage half a league* as I am usually distracted by something that the tide has washed in.

There is always a sense of anticipation after a big storm. What has been tossed ashore? What awaits in the flotsam and jetsam? I am awed by the power of the waves and the wind so I was not too surprised to find that the beach had been entirely scoured by the recent storm. The mountains of kelp which had been accumulating on the beach since Christmas had disappeared. Literally 100s tons of seaweed had vanished overnight. The beach was pristine, wet sand glistening in the pale winter sunlight with scattered kelp tangles, carelessly abandoned by the retreating tide, glowing like amber.

kelp tangle

Here was the promise of hidden treasure for the power of the storm had torn some of deep water kelp from its bed. Normally there is just get a tangle of the fronds and stipes of oarweed (Laminaria digitata) and cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea) but today there was sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina) and other smaller brown and red seaweeds. These had been lifted from the seabed and were still anchored to boulders so here was a chance to look at some of the plants and animals which inhabit the depths of the kelp forests. The calcareous tubes of marine worms and mosaics of encrusting algae and sponges had transformed the grey boulders into vibrant sculptures, cool and smooth but strangely tactile. Red epiphytic algae and purse sponges adorned the larger stipes like eccentric feather boas. Tantalizing traces of the life in the hidden forest beneath the waves.

red algae and sponges on kelp

Sometimes a strange object has been caught in the fronds – animal, vegetable or mineral? Too often it is a piece of plastic, but occasionally it will be something interesting: a mermaids purse, bleached and polished bones or a segment of coral. Follow the tracks along the beach, collect the stray feathers, pick up a handful of small brightly coloured shells, these are the clues and an invitation to the curious to explore.

Life on Ardivachar beach - otter tracks, sanderling feeding on the tide edge, sugar kelp
Life on Ardivachar beach – otter tracks, sanderling feeding on the tide edge, sugar kelp

*(a league is 3.000006027 miles).

10 thoughts on “Who’s been walking on my beach?

  1. I loved your walk on the beach. Your images are superb, we love our holidays in Scotland. The Outer Hebrides has many wonderful memories.

    • Thank you. Our beaches are outstanding and absolute treasure troves. You must come back there is always more to discover.

  2. PJ

    (Sigh) it’s so beautiful. There is something about the sea that calls to me – it’s a shame that I live in the very middle of England! Keep your eyes peeled for the whale vomit that has been in the news this week. That also looked alien and has made the finder a rich man! Second thoughts, don’t bother as you’ll be swamped by scavengers and no amount of money would compensate for the serenity of where you live!
    Beautiful post x

    • Even when we’re rock-in-and-rollin in a gale it’s still beautiful. Alas no ambergris and fortunately no whales on the beach this winter (not only sad but unspeakably smelly)! However you comment has inspired a new post – thank you.
      I spent most of my life living about as far from the sea as it was possible to get in the UK, so living here is a dream come true and I never tire of watching the sea.

  3. Hi Christine – that first picture is so very beautiful, although the apparent tranquillity belies your recent weather! Amazing how your seaweed just disappeared, and how varied your finds are.

    • After this current storm blows out I’ll be back down the beach to see whats arrived. Not quite as windy as the last storm, but enormous waves so there might be something interesting about!

      • Enjoy your beachcombing! Do you get interesting bits of driftwood? There was a beautiful sculpture made from driftwood at the hotel where the wedding reception was at the w/e – no chance of acquiring driftwood here, being the furthest you can get from the sea 🙁

  4. Lovely quality of light. Don’t we just love seaweed 🙂

    • I think we’re getting hooked on this marine biology nonsense – the kitchen sink is full of kelp!

      • I must admit, I have had my fill by the time I finish work, although rummaging through kelp would be more fun. Hope you encounter some interesting fauna within!

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