scavenger season

We’re all scavengers at heart. Who doesn’t like picking something up for nothing and making use of it? I love it, as do other members of the family. And what better place to do a bit of scavenging, than on the beach?

Since we moved here the shoreline around the island has been an endless source of treasures and surprises all rolled into one. If you like collecting driftwood, shells, pebbles and odd bits of this and that blown in by the tide, you’d love it here too.

This weekend there was some major scavenging to be done. It was almost a salvage job, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s call it ‘Op Groin’ or ‘Operation Groin’ for non-military types. The start of the operation was some weeks back on another beach where an interesting piece of wood was spotted protruding from the wet sand as the sea retreated into the distance. Sunday afternoon dog walkers passed by without a glance, until someone began digging and digging and digging… without a spade too! Some time later, along time later actually, a giant oak groin/beam was uncovered and claimed by the digger. Determined not to loose his booty he hauled it across the beach into the dunes and buried it. This short sentence does not accurately describe the Herculean effort it took or the toll on clothes and hands and patience, by those of us who advised against it. Once in the dunes, photos were taken of the ‘secret’ location so Pirate-like he could return to collect it another day. End of the first part of Op Groin.

beach skytom

Several weeks passed. Christmas came and went before Op Groin went into full swing again. More troops were recruited to help with the next sortie. There was some doubt about whether the buried treasure could be found, but ‘sniffer-dog-like’, the damp wood buried in the dunes was uncovered again and four healthy volunteers shouldered the weight and carried it down the beach, along the footpath and back to the recovery vehicle on the road. Success is a six foot beam drying in the garage.


But it wasn’t all over. This beam needed other similar pieces to be really useful. Fortunately, two more likely items were spotted quite recently nearby, so this weekend Op Groin Part 2 swung into play. The battered wood was spotted quite quickly this time, not buried, just lying on the rocks. And while the storm clouds brewed overhead, I helped manhandle the pieces into the vehicle, at the same time as rescuing an old football and some interesting pebbles, before we piled into the car as the heavens opened. Two more immense beams are now drying in another outside store. Thank goodness that’s over!

Today on a cycle along the beach keen eyes spotted a mast leaning at an odd angle from the shore. We headed over, careless of brambles and mud, wondering what a large boat could be doing so close in. It was a sorry sight. A large, rather lovely yacht was marooned on the beach, lying on its side, all out of sorts its hull imbedded in the sand. We later discovered that this yacht was swept ashore just a few hours after Op Groin had ended. Now, that would have been a very big salvage operation. Fortunately for the owners our prime family scavenger had returned to London by the time the boat appeared. No one’s too clear about the law of salvage, so we left the boat safely in the hands of a couple of frolicking seals.


As for Op Groin, thankfully the operation didn’t leave any casualties, apart from sore shoulders, and one day the wood drying in the garage may be turned into a beautiful table or a bench or even a bed… we can but hope.


that sinking feeling

Devon has been seeping into my soul this week. Its hazy afternoon horizons, skeletons of trees lining hilltops and rocky coves where cliff outcrops rise out of ice blue water have been reeling me in. I’ve watched the tide licking its way up estuaries and curling its tongue around bobbing boats and buoys. The painfully narrow lanes have become less threatening, switch backing through rolling hills, as cars and buses breathe in and kiss wing mirrors to squeeze past. Pretty painted houses line the sides of steep estuary banks like stacked dominoes staring down at themselves in silver water snaking through the valleys. This land of white washed cottages, beam-laden pubs with log fires, sailing boats and fishermen is pulsating with stories and intrigue.

A few days ago, lunch and water carefully packed, we set off along one of these mesmerizing estuaries as the tide ebbed out. When we reached the sea an ancient smugglers’ pub provided liquid refreshment on a rocky island just offshore, reached only at low tide. I checked out the barman for eye patches and parrots – the tell tale sign of a pirate or a smuggler. He seemed fairly law abiding and even provided free blue plasters for customers with sore feet – a bit soft for a smuggler perhaps. As we’d diligently followed a footpath across fields on the first leg of the journey, we decided to make up our own route on the way back and follow the curving river inland. How hard could it be with the tide out?


Gradually rock and sand gave way to mud and fallen trees. OK so far. The banks began to turn steep and the mud became stickier. “Stay close to the rock,” was the instruction passed back – apparently this mud was less ‘sinky’. Some time later we had gone a long way, too far to turn back if the mud became impassable. There were fallen trees to clamber over and it became a case of picking a route on solid ground wherever possible. Curves in the river threw up new challenges as we had to navigate streams and more sinking sand and mud. So far we’d made it and surely it couldn’t be much further? A particularly substantial barrier of fallen trees and undergrowth blocked our path and although we tried to follow a line of firm-looking sand, we soon began to sink and had to head back to the bank and battle through the trees to make progress. By now we were convinced we had passed the worst of the sinking mud, so we crossed a narrow stream onto a line of solid sand, striding confidently onwards. Gradually I noticed the stream between us and the bank was widening and the sandbank felt more like the middle of the river. It was time to cross back to the safety of the bank because the tide had now turned and gullies of water were filling up. I had visions of being up to my knees in mud waiting for the air sea rescue helicopter. But before I knew it I was on my own and the lead member of the party was safe on the stones at the edge, urging me to run and not stop until I reached solid ground. I took a deep breath and began running, pulling my boots and legs out of the squelching mud threatening to suck me down. Obviously, I made it. Just. Mud up to the knees of my lovely blue jeans and coating my walking boots, seemed a small price to pay for the walk up the river and along the tidal road… but never again. I won’t be trusting Devon’s river estuaries, which look like sand, but turn into sinking mud.


I realized it was a very near miss, when a few days later we witnessed a full RNLI rescue of a dog up to its neck in the mud on the edge of another estuary. When he was eventually carried out exhausted and mud drenched by several firemen and RNLI rescue crew everyone breathed a sigh of relief and I thought… it could have been me!