Beach buddies

Tony prawning at Chilton Chine

Thank goodness for the typical British Summer, bringing us back down to earth after the hype of climate change and global warming, which raised our hopes of long sunny days and hot, ‘chest-baring’ temperatures.

Still, this shouldn’t put you off enjoying our Island beaches which are ideal sites for playing, exploring or just watching the sun set, as it still does every evening, albeit sometimes behind a thick blanket of cloud!

What ever happened to good old fashioned family fun, where you went down to the beach to kick a ball round, re-enacting last year’s FA Cup Final or re-writing the record books with England retaining the Ashes because of dad’s excellent batting tally…

But it doesn’t have to be all about sport, there are ample opportunities for budding David Attenboroughs to discover wonderful new creatures in an endless supply of rock pools at low tides around our Island beaches.

Freshwater Bay is a good first stop, with the added opportunity to explore the caves in the chalk cliffs. The rocks are hard and this encourages all sorts of shellfish, such as limpets and winkles which, when I was younger, we used to collect, wash, cook and then painstakingly pick them out with pins and eat.

As beaches go this is a pretty safe place at low tide with lots of shallow rock pools amassed with different types of seaweed, anemones and stuffed full of hungry crabs.

A little further down the coast is the well known Hanover Point (Brook) famous for its fossilised tree trunks and dinosaur footprints, still clearly visible at low tide. Watch out though, these rocks are softer, a more clayey texture and as such, extremely slippery.

Proceed a little further south, and you come across Chilton Chine. This is my local beach and one that I have been visiting regularly for over 30 years, luckily living within walking distance. This has some wonderful rock pools and lends itself perfectly to prawning. Armed with a few drop nets and oily fish heads I’m happy to spend the odd summer evening each year trying to catch supper with varying degrees of success, but lots of fun.

If the West Wight is too far to travel there are similar locations in the East Wight, Forelands Beach at Bembridge and although a little tricky, Ventnor beach in the south.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be well equipped for this expedition. A small push net bought locally, a bucket some string and bacon rind are all you need to get started.

With this, you can entice crabs from underneath rocks and, with a little experimenting, use your net to catch them and examine more closely. The chances are they will be a shore crab, blackish-green in colour or the velvet swimming crab with red eyes, a fun crab to watch, as it waves it’s first legs, snapping it’s pincers fiercely when threatened. If you are lucky, you might even come across a spider crab, with it’s long dangly legs or even a lobster with it’s dark blue back.

Occasionally, on a spring tide were the water moves more quickly, large fish have been found in shallow pools making them easy prey for seagulls as well as humans, but you are much more likely to catch small blennies that hide under rocks but require more patience to catch than crabs.

Where ever you go and what ever you capture, remember to take great care, rocks are notoriously slippery, bruised bottoms and sprained wrists can easily be avoided by treading cautiously. Treat your catch with respect. They are living creatures and, after delicate appraisal, release them back into the sea. Watch out for crab’s pincers, they can give a big pinch, leaving a nasty mark. But most of all enjoy and be adventurous!