Britain's best winter beaches for treasure hunts
06 / 01 / 2019, Yahoo Science
From sandy windswept strands to pebble-strewn coves and mud-slicked bays, we have a fantastic range of beachcomber beaches along our nibbled coast. And winter is the perfect time for scavenging, with post-stormy days yielding plenty of washed-up wonders. Everything natural on the beach tells a story – so this is a great way to entertain children on a winter weekend, helping them to uncover the secrets of these botanical playgrounds, and understand more about our island’s marine heritage. Tangled rubbery strands of bladderwrack and green slimy sea lettuce drape rocks and pool-beds. Look out too, for tiny life forms – from worms, crabs and shrimp to small starfish lurking along the tide line. Or search for fossils, frequently found on our cliff-backed beaches. Beautiful shells, fragments of sea-worn glass in jewel-bright colours, twists of old driftwood and sea sponges are all fun to collect. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, consider investing in a metal detector: a useful aid to uncovering man-made objects beneath the sands and pebbles. Walking with dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight Best for: dinosaur remains Hope for: a piece of iguanodon rib Beneath the grassy downs of the Isle of Wight’s south-west coast lies a string of magnificent surf-pounded beaches that are arguably the best place in Britain to hunt for dinosaur remains. Compton Bay and neighbouring Brook Bay are backed by cliffs that constantly slip, slide and crumble, to reveal dinosaur bones on an impressive scale. The remains of over 120 dinosaur species have been found here over the years, and crocodile and turtle fossils also emerge from time to time. Go dino hunting Credit: Getty For the best chance of finding a 120 million-year-old dinosaur vertebra, or seeing the huge dino footprint casts on the foreshore here, book a guided beach tour with an expert from Dinosaur Expeditions, which has a field centre just above the beach displaying a great selection of fossils and dinosaur bones, with dino activities for children. Access to the beaches from the clifftop car parks (National Trust) is by steep wooden steps, although there’s an easier route to the sand at Brook Chine. Find out more at Visit Isle of Wight. Anglesey treasure trove Best for: rock pooling; small marine creatures Hope for: ancient coins Remote Llanddona may look like any other windswept Welsh beach – but this broad expanse of dune-backed sand hides a thrilling mystery. Two lucky beachcombing detectorists uncovered a hoard of more than 900 medieval silver pennies here a few years ago, packed among layers of sand and shells. The coins were collected over a six-year period, and experts from the National Museum of Wales confirmed they were silver pennies – mostly from England, but also from Ireland, Scotland and Europe – and made between 1272 and 1307. Pop over to nearby Llanddwyn Island Credit: istock It is quite possible there are more to be dug out from this lovely Blue Flag beach. And winter is the best time to search, since storms tend to disrupt the billiard-table flatness of Llanddona’s sands. But should your mission prove impossible, Llanddona offers rock pools filled with peeler crabs and delicate sea anenomes, and sands pock-marked by pig-tailed lugworms, all set within a gloriously quiet spot for families. Buried in Bournemouth Best for: unusual marine creatures Hope for: Victorian or Celtic coins Treasure hunters often congregate around the base of Bournemouth pier, for this is where jewellery has been found by the fortunate few, alongside coins that were probably dropped by Edwardian and Victorian holidaymakers. The resort’s seven-mile, mainly sandy sweep, stretching from Alum Chine in the west to the scenic headland of Hengistbury Head, has sheltered some interesting flotsam and jetsam over the years. In 1897, a 40-ton dead whale was washed ashore. More recent finds have included unexploded Second-World-War munitions, prehistoric tree stumps, and bronze and silver Celtic coins from Hengistbury Head. That said, you have probably more chance of finding marine detritus than man-made treasures. Past autumn gales have washed unusual pelagic animals onto the shore here, from goose barnacles to columbus crabs; both rare finds for British beaches. Scarista Shells Best for: shells Hope for: sightings of unusual jellyfish Scarista, on the Isle of Harris, is paradise served chilled: a gloriously deserted three-mile beach of pristine sand, fronted by the never-ending Atlantic. This is a wonderful place to while away the daylight hours, bending heads to the wind, and searching through the soft sand for colourful shells and interesting twists of driftwood. At certain times of the year, large groups of jellyfish get washed ashore by the tide. You’ve also got the benefit of beautiful views to the Hills of Harris, and the Castaway island of Taransay. Scotland's most remote and beautiful islands Scarista House, facing the beach, is the perfect stay-over option – a handsome Georgian manse house with just five bedrooms, a library, no television, good food and open fires. They also have two self-catering cottages. Toothsome Herne Bay Best for: sharks’ teeth fossils Hope for: ancient coins From prehistoric sharks’ teeth and mammoth tusks to weathered Victorian coins, Herne Bay in Kent is a dream for amateur beachcombers. Start your day with a poke around the Herne Bay Museum and Gallery at 12 William Street, where finds from the town’s beach, and hands-on sifting boxes filled with fossils, should inspire your children to go sifting for their own treasure. Herne Bay started life as a smugglers’ haunt, but became fashionable as an alternative bathing resort to nearby Margate. The North Sea-facing