Whitsun Treadings VI: Roa Island

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We went to Roa Island again (after a tip-top picnic on Birkrigg Common – we really must go and explore more thoroughly there). It wasn’t a particularly low tide and the water was pretty cold. Even so, there was, as ever, plenty to be seen.

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Rhizostoma octupus – not an octopus at all, but actually a jellyfish.

As always, there were lots of shore crabs to be found – many were females carrying a clump of eggs. Many others seemed to be at that vulnerable stage where they had recently shed a shell and their new shells were still soft.

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Their markings and colouration vary enormously.

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Lots of the rocks we turned over were smothered with these…..

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…presumably eggs of some sort. Not crabs, I don’t think, but I don’t have an alternative suggestion.

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Not sure at all about this either.

Look carefully into this shallow pool…

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..can you see something snaking across the middle of the picture?

It’s a greater pipefish….

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Every visit seems to deliver something we haven’t seen before. This one was spotted by our friend TJF/

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Brittlestar.

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Starfish.

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We walked farther down the beach than we ever have before, eventually reaching the harbour wall, where judging by the stench, untreated sewage was flowing into the channel. (I’d be pleased to know that my suspicion is wrong about that, if anyone knows better.)

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A whelk?

It’s entirely possible that the huge clusters of eggs we saw were whelk eggs. Whelk roe anyone?

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A shanny.

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Also a shanny, possibly the same one.

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We found quite a number of these large, appealing shells – wrinkled and rippled without, shiny and super-smooth within. Oysters I presume.

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We often see, and catch, prawns and shrimps, but I’ve not had much luck with photographing them before. I think that this is the former – maybe a common prawn.

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Always a grand day out. Hopefully we’ll be there again before the summer is out.

Whitsun Treadings VI: Roa Island

Fell Ten Foot Park

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I found some more pictures from A’s birthday outing, as related in the previous post. These were on TBH’s camera, although I took quite a few of them.

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These show our makeshift tarp lean-to. You can see it was pretty marginal. Subsequently I bought some more guys, taught myself some knots (with a little online tuition) and, on another trip to Fell Foot Park we built something much more sturdy.

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The kids took great delight in building themselves a mock campfire.

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So much so that A tried again when we got to Aldingham, but she struggled with the wind.

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More photos from Roa Island….

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A Butterfish and a Shanny.

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Broad-clawed porcelain crab. Apparently those long whip-like antennae are indicative of the fact that this is not a true crab, but is in fact more closely related to lobsters. It’s very flattened body and claws are an adaptation for living under rocks .

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The ‘porcelain’ refers to the texture of the exoskeleton. It’s a very hairy crab, but this one was so coated in mud that we couldn’t really tell.

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A spider crab. They attach weed and pieces of sponge to themselves as camouflage.

So, why ‘Fell Ten Foot Park’? (Those of a nervous disposition might not want to read this part, it involves the clumsiest of the Dangerous Brothers and a trip to A&E).

Cutting a long story short, we’ve been to Fell Foot Park, and indeed several other local National Trust properties, several times this summer. We’d bought some inflatable canoes (of which more anon) and were there to try them out for the first time. We were later arriving than we had planned and decided to have lunch before taking the boats out.

‘Can we go to the park Dad, while you get lunch out?’

Fell Foot has a children’s play area. But they didn’t go to the children’s play area. Oh no. They went and climbed a tree. It had only just stopped raining. The tree was slippery. You can guess the rest. The ‘ten foot’ part is based on B’s estimate as recounted first to the paramedics and then to the A&E doctor. As he fell Little S hit a branch with his chin. I don’t know how the branch came out of it, but it made a bit of a mess of his chin. All fixed now however, although he still has a fairly livid scar, but it’s under his chin and isn’t too obvious.

The National Trust staff, the paramedics, the nurses and the doctor at the hospital, and the people who witnessed his fall and went to help him were all brilliant.

We joked with S that he was banned from any more tree climbing, but we were back at Fell Foot Park before he had his stitches out and what did he do there? Climbed trees of course.

Fell Ten Foot Park

Roa Island Rock-Pooling Again

A’s birthday. We went to Fell Foot Park for a picnic lunch. This was the first of many visits over the last couple of months. Actually, we’re now calling it ‘Fell Ten Foot Park’, but that followed a later visit, and that story will have to wait.

