Year of Natural Scotland – Winter Treasure Hunt
I have always loved the seaside in winter and on crisp sunny mornings I need no encouragement to abandon the domestic chores and take a walk on Ardivachar beach. Perfect for a solitary meander, watching the wading birds feeding along the tide edge and scanning the horizon just in case – well you never know what you might see in these magic islands. This stretch of white shell sand runs south for 5 miles until it reaches Howmore River, but even on the days when the wind necessitates a brisk walk, I rarely manage half a league* as I am usually distracted by something that the tide has washed in.
There is always a sense of anticipation after a big storm. What has been tossed ashore? What awaits in the flotsam and jetsam? I am awed by the power of the waves and the wind so I was not too surprised to find that the beach had been entirely scoured by the recent storm. The mountains of kelp which had been accumulating on the beach since Christmas had disappeared. Literally 100s tons of seaweed had vanished overnight. The beach was pristine, wet sand glistening in the pale winter sunlight with scattered kelp tangles, carelessly abandoned by the retreating tide, glowing like amber.
Here was the promise of hidden treasure for the power of the storm had torn some of deep water kelp from its bed. Normally there is just get a tangle of the fronds and stipes of oarweed (Laminaria digitata) and cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea) but today there was sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina) and other smaller brown and red seaweeds. These had been lifted from the seabed and were still anchored to boulders so here was a chance to look at some of the plants and animals which inhabit the depths of the kelp forests. The calcareous tubes of marine worms and mosaics of encrusting algae and sponges had transformed the grey boulders into vibrant sculptures, cool and smooth but strangely tactile. Red epiphytic algae and purse sponges adorned the larger stipes like eccentric feather boas. Tantalizing traces of the life in the hidden forest beneath the waves.Sometimes a strange object has been caught in the fronds – animal, vegetable or mineral? Too often it is a piece of plastic, but occasionally it will be something interesting: a mermaids purse, bleached and polished bones or a segment of coral. Follow the tracks along the beach, collect the stray feathers, pick up a handful of small brightly coloured shells, these are the clues and an invitation to the curious to explore.
*(a league is 3.000006027 miles).