Low tide

5th December 2021

I arrived at Pwllgwaelod bay entirely serendipitously near the bottom of a very low spring tide. Storm Arwen had come through a few days before and it was still grey, windy and cold with a considerable swell rolling into the eastern lee of the bay.

I had meant to just walk over the sand to the sea’s edge, say hello to the sea, and then head up the cliffs for my usual walk around Dinas Head. But, looking over to the far side of the bay, I saw the extreme low tide had left a little cove, which I particularly like, accessible without the usual scramble over wet rocks.

I wandered toward, and then around the headland that separates the two coves and made my way over the dark volcanic sand to the sea. There was nothing in particular to attract attention. I had seen seal pups here in the past, but there were none today. There was a pipit or two, the odd gull and a few crows flying dark against the grey sea, but no choughs, though again I had seen them here previously. Having nothing to engage with I simply stood for while gazing out to the horizon. It was when my eyes dropped that I noticed something in the sand, at my feet.

Even without its romantic and mythical connotations it was an intrinsically exciting shape. Had it been an exhibit in an art gallery, I can imagine the blurb would have used phrases like ‘dynamic rhythm’ and ‘tension of contrasting forms’. It was smooth, a fawn rectangle, gently rounded and swollen, with tightly coiled twisting fibres springing from both corners of one end; it reminded me of an element in a painting by Wassily Kandinsky.

It was a nice find and something new to add to the impressive list of species I have found in the few hundred square yards of this Bay1. It was, however, somehow something more. For a couple of days I had had Tim Buckley’s haunting ‘Song to the siren’2 going through my head, including as I had stood looking out to sea. And then there this was, at my feet, a mermaid’s purse . It seemed to be a small nod, outside of rational thought, towards the existence of meaning in the world: an act of synchronicity, and I must say, at that moment, welcome.


Fig. A mermaid’s purse, or more scientifically, the egg-case of a small-spotted cat shark3. I had never found one before and I imagined the rough weather had cast it up here on to the sand


  1. There is a photo record of species found in this little bay here: https://jonjamesart.com/shore-search/
  2. My favourite version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQZ5_3s4ltU&list=RDJQZ5_3s4ltU&start_radio=1
  3. Also known as a dogfish. Scientific name: Scyliorhinus canicula. More details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small-spotted_catshark

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