On this occasion we tried to make a shelter with some trekking poles, a couple of tarps that somebody gave us, we can’t agree on who it was that donated them, and a few odd tent pegs and guy lines which were knocking about in a box in our garage. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was only one guy and a piece of very stretchy, thin bungee cord, the original purpose of which completely eludes me. Quite surprisingly, despite the strong swirling winds, we eventually managed to erect a reasonably durable structure. The kids were disproportionally excited by the whole palaver and I’ve subsequently picked up some more guys in a sale and am even contemplating buying a larger tarp – anything which keeps the kids entertained in the outdoors is worth considering.

Later, we met some friends on the beach at Aldingham for a very windy and therefore quite fierce Birthday barbecue. I managed not to singe the meat too much I think, although the same can’t be said for the flimsy beach tent I put up to try to provide a bit of a wind-break, and which now has a few prominent scorch marks.

Birthday girl with crab 

After that, we were back to Roa Island to gate-crash a meeting of a local Marine Conservation group. We’ve done this before: some of our friends are members and they tip us the wink as to when rock-pooling events are planned. I have to say that the group are exceptionally friendly and it’s great to be there in numbers, partly because between a few of you more things are spotted and also because some of the group members are very knowledgeable and happily identify finds and share their knowledge.

A has always been a bit wary of crabs. No – that’s an understatement: she’s always been inclined to squealing and running away whenever crabs are present. But today she suddenly discovered her inner crab-fiend. There were several other children there who were also a bit reluctant to handle the abundant crustaceans – A became crab ambassador, coaxing them to hold steadily larger crabs as their confidence increased.

B with shore crab 

The dangerous brothers, meanwhile, have never really had any such qualms, although S looks quite pensive here, I’m not sure why.

S with crab, looking slightly pensive. 

Shore crab 

Long-suffering readers will know that we’ve been to Roa Island a few times before. There are always reliably huge numbers of shore crabs and edible crabs, but I was thrilled to find, under some weed by the jetty….

Porcelain crab 

….a Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab. (The light wasn’t great, so the photos are generally not up to much, but I haven’t seen one of these before and was very happy to now.)

We arrived a couple of hours before low tide, and the water was already as low as I have seen it before. When low tide came around, we were able to explore much further into the channel then we ever have before. Down on the edge of the water every small pool or over-turned bit of seaweed was teeming with life.

Tiny spider crab 

We found no end of these tiny spider crabs. There are at least three species found in UK waters and I wouldn’t like to say which of those these are.

Another weed covered spider crab 

They adorn themselves with weed, or sponge – we found one covered in sponge but my photos are just too blurred to use.

Another tiny spider crab 

This one doesn’t have the weed clothing and the slightly thicker front legs make me think that it might be a Scorpion Spider Crab, but I wouldn’t take my word for it if I were you.

Brittle star 

By this time A had switched her focus to Starfish and Brittlestars, which were equally abundant and wonderfully varied.

A's starfish collection 

We also spotted a Lion’s-Mane Jellyfish again, although this was much smaller than the one we saw before, and indisputably dead.

A few fish were found, including several Butterfish. I got better photos last time….

Wriggley butter fish 

….but I do like the way that this conveys the fish’s ability to squirm and slide around dry parts of the beach.

This one…

Shannie 

…is a Shanny, I think, and they too can survive out of the water, at least for a while.

With the tide being so far out, we saw lots of sponge too. I’m going to tentatively say that this….

Sponge covered rock

…is Estuary Sponge, but as always, I stand ready to be corrected.

Roa Island Rock-Pooling Again

Aldingham, Roa Island and Piel Island

We’ve spent our last couple of Whit weeks visiting with our good friends down in Herefordshire, so it seemed only right to invite them for a reciprocal visit. It was a much anticipated staycation for us: having been treated to a wide variety of days-out in their neck of the woods, we were excited to share the delights on our own doorstep and there had been long-running debates about which of our favourite outings we would choose.

High in the children’s top five was a trip to Mega Zone in Morecambe: essentially, running around in a dark room shooting each other with ‘lasers’. For some reason they seemed to think that, in particular, our friend Andy would be thrilled with the prospect of playing at soldiers. It was almost as if they think he’s a big kid at heart*.

Anyway, we’d been a couple of times this year already and I think our kids were hoping for a rainy day as an excuse to go again. They were duly rewarded on the first day of the visit (wet Wednesdays being something of a tradition for these ‘exchange’ weeks). All was going well until Little S ran around a corner into his sister’s ‘laser’ and split his lip rather badly. The cut crossed his vermillion border (the edge of his lip – something I learned from the whole sorry episode) which meant plastic surgery in Preston for Little S on the Thursday. I went with him and it was a very long day, but – they did do a terrific job and you have to look to find the scar now.

