Just before Christmas at Charmouth in Dorset the sea was choppy and rough, noisily chasing shingle up the beach. It was nearly high tide. You couldn’t see the sand or the flat rocky bit that has the piddock shells burying into it. The stones had all been pushed way up into big mounds mixed in with long-dead seaweed. It’s a treasure trove there. The mud and clay of the cliffs slips down in great heaps when the weather has been very wet. The soft glutinous sediment hold rocks, fossils, and a variety of finds from old Victorian rubbish dumps that were once dug into the ground on the cliff tops.
I’m not very good at spotting the fossils- although I do occasionally see small bullet-shaped belemnites and ammonites. Some of the ammonites have been transformed into knobbly spirals of iron-pyrites nodules. But what I usually search for are pieces of beach glass. Beach glass is quite hard to find on beaches nowadays because fewer bottles are dumped in the sea and more go to recycling. All the beach glass at Charmouth is very old. The broken pieces have been churning around in the surf and the stones for decades or even centuries. The result is a smooth pearly finish that makes even glass that was originally plain and clear look attractive. Colours range through all shades of green and brown but the rarest is dark blue. Dark blue glass was used in the past to make poison bottles; do you remember those six-sided ribbed poison bottles from when you were a child after the war? Discovering a piece of blue glass is special.
I love to collect beach glass – and even the small pieces of beach-worn pottery from domestic crockery with pretty glazes that you find there as well. My son makes some of the larger, more colourful pieces into jewellery by wrapping silver wire around them in intricate designs and hanging them on a chord. The rest, I usually pop into a tall glass cylinder I have on the mantelpiece so that I can enjoy their colours and patterns in the sunlight.
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