Friday, 26 February 2010


Beachcombing on the Estuary is an ancient occupation. It was going on in the time of King Edward I. Ursula Brighouse in A View from the Beacon tells the story:

“In the summer of 1301 a ship carrying a cargo of wine from France to Exeter was wrecked off Teignmouth and 10 casks, each holding 240 gallons, were washed ashore at Lympstone where they came into Geoffrey’s (Geoffrey de Albemarle’s) hands. The crew of the vessel survived to report the loss to the owners in Exeter and Geoffrey was asked to hand them back. One may suppose that by this time the casks were no longer intact. At any rate Geoffrey had no intention of handing them over and in September of that year, after the owners had failed to get any compensation, the King ordered the Sheriff to distrain on Geoffrey’s goods without delay to satisfy the merchants for the price of the ten casks - valued at 4 marks each – ‘so that the King may not hear renewed complaints for lack of justice’.”

And I have heard it said that after the Spanish Armada, and in the days when bullion ships were forever being wrecked, the beaches of the South West were strewn with gold pieces. But no one has to believe this and I have yet to hear of anyone finding gold in the Estuary.

After his death my father’s shed had to be emptied of ‘things he had found on the beach’. He had a saying: “If you keep a thing for seven years there will be a use for it.” It didn’t always work.

The age of miracles seems to have passed. These days the Estuary beachcombing is tame compared to beachcombing on the coast but now and again someone finds something on the beaches that is well worth taking home.

Beachcombing was traditionally a serious occupation for fishermen and longshoremen. Rough seas robbed them of their livelihood both by keeping them from fishing and by smashing standing gear like crabpots and longlines but they could hope for some small return from the sea by way of a buoy here, a length of rope there. At the very least the seas were a sure provider of firewood.

March is always a good month for rough weather. If the weather is wild enough I might just give beachcombing another whirl. A cask of wine or a few doubloons would come in handy.

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