Summer on the coast


- Credit: Archant

Matt Parkins takes an inquisitive look at the wild side of Devon


- Credit: Archant

I’m visiting my in-laws this weekend with my wife and daughter. I always look forward to a trip to the coast. The fun starts when I’m woken by gulls on the roof and it feels like we’re on holiday.

The gap in the curtains tells me the sun is up and the sky is blue. The wild winter storms are long gone – but not forgotten. After breakfast we quickly gather our buckets and nets; sun cream rubbed in and beach shoes on.

Having checked the tide times we need to get going on our walk to the cove to meet the receding water. The journey down is magnificent; following an old smugglers’ path, we’re creeping along a secret pathway between two hedgerows.

Bees and butterflies exchange places, checking wild blossom for nutrition. The fluttering chequer board wings of the marbled white settle for a moment, at home among the grasses and thistles. Accompanied by chirpy crickets we pass the old stone wall at the bottom of the track. Sun worshipping lizards scuttle for cover while the resident adders bask on their stone terraced home.

Arriving at the beach, the cove opens up before us and – great – the tide is nearly out. I don’t know who’s most excited, me or my seven-year-old. The sore-throated screech of the peregrine nesting in the cliff makes me look up; they’re back again this year, hopefully raising another brood. But now for some rock pooling while we follow the tide as it uncovers our prize. A few swishes of the net and we catch the usual suspects, a blenny and a goby, little fish with big heads. Lots of prawns; they still amuse me how they can swim backwards and, if you stand still for long enough, they might even nibble your toes...very gently. There are shrimps hiding, part-buried in the sand as they wait for a snack.

Shining like wet leather, strips of kelp flow up and down the rocky channels with each wave. The slimy surface makes walking tricky. Wow, this is a treat, sweeping the net through the seaweed I find a sea scorpion. This chunky fish has a huge mouth to ambush its prey and its spiny fins and camouflage are incredible. It’s too big for our bucket so it goes straight back in again.

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A few minutes later we corner a velvet swimming crab against a rock. The name gives it some glamour but the reality is this one is ready for a fight; pincers held high and beady red eyes looking straight at me – it’s more aggressive than the shore crab we usually find here. We’ll leave it where it is, I think.

Plenty more darting and dashing activity, we chase many creatures in vain but their great ability to evade capture is what ensures their survival. Safe under a rock, waiting for the tide to return, we find a plump little cushion star. Taking time to study its pastel colours and patterns closely we agree it has a very appropriate name. Then, resuming our hunt for another half an hour, we carefully catch and return our finds; respectfully replacing rocks, leaving them to go about their business. I think we’ve disturbed them enough today, maybe it’s time to head back.

On the way to the village along the lane, the flicking tails and huffing breath of the grazing cattle are the only sounds we hear as we pass. Hauling our tired legs up the hill we have time to ponder our choices; home for an ice cream or a cool drink at the Journey’s End?