One of the surprise highlights of our beach holiday was searching for frosted ocean gems.
Every evening once the tide had pulled back the girls and I would wander along the Cornish shoreline, scanning the sands for the distinctive milky glow of the sea glass.
Once chunks of broken glass – the remnants of bottles and jars dumped, washed or shipwrecked into the ocean – these pebbly treasures have their sharp edges pummelled into smoothness by the churning motion of the water (it takes around 30 years to round them off, they reckon, while the really smooth pebble-y ones have taken up to a century to shape). Eventually, the waves tumble them onto the shore leaving them nestled in the sand for foragers to find.
I used to go beachcombing for sea glass all the time when I was growing up in New Zealand, but had totally forgotten about this favourite childhood past time for decades – perhaps because I haven’t lived near the ocean for coming up to 20 years now (sob).
I wasn’t even sure if searching for sea glass was even still a ‘thing’ but a quick Google proved it was still quietly popular; in fact, there was small but very passionate community of people who enjoyed beach foraging all over the world, with rules on how to find sea glass and everything!
The glass is graded by how easily it’s found – clear (which becomes milky white) being the most common, followed by green and brown. Then you have blue, aqua and turquoise, and the rarest finds are colours not often used for bottles, like pink, purple and yellow.
Some people keep them as is, and others convert them into mosaics, driftwood mobiles and pieces of beautifully coloured jewellery.
To begin with we only found handfuls of white sea glass, but the more tuned our eyes became the more treasures we discovered. At first, some emerald green sea gems revealed themselves and then a handful of amber brown. We found a few pieces of soft aqua sea glass, then Lil Sis came back with the first chunk of bright blue, which kicked off a spree of cobalt finds.
The more we found, the more we became obsessed with our nightly beach walks. There was something so soothing about wandering along the shore line as the sun set and the waves lapped gently beside us, and something strangely satisfying about discovering each new sea gem and returning with pockets weighted down.
On our last day at the beach – during one final forage – I found my absolute favourite piece, a rounded glass gem in soft lavender. THEN I found out something really interesting – apparently the lavender glass starts life as white, but over the years the manganese in the glass reacts with UV light and turns a light purple.
After lugging our stash all the way back home (FYI: sea glass gets HEAVY!) I filled a vase with all our beach finds and they’re now proudly on display in my bedroom – a lovely reminder of our family holiday.
• if you fancy searching for sea glass yourself, we were searching on the south coast of Cornwall. Seaham, on the Durham Heritage Coast, is the most famous spot for UK beach foraging. Once the site of several glass bottle and glass making factories during Victorian and Edwardian times, Seaham was also home to Britian’s largest glass bottle works in Britain, the Londonderry Bottleworks. Between the 1850s and 1921, the company dumped tonnes of glass waste into the North Sea, which is still being worn by the waves and dumped on Seaham’s shores today.