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All of which meant that, for me, it felt like the holiday only really got started in earnest on the Friday. It was another rather gloomy day, but a bit of a cracker none the less. We went to Aldingham first. I’ve since found a list of Cumbria’s Top Ten Beaches, in which Aldingham comes in at Number 8. Mind you, Arnside is number 5 and Grange Over Sands is number 9, and neither of those places has any discernable beach. You can see that Cumbria is hardly blessed with miles of golden strands. The picture gives a reasonable impression of what Aldingham beach is like: a strip of pebbles and then miles of Morecambe Bay mud, with a distant view of Heysham Nuclear Power Station. We enjoyed it even so: building towers with the larger pebbles, having a brew and a picnic and making several feeble attempts to start a fire with driftwood and dried seaweed.

Next stop was Roa island, to catch the small ferry across the channel to Piel Island.

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TBF is caught looking at the camera….

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…but everyone else seems to be practising their Synchronised Looking-Away.

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But the Dangerous Brothers** can be relied upon for a thumbs up!

We walked around the island. It doesn’t take long. There were eider ducks just off the shore and oystercatchers picking around in the pebbles.

There was a grim tide line of bleached crab shells and limbs…

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We wondered for a while about the cause of this phenomenon, but decided in the end that, rather than some mass extinction event, this was the result of the sheer numbers of crabs in the sea hereabouts and the lightness of the hollow remains which would all float up to mark the limit of the highest recent tide.

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I’m always impressed by plants I haven’t seen before. I thought these very large leaved cabbagey  clumps might be sea kale, because they look a bit like kale and they’re growing in a shingle beach. Having consulted the ‘Wildflower Key’, I’m pretty confident that I was right.

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In ‘Food for Free’, Richard Mabey suggests eating young shoots, or stems which have been growing underground (they will push up through three feet of shingle apparently). He suggests cooking the stems for 20 minutes, which perhaps explains why I found Kale so unappetising when I tried it a while back, since I didn’t cook it for anything like that long, and it was as tough as old boots – or, actually, a great deal tougher than your average modern hiking boot. (Whinge, moan etc etc…) (To be fair my current pair are still doing well, although some of the stitching is looking a bit tatty. I’m told that I have very wide feet and that’s why I destroy boots.)

Piel Island is a bit of a miniature classic. It’s tiny, but it has a pub, you can camp there, and there’s a castle:

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That bit of handrail visible on the Keep is a tease since it hints that it might be possible to get up there, but the stairs are locked and barred. There are many more photos of the castle (and some of its history) from our last visit here.

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On the return journey, the boys win the ‘Looking Away’ competition. The Junior Sherpa makes a silent prayer for safe passage.

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The Beach Funsters return on a separate sailing, no doubt discussing the optimum number of fleeces to pack for our seaside camp in July. Thirty-seven.

We returned to Aldingham for a barbecue on the beach and then yoyoed back to Roa Island for low tide, because the rock-pooling at Roa Island on a sufficiently low tide is second to none.

If Andy wasn’t in his element at Mega Zone, he certainly was now. To some people ‘Crabman’ is a character in the hit US comedy ‘My Name Is Earl’, but for me, it’s an ideal alternative nickname for The Shandy Sherpa.

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If there are crabs to be found on a beach, Andy will find them, catch them, play with their pincers in an all too cavalier fashion and stockpile them in a bucket. On Roa Island, you don’t turn over rocks wondering whether there will be a crab underneath, but how many there will be. And the answer is always: ‘Lots’.

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An edible crab. I think that this is the, apparently docile, crab which, when placed in a container with numerous shore crabs, proceeded to crush and splinter their carapaces with its claws. Oops.

There were hundreds of shore crabs. Also this gorgeous butterfish….

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….starfish and brittle stars….

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It had finally begun to brighten up a little.

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Piel Island.

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A hermit crab bathed in a late evening glow.

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The ferry.

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I think that this is a three-bearded rockling, because it was ‘pinkish orange’ and its head has three barbels as you can see in the picture, and just as the field guide specifies. If I’m right, we were lucky to find it as it is ‘Mostly sub-littoral but sometimes found in pools on lower shore.’ It can grow to 50cm in length, but this was much smaller than that.

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We’ll just turn over one more rock – who knows what we might find?’

