The Wonder of Shells

Whenever I’m asked what my interests are, I always list beachcombing as one of my answers. There is something just so magical about strolling along the strand line, hoping for that serendipitous find. Because you never really know what you’re going to find as you work your way through the detritus washed up on the shore. Some of my best finds have included cowrie shells, whole sea potatoes, and a sand dollar, but perhaps the kind of shell that I find the most fascinating is the kind I find most often. I love the kind of shell which has a spiral structure and a fractured exterior. I love looking inside these shells and marveling at the natural wonder of their form. For some reason it always reminds me of peering into a dolls’ house, where the regular inhabitants are off enjoying an impromptu picnic with the teddy bears. This empty home, normally sealed up and closed to my prying eye, has been made visible.

Shell X-Ray

Unfortunately, I don’t get to the beach all that often anymore. When I lived up north, I was always within walking distance of a beach. If you don’t know the beaches of northern Scotland, they are among the most beautiful in the world; their pure white sand, red sandstone cliffs, and wild, rugged landscape signaling their untouched, unspoiled nature. Just beautiful. However, now I live in central Scotland, away from the coast, in amongst rolling hills and meandering rivers, which have their own beauty too, of course, just of a different sort. I do miss the beach though. Maybe that’s why, when we were at the museum at the weekend, I took so many photos of the shell display.

Mother of Pearl


Cowrie Shells


Do you enjoy exploring the strand line?  What’s your best find?


February 4, 2008. Environment, Photography.


  1. Autumn Song replied:

    I love the shell x-ray, Amy. That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. Penelope Anne replied:

    We have very little in the way of beaches in Wisconsin that provide much to view in the way of shells.
    Very nice photos.

  3. Daz Cox replied:

    I can walk to the beach from my apartment here in New Jersey. When the air is dry I can see New York city right across the bay. In the summer it is dragged by a tractor to remove the driftwood and trash but right now it is cleaned only by the scouring tides and seagulls.

    We have those huge prehistoric horseshoe crabs here and they are pretty fascinating to see. They fit this place, tough and beautiful in their own peculiar way. I think my favorite find so far has been a peice of driftwood I use to prop open my kitchen window when the weather is warm.

  4. mrschili replied:

    Really? WHITE sand? For reasons I have no way of backing up, I always imagined that the shores of Scotland would be much like the shores of my native New England; grey, rugged, more populated with smooth black stones and the remains of crabs and mussels than pretty seashells.

    I don’t spend much time on New England’s beaches, though I live literally minutes from the water (and have for going on 25 years). It’s just something that we don’t take the time to do. When we’re on vacation in Florida, however, we spend a great deal of time on the shore, and we love combing the edge for treasures that we could NEVER find at home: pink shells, delicate and shimmering; sand dollars; cat’s paws and all manner of wonders that delight native Yankees whose greatest shoreline finds are whole crabs…

  5. amypalko replied:

    I loved it too when I saw it, Autumn Song. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.

    Glad you liked the photos, Penelope Anne.

    That sounds lovely, Daz. I so miss living close to the sea. I used to be able to look out at the kyle and watch the tides whilst I pottered about in my kitchen. I can see I’m going to have to get myself to a beach asap!

    I’ve been to New England a couple of times, Mrschili, but I never made it to the beach. Next time I get to a Scottish beach, I’ll make sure I get some photographic evidence of white sand!

  6. hensteeth replied:

    Oh, gosh, thank you. I am a seashell lover. I come by it because I grew up on the rural Atlantic coast. The sea was so rough that an intact shell was its own little miracle. And your pics say express it all.

  7. Kelly replied:

    I love the shells! I am a huge fan of sand dollars and the sand itself really. I love the glinting, warm, sliding sand. Great pictures.

  8. Nicholas replied:

    I remember beachcombing in Scotland many ears ago, looking for interesting shells, stones or anything else that took my fancy. And also driftwood, to chop up for the living room fireplace.

  9. Craig replied:

    A few weeks ago I found a small pouch/bag on the beach. I now keep my hanko (personal ink seal) in it. Freebie!

  10. amypalko replied:

    The coastline of Scotland has lots of sheltered coves, bays and kyles, Hensteeth. Perfect for shells! If you’re over in Scotland, I’ll take you beachcombing 🙂

    Well, Kelly, I don’t know if we do warm sand here in Scotland. Sliding and glinting, we can do, but warm? 😉

    Anything for a bit of warmth, hey, Nicholas?

    That sounds a lovely score, Craig! Isn’t it lovely when we come across little gifts like that?

  11. nengaku replied:

    I’ve done quite a bit of beach-combing and compulsively picked up thousands of shells never even imagining anything bad could ever happen. When I started scuba diving, however, I had to restrain myself. The cowrie shell houses a critter that carries a *deadly* neurotoxin in it’s stinger! And some of the most beautiful shells (cowrie and otherwise) I saw on the ocean floor were still occupied – it was so hard to leave them there. But I did. It just didn’t seem right to admire something so much and then kill it. That’s the beauty of beaches – they are already dead (usually).
    I once took home a hatful of shells I collected on the beach and put them in the galley sink. I woke up in the night to strange clattering noises in the boat. The hermit crabs were trying to climb out. I didn’t even know they were there…..

  12. 4×4 Sources of Writing Inspiration: Unpopulated Places « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] other thing that I just adore about visiting the beach is beachcombing. In a post back in February, The Wonder of Shells, I […]

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