Top 10 British rockpools
At low tide, every rockpool on our coast holds a hoard of wild treasure for you and your family to discover
Thursday 7th July 2011
1. Starfish and crabs at Wembury bay in Devon
Bill Oddie voted Wembury his top spot for rockpooling in the UK – and it’s easy to see why. Look out for the intriguing beadlet anemones, which reproduce by spitting out perfect baby anemones that float around until they find a rock to attach to; cushion starfish, which feed by pushing out their stomachs through their mouths to engulf food; and edible crabs, which can be distinguished, according to Wembury’s Marine Conservation Centre spotter’s guide, “by their distinctive pie crimping markings around their shell, which makes them look a bit like a pasty.”
2. Cliff jumping and sea arches at the incredible blue pool, Gower
If you fancy getting more than your feet wet in Britain’s rockpools, just around the corner from Rhossili Bay in the Gower you’ll find a perfectly round, 2.5m- (8ft) deep plunge pool. Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: Coast, says: “Blue Pool is Britain’s most impressive rockpool – it’s so deep you can jump in it and never touch the bottom, and so perfectly round and blue they even named the whole bay after it!” Nearby, you can explore a series of sea arches called the Three Chimneys as well as ancient caves that reportedly contain gold coins from a Portuguese wreck. The cove is only accessible on foot when the tide is out.
3. Pictish forts and puffins in Orkney
The Brough of Birsay is a small island off the Orkney mainland, scattered with the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements. Low tide exposes a causeway to the island, along with a medley of rockpools. Keep your eyes peeled and your buckets ready, as you’re likely to find the popular groatie buckies (cowrie shells), starfish, anemones and crabs. Malcolm Handoll, a bushcraft expert from Five Senses (allfivesenses.com), said: “Birsay is a great place for winkles, hermit crabs and limpets – exposing a possible meal every low tide.” Watch out for puffins in May-June and rare black guillemots.
4. Sunset at hope gap, East Sussex
Beneath the chalky face of the Seven Sisters, Hope Gap offers plenty of rewards for rockpoolers. It’s also beautifully eerie at sunset, when the moon-like landscape turns pink in the changing light. Watch out for strawberry anemones, with speckled spots like berry pips, and velvet swimming crabs, which have paddle-like hind legs to scull away from predators – and which you’re as likely to find hiding in crevices as doing laps of the rockpool. Fossil hunters will find lots to get excited about, too. “You can collect quite readily from the loose pebbles and chalk boulders on the beach,” says Roy Shepherd from Discovering Fossils. “The beach is rich in prehistoric evidence from around 86 million years ago.”
5. Smuggler’s coves in Cornwall
When the tide draws out on Treyarnon Cove, it reveals a natural tidal pool that’s 9m (30ft) long and 2.5m (8ft) deep in the centre. Snorkelling in this renowned swimming spot, formed with a little help from a concrete dam at one end, provides an alternative perspective on the marine life within. Nearby, smaller pools are perfect for shrimp fishing and at the other end of the beach sits an island that is accessible at low tide. The surrounding coastline is studded with caves that were once the haunts of smugglers.
6. Castles and plunge pools in Northumberland
With miles of unspoilt beaches, flower-rich dunes and one of England’s most spectacularly set castles, it’s no wonder Bamburgh is regularly voted among Britain’s favourite views. But as the rockpools prove, the close-ups are often just as enthralling as the panorama. Bamburgh Lighthouse at Harkess Rocks is ideal for rockpooling, offering a string of plunge pools just 10 minutes walk from Bamburgh Castle. Half-moon pool is, as its name suggests, crescent-shaped and warms quickly in the sun, and egg pool is ideal for kids to scramble in.
7. Chalk cliffs and burrowing molluscs in Thanet, Kent
With more than 20 percent of the UK’s coastal chalk, Thanet boasts the longest continuous stretch of chalk cliffs in Britain. These soft rockpools provide a cosy home for piddocks, molluscs with long white shells that burrow into the rock, where they spend the rest of their life expelling water when the tide’s out. When they die, small fish, crabs and sea anemones move in. Thanet Coast Project runs seashore safaris, which sends families out with tubs, sieves and ID sheets then helps them to identify their finds on the beach. For the best rockpools, head to Botany Bay, Stone Bay or Viking Bay near Broadstairs.
8. Starfish in Strangford Lough, Co Down
Around 40 percent of the UK’s largest sea inlet, Strangford Lough, is intertidal and offers staggering opportunities to prod about in rockpools. The shallow, plankton-rich water around the lough’s edge supports many of the 2,000 species of marine animals and plants that call Strangford home. Protected from the harsh storms of the Irish Sea, Strangford has many sheltered rocky coves where periwinkles hide in crevices, fish shelter in the weeds, common shore crabs scuttle over rocks and Arctic starfish, extremely rare in Northern Ireland outside of the lough, feed on mussels.
9. Fossilised monkey puzzles and seafood picnics at Staithes, Yorkshire
The coastline between Staithes and Port Mulgrave, north-west of Whitby, is rich in ammonite and belemnite fossils and the rockpools hide a bounty that’s good enough to eat. Real Staithes guides take you along a foreshore scarred with fossilised monkey puzzle trees and semi-precious jet. You’ll try beachcombing, setting lobster pots in the deepest pools and scuttling over the rocks after crabs, before cooking up a seafood picnic from the beach or a fisherman’s hut. Besides lunch, the rockpools provide a home for many weird and wonderful creatures.
10. Get Carter in County Durham
The industrial wasteland from the 1971 gangster movie Get Carter is almost unrecognisable today. More than 20 years ago, Durham’s Heritage Coast was blackened by waste from years of coal mining. Today, after the Turning the Tide regeneration project, the pristine pools of Blackhall Rocks are filled with crabs, octopus and shellfish, while nearby Blast Beach, which takes its name from the blast furnaces that stood on Nose’s Point, is riddled with marine fossils. Niall Benson, Durham Heritage Coast Officer, holds Blast Beach as one of the north-west’s true wonders: “While the rockpools are fabulous to explore, it’s the recent human history that makes a day out here so fascinating.”