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We’ve already planned our next visit to Roa Island. And it’s not at all unlikely that we’ll be back at Piel Island and/or Aldingham again this summer.

Pictures from our last rock-pooling visit to Roa Island here.

*A Big Kid

He is. So am I. Is there any other way to be? Mega Zone was fantastic. Was, sadly, since it has subsequently had a large fire.

Slideshow here, courtesy of The Lancaster Guardian, of fire-fighters tackling the blaze.

**The Dangerous Brothers

This is Andy’s sobriquet for our boys, but, alarmingly, they have begun to refer to themselves this way too.

Aldingham, Roa Island and Piel Island

Roa Island Rock-Pooling

Roa Island lifeboat station and Piel Island

Britain is rich in grain and timber; it has good pasturage for cattle and draught animals, and vines are cultivated in various localities. There are many land and sea birds of various species, and it is well known for its plentiful springs and rivers abounding in fish. Salmon and eels are especially plentiful, while seals, dolphins, and sometimes whales are caught. There are also many varieties of shell-fish, such as mussels, in which are often found excellent pearls of several colours, red, purple, violet, green but mainly white. Whelks are abundant, and a beautiful scarlet dye is extracted from them which remains unfaded by sunshine or rain; indeed, the older the cloth, the more beautiful its colour.

I love this picture of plenty from the opening to Bede’s History of the English Church and People. Read eighteenth or early nineteenth century naturalists like Richard Jefferies or W.H. Hudson with their depiction of fields thronged with skylarks, or histories like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod, and you get a feel for an abundance which we have lost. But head to the low-tide line when the moon is full and you can still catch at least a glimpse of teeming fecundity.

We’ve been to Roa island once before, on that occasion as a stepping off point for a trip to explore Piel Island.

Piel Island

That’s a great day out, but this time we would stay on the north side of the channel. Roa island is the closest place to home with a rocky beach, complete with a few pools behind the stanchions of the Life-Boat station. We were guests of Arnside Natural History Society, we were armed with nets and plastic tubs, and we were seeking out the denizens of the sea-edge.

The sun shone. It seemed that every rock turned over sheltered half a dozen crabs, and often something else of interest. Children of all ages were absolutely thrilled.

Here then are some photos of some of what we found, haphazardly presented in the order in which they were taken…

Brittle star

Brittle star.

Shore crab

Shore crab.

Sea weed

Sea weed.

Barnacle Bill

A barnacled shore crab.

What you looking at?

Between us we found five different kinds of crab in all. Shore crabs and hermit crabs were ten a penny. We also caught one each of an edible crab, a spider crab (see below) and a porcelain crab (although I managed to miss that one). Apparently this is also a good place to find squat lobster, if the tide is low enough.

Bootlace seaworm

This large jumble of intestinal tubing is actually a bootlace seaworm. These things can grow to great lengths.

Sponge

Sponge.

Mating shore crabs

Mating shore crabs.

Big starfish

A large starfish.

Betty

A smaller starfish, christened Betty by the girl who found ‘her’.

Fish eggs

Fish eggs.

Trivia monacha - European cowrie

European cowries.

Sponge

Another sponge.

Sponge

And another.

Spider crab

Spider crab.

At first I thought that this must be a tiny juvenile example of the large spiny crabs we sometimes see off the rocks which lie slightly below the low-tide line at Porth Towyn, but now I’m pretty sure that it’s actually of an entirely different species, and although small, may well be adult.

Box full of goodies

Catch of the day.

Glass prawn?

I was inclined to think that the creature in the centre of this photo was a shrimp, but the closest match I can find in our ‘Sea Shore’ field guide is a ‘glass prawn’, so perhaps that’s what it is.

Our friend BB found this…

Oyster?

…huge barnacled bivalve, I presume an oyster. In addition to the barnacles it had another passenger….

A green beadlet anemone?

…a green anemone.

Some of the kids stumbled across this…

Lion's mane jellyfish

…lion’s mane jellyfish in the shallows. It seemed to me to be upside down, and I thought it was dead, although this was hotly disputed by the kids. I’ve since discovered that the lion’s mane is the world’s largest species of jellyfish, and that these can deliver quite a nasty sting.

These tube worms…

Tube worm

..were entertaining. I think that they are peacock worms. The dull brown tubes, apparently empty, would suddenly shoot out brightly coloured tentacles, which would just as abruptly disappear again.

Hermit crab

A largish hermit crab.

Roa Island Lifeboat Station

The lifeboat station.

B investigates

A very happy customer.

Roa Island Rock-Pooling