Brown twisty things on the Ringstead strandline

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Dried twisted kelp stems from Ringstead Bay, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (1) 

Have you ever wondered what those dried brown twisty things are that you find on beaches? I’ve noticed that lots of these turn up on the shingle at Ringstead Bay. It took me a while to work it out. They are in fact the dried stems of kelp seaweed. It’s amazing that something so large, juicy and pliable eventually shrinks down to this.

There are extensive kelp beds just off-shore in the sheltered shallow water, especially on and around the reefs that you can see at low tide. Large quantities of kelp and other seaweeds often get washed ashore. It sometimes ends up as huge banks and frequently becomes incorporated into the shingle – consolidating and stabilising the beach.

Kelp drying out on the shingle strandline at Ringstead Bay, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (2) 

This is a view of Ringstead Bay looking westwards towards Bran Point. It shows kelp and other seaweeds drying on the strandline. The reds, oranges, olives, ochres and browns look good against the blue-grey and rusty coloured limestone and flint pebbles.

Kelp and other seaweeds drying out on the shingle strandline at Ringstead Bay, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (3) 

This photograph shows a close up of the drying kelp. The texture first changes from wet and mucilaginous to leathery, and then becomes brittle as the weed lies exposed to the air. When the pebbles move around, they break the weed up, and the more resilient stems separate out. You can see some of them lying on the surface in the picture below.

The natural properties of kelp stems have been put to good use in the past. They have been used in ancient times to secure, for example, axe heads to wooden shafts – in much the same way that sinews were also used.

Dried kelp stems on the shingle strandline at Ringstead Bay, Dorset, UK - part of the Jurassic Coast (4) 

Revision of a post first published 11 June 2009

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2011

All Rights Reserved

8 Replies to “Brown twisty things on the Ringstead strandline”

  1. I saw Ray Mears(dear man, known in our household as Grey Smears because of the extraordinary things he eats, while declaring with his mouth full, that “it’s really rather nice” despite visual evidence to the contrary) make a knife handle from a stem of kelp. I even went so far as to do it myself and have said knife somewhere in a box.

    The brown twisty things will eventually become latest art for homes once someone on changing rooms uses them… and that’ll be it for beachcombers.

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  2. Funnily enough, I do use the things I find on the beaches, including the twisty kelp stems, to decorate my living room. I’ll post an extra picture showing the bowl of flotsam on my window sill.

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  3. I’m an inveterate bringer-back of detritus from the beach with a view to making something arty from it. I’ve done a sculpture using various flotsam and jetsam that looked quite cool until one of the cats knocked it over….. I aim to eventually make a windchime from things like driftwood, seaglass and maybe shells and bones but I have never found a way of wiring them together I liked enough.
    Shall look forward to the picture!

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  4. Hi, Viv
    Thanks for your comments today. Thinking about your flotsam wind-chime – my son uses beach glass and pebbles to make jewellery by wrapping silver wire around them so that they can be suspended as pendants or made into rings. Maybe a combination of drilling holes and similarly entwining the beach-found objects with filaments – like strands from fishing nets or ropes – might help to put the wind-chime securely together?

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