On the treasure trail
PUBLISHED: 12:42 21 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:42 21 April 2015
(c) copyright citizenside.com
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council’s Brandon Country Park, heads to the coast for an evening stroll along Felixstowe’s shingle seafront . . . does a spot of beachcombing
never stood underneath the pier at Felixstowe before. I’m not sure many others have either. The heavy concrete fortress bears down on me. Solid concrete pillars hold up the arcade. The noise of the sea obscures any sounds of holidaymakers.
In the dark shadow under the pier I look at the sea, watching as waves wrap around the pier structure. The concrete pillars are encrusted in barnacles like tiny rocky stubble. Some centres are sealed shut, others open to reveal miniature craters. Amongst them protrude limpets. Each day they shift slightly, grazing on the silky smooth, grass-green algae that clings to the concrete.
I look upwards and see the algae spreading high above me. I am now almost a metre below the high tide line. Once under water the barnacles and limpets open up and feed hungrily. But for now they remain immovable, stuck fast to the concrete, sitting it out until the next inundation.
Larger stony-looking mounds stick to the supports like mud thrown at a wall. These are oysters, but I fail to get close. The incoming tide washes at my feet chasing me up the beach with each wave. I turn back to admire the symmetry of the pier structure before moving out into the open beach.
It’s the end of a long day and I’ve escaped into a brilliantly bright spring evening. My objective is to explore along a wrack line. Wrack lines mark each day’s high tide, a wavy wet tangled mix of debris and detritus beside clean smooth sand.
I tread over the footprints of a seagull that form a dance step pattern in the wet sand. Translucent green sea lettuce wraps around lumps of rock. The rocks are speckled black to light grey and seem to be everywhere. Large boulders of Norwegian granite have been shipped across the North Sea in tons to protect this coastline.
I stand on a concrete groyne. Weathered and sculptured, it’s a mix of mortar, shingle and wooden posts. The beautiful water-carved grain of the posts makes each a work of art. I step down on to the beach >>
>> and within the wrack line see flint. Its glassy black mirrored surface contrasts with the surrounding golden sand. There’s a slipper limpet shell. Introduced along with oysters from the US, it now competes with mussels for its next meal. Close by is a piece of hornwrack. It looks like beige coloured seaweed, but is in fact thousands of tiny animals. I hold it up to the sunlight and peer through tiny holes between exoskeleton, a woven lacework that flutters in the wind.
I study a piece of driftwood. It’s full of holes and light as a feather. It’s been worn away by shipworm, a tiny animal that has been bringing danger to wooden ships for centuries. Christopher Columbus is said to have lost a ship to it. I place the wood back where I found it alongside a dog whelk shell. Silver-blue and white, coiling up to a sharp peak, this is one of the shore’s predators.
Whelks bore holes into barnacle shells, consuming them in gory horror movie fashion. They also lay clusters of egg capsules. I find one and study it. Pale white to rusty orange, it looks like a ball of rice crispies. Nicknamed ‘Monkey Brains’, each capsule contains hundreds of eggs. The first egg to hatch consumes its siblings, another gory horror tale of nature.
I look around and find some bladder wrack. It’s a tangled, matted wig of jet-black hair, air pods dripping along its length. A liquorice-coloured honeycomb lump of sea coal, full of microscopic holes, feels like pumice. I spot a gathering of Mermaid Purses. The egg cases of a skate, they sit like stag beetles with jaws agape, waiting to pinch anything that passes.
Further along the beach, I stoop to study a caramel-coloured pebble. It’s a Hag Stone and a hole runs lengthways through it. Also known as a Holy Stone, Witch Stone or Odin Stone, they are supposed to be magical – hanging a line of them off a boat or by your bed will ward off evil spirits. I leave it for someone else to find.
Having spent time bending over and kneeling on the wrack line, I stop to stretch. I stand tall, back arched, head skyward, arms pointed and then gaze about me. I see the expected mix of dogwalkers. They throw tennis balls skywards from plastic ball throwers, sending pets in frenzied sprints across the beach. Joggers pound the esplanade and chip eaters lounge on wooden benches.
I look back on my journey over the past hour, smiling at how the pier spells out its name in seaside cheek, and realise, with some amazement, that I’ve walked just 300 metres. This must be my shortest walk to date, but it’s kept me entertained with some unusual and unexpected finds, tales of gore, and the mysteries of the sea.