What is beachcombing?

Beachcombing is when you visit a beach intending to look for items of interest to you, this could be seaglass, pottery, marbles, bottle stoppers and even trash. Some of my local beaches have volunteers who visit the beach in groups to collect the trash others leave behind or get washed up on the beach.

If you go beachcombing, you are a “beachcomber”.  A beachcomber is someone who searches the beach, specifically looking for things to find. Many years ago, the word “beachcomber” could be used to describe a criminal, a drifter, a bum or even a sailor deserting from his ship.

Modern-day beachcombers usually look for seaglass, pottery and other things that may have washed up onto the beach from the years gone by. I often wonder what those people would think about us collecting their rubbish like it was a treasure! To be displayed as one of our prized possessions.

Would the Victorians think we were crazy? I wonder. Who knew that the rubbish from the olden days would become so valuable to us when those people so easily disposed of it.

Who can go beachcombing?

Anyone can go beachcombing, really, young or old as long as you are physically fit and able to get onto the beach, then generally you can go beachcombing. I have found beachcombing to be highly therapeutic, not just for my mental health but also for my physical health too.

Each time I go to the beach, I’m able to do that little bit more. For me, there is nothing more freeing than the peace and tranquillity of an empty beach and to be alone with my thoughts. 

There are some limitations due to the terrain of some of the beaches, while other beaches are easily accessible. Some beaches can be pretty treacherous, and great care should be taken when accessing these types of beaches. 

For instance, one of our local beaches is close to the mouth of the River Severn, so most of the beach is covered in thick mud. This mud is very dangerous, and great care and attention should be taken when visiting these beaches as it is so easy to get stuck in the mud. 

I remember the first time we went, we walked around these rocks, and instead of sticking to the inside on the other side, we started walking diagonally across the beach. My partner was slightly ahead of me, and we were chatting away, not paying attention to the ground, when suddenly, he stepped into really thick mud and couldn’t get free. You could say, well, how didn’t he know it was mud? Sometimes the mud looks like regular sand, and it’s not until you stand on it that it sinks 7-10 inches.

After a few minutes of panic, he lay down and managed to unstick his feet. He was covered in mud, but this was nothing compared to what could have happened had the tide been coming in. This is why It is so essential that you are aware of your surroundings and the tide times at all times. 

Beachcombing does also require quite a lot of energy. You are continually bending down, picking things up, walking for long distances, climbing over rocks, and sometimes over dunes, which can be pretty tiring, so never do more than you can manage.

Why has beachcombing become popular?

Beachcombing has become a lot more popular in recent months; one reason for this is crafting, as people have realised that there is value in the things found on the beach. These items can be turned into jewellery, sun catchers or even pictures that can be sold to other beachcombing fans.

Beachcombing has become popular because people also like to collect things. Collectors of seaglass like to keep it on display in some way or another so that they can look at it and enjoy it. A collector keeps the things they find on the beach and finds ways to display them. A handy item from back in the day that is often used to display beach treasures is old printers trays.

Printers trays are usually single drawers from old cabinets; these drawers have separators, which are perfect for displaying beach treasures. These trays can also be mounted upright on a wall which means they make great display pieces. 

Displaying seaglass in a vase is always great; the different colours of seaglass in a vase on a window sill can be spectacular because they shine so beautifully in the sunlight. Collectors like to enjoy their treasures and put them on display, like they would a photo or a painting, and the best thing is that you have found the treasure, which makes it even more special.

What can you find while beachcombing?

Sadly we all know that rubbish can be found on the beach. But you can also find lots of other things like seaglass, seapottery, shells and even old glass bottles. On some beaches, you may not find anything at all. Other things you can find on the beach are remnants of the war, like bombs, grenades and bullets. 

While it’s exciting to find these items, there have been many times where live ammunition has been found, and the bomb disposal team has to be called in so it can be safely disposed of. If in doubt, you should always ring the coast guard and report any suspected items. 

If you find one of the items listed above and think it is live, you will need to report it to the coast guard; they will usually evacuate the area and cordon off to carry out a safe and controlled explosion of the item.

Where can you go beachcombing?

You can go beachcombing on any beach, but not all beaches are the same, and some beaches don’t produce much of anything at all. If you want to find seaglass and pottery, then the best beaches to go beachcombing are shingle-type beaches. Shingle beaches almost always have some seaglass or beach pottery on them. 

You can also find old marbles, bottle stoppers and even some beads and buttons, either on the surface or just sitting in the shingle waiting to be exposed.

What are the best beaches to go beachcombing on?

The best beaches to go beachcombing on are the beaches with a lot of previous history. Beaches next to old harbours or factories will yield the best finds because people heavily used them.  We all know that where there are people, there will be trash, and that’s where the best discoveries come from. 

Thousands of ships would be docking at harbours across the country, transporting goods to other countries. Some of those ships may not even have made it to the port, and they end up spilling their cargo into the sea.

The bristol channel was the central shipping passage to other countries from the UK, and thousands of ships sank along the coast due to bad weather conditions alone. Many hospital ships and warships were blown up during the war, so that stretch of coast has untold history spilling onto its beaches just waiting to be found. Not to mention the people aboard the ships that would have thrown their rubbish overboard. 

Back in the day, factories near a beach would have disposed of glass directly into the sea, places like Seaham in England had several bottle factories, and they all disposed of their scrap glass into the sea. The seaglass that comes from Seaham is some of the best seaglass ever to be found.

These days businesses have waste collected by their local authority. Way back in the day, they didn’t have a refuse service as we do, so they used just to throw it away anywhere they could.

Many coastal refuge sites are dotted around the country; my favourite beach refuse site is based in Lyme Regis in Dorset. Whenever we have some terrible weather, the cliffs erode, exposing some fantastic finds. 

This beach is littered with seaglass and pottery, but now and again, you will get some quirky finds like an old teapot or an old iron, and if you are fortunate, you can also find coins and bottles there. 

It’s an excellent beach for a beachcomber, the only downside is it’s 2 ½ hours away from us, but when we do go, I always have to drag the family away from there because they enjoy it so much and we can’t wait to go back. Lyme Regis is also known as the Jurassic Coast, so there are always plenty of fossils to be found. 

In 1811 a young girl named Mary and her little brother Joseph found an ichthyosaur on Lyme Regis beach. At the time, they sold it for £23; it later sold at auction for £45 and five shillings; Mary made somewhat of a good living out of selling the fossils that she found at Lyme Regis and later went on to open a fossil shop.

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