bay is muddy, but then mud generally means good fossil-hunting. After periods of scouring tides, you are pretty much guaranteed to find sharks’ teeth fossils. Try searching around the foreshore: the teeth are jet-black, average an inch in length, and are easily differentiated from the shingle. And if there is dissent among the troops, take a break along the eastern end of the bay, which at low tide offers great opportunities for shrimping. Top of the bill in North Yorkshire Best for: shells and fossils Hope for: jet Runswick Bay on the rugged coast of North Yorkshire has been named in the past as the country’s top beachcombing beach by Miranda Krestovnikoff, former presenter of the BBC series, Coast, and this isn't surprising. The setting is certainly idyllic: a sweeping cliff-backed sand-and-shingle bay, pock-marked with fossil-filled pools and encircled by brightly painted fishermen’s cottages. Runswick Bay is encircled by brightly painted fishermen’s cottages Credit: istock Keen-eyed beachcombers scour the shingle for iron stone, or shiny pieces of jet, polished to a glimmer by the sea. You are more likely to find ammonite fossils, however, with their wonderful patterning resembling tiny headless coiled snakes – as well as interestingly shaped shells. Heavy rains tend to reveal fossils hidden in the cliff-face, so keep an eye on the scree slopes at the base of the cliffs. The foreshore – among the shingle, rocks and boulders – is also a good hunting ground for these. Prehistoric Essex Best for: fossils Hope for: unusual specimens such as prehistoric turtle fossils Famed for its cleanliness, and for having the second-longest pier in Britain, low-key Walton-on-the-Naze also boasts plenty of beachcombing attractions. And if you prefer something more edgy than pretty leaf fossils and coiled molluscs, then this is your place. The eroding “red crag” clay cliffs here are thought to be two million years old. Together with Walton-on-the-Naze’s gently shelving sandy beach, they have yielded some dramatic prehistoric finds. Discoveries include some of the best bird fossils in the world, alongside extra-large sharks’ teeth specimens, and unfathomably ancient turtle fossils. Though hammering is forbidden, you can usually find good stuff at the base of the cliffs or along the foreshore, particularly in the days following a storm. Be warned, though – this can be a frustrating, on-your-knees experience, and don’t even attempt to get to the fossil cliffs around the time of a high tide, as you can quickly become cut off. If you fail at fossil-finding, look out for sea holly, which should prove an unusual souvenir. A local industry grew up around the harvesting of this plant during the Victorian period. Its roots were candied and thought to have aphrodisiac powers. Spider crabs and Cornish smugglers Best for: spider-crab spotting and shell-collecting Hope for: sightings of by-the-wind sailor jellyfish Cornwall’s Talland Bay is a gem of a beach, and carries an interesting history that is closely bound to wrecks and wreckers – so it might pay to bring along a metal detector. Cornwall’s Talland Bay is a gem of a beach Credit: Getty This secluded sand-and-shingle strip, halfway between Looe and Polperro, benefits from sand both at high and low tide on its main stretch, making it ideal for family beachcombing. There are fascinating things to discover – like the boiler from a French trawler that came aground in the bay in 1922. And low tide exposes briny crab-filled rock pools, while the strandline offers seashore debris ranging from fine shells, pieces of sea-sculpted driftwood, to colourful shards of old glass, polished to a softness by the waves. The delightfully named by-the-wind sailor, a jellyfish-type creature of ethereal blue-tinged transparency, has occasionally been stranded here in vast numbers. Cumbrian coastline Best for: semi-precious stones, fish skeletons Hope for: sightings of ancient graffiti Cumbria’s softly curved coastline extends into a small, nipple-shaped promontory known as St Bees Head. Dramatic red sandstone cliffs rise to over 300 feet here, and provide shelter for numerous rare sea birds, including breeding black guillemots. Inevitably, the promontory attracts birdwatchers, but beachcombers will find the coastal strand below full of interest too. Keep a keen eye out for semi-precious gems, ranging from prettily striped agate stones to ruby-coloured jasper, and reddish-brown carnelian. St Bees’ low-tide strandline is also worth exploring. You can find jellyfish, fish skeletons, remnants of ancient petrified trees, as well as sightings of an Edwardian boiler from a steamship that ran aground here. UK escapes that combine beautiful beaches with fascinating history Over by the rocks, you may be lucky enough to spot patches of ancient adolescent graffiti, thought to date back to the beginnings of the town’s 17th-century grammar school. Treasure-hunting tips Sustained south-westerly winds are the best for blowing in “treasures” from the sea. Poke around groynes, rocks and seaweed, since this is where interesting stuff comes to rest. Many beaches have a harder surface below the shingle and sand. Old coins and other man-made artefacts tend to sink down to this level through the upper layers of a beach. Familiarise yourself with different tides. Ebb tides, for instance, expose reefs and rock pools; but always keep an eye on incoming tides. Check tide tables before hunting. Beachcombing requires patience and a keen eye. A small trowel and some collecting bags are useful. Leave living organisms in their natural habitat, and if you upturn a rock to look for something, make sure you replace it. Stay clear of unstable cliffs when fossil-hunting. Fossil- and shell-collecting may carry restrictions. Read the beach regulations beforehand.