The 18th Century Says Hello (Public)

In the form of a sunken Dutch trader


I got up before dawn this morning and went for a walk. It must be said that dawn does take it easy around here in winter. The sun doesn’t set off on its shallow arc until a little after 7am, making it much easier for us to leave our respective houses together.

Out on the downs, while everything was timid and gray, I observed spirits, sprites, and field mice flitting through the corners of my vision, hurrying back to wherever they go when day breaks. An overcast sky thwarted the sunrise but offered instead a magical reverse twilight, transparent and blue, from which the island began to appear as if out of thin air.

In the surrounding sea, strikingly green and luminous against the far, dark sky, horses appeared to buck and thrash in the wild, white crests, as if wresting themselves from sleep. The blind lighthouse, the only one fully awake, stood watch on the immediate horizon, faithful and true.

I went down to a place called Pidney Brow that juts out on the island’s southerly end. Easterly winds can throw sizable waves onto the rocks there. I walked over oil-drum-sized boulders, to where the sea was breaking, and noted a smaller set coming in as I concentrated on where I would place each footstep. Then, I looked up to see a large set make the shore, explode on the jagged granite in front of me, and throw a wall of spray in my direction. I ducked behind a rock as the water landed on the back of my waterproof jacket with a quick drum roll. I immediately scrambled to higher ground and watched as the spray shed its weight, turning into mist which the wind carried for 30 or 40 yds. There I stayed until amazement gave way to cold.

Lodged between Pidney Brow and the rest of the island is a cove called Beady Pool. According to local knowledge, at some point in the 18th century a Dutch ship went down in Scilly carrying, among other things, a cargo of beads. For as long as anyone can remember the beads from this wreck, terracotta and blue glass, have been washing up in the tide pools here giving the cove its name. In the 1980s it is thought that ground seas wrenched another barrel of beads from the wreck and deposited it, split open, somewhere nearby, because, at that time, they washed into the cove anew. People still wear necklaces made from those beads today.

The other day, within five minutes of having decided to search Beady Pool, I found one of the centuries-old beads, cleaved in half and worn away by sand and time. The next day, buoyed by enthusiasm, I searched the whole cove, when it was drained by the tide, and found nothing.

Given the lack of satisfaction, I changed course and headed to Periglis Cove where I was able to collect a whole plate full of small, blazing-bright-yellow snail shells. Perhaps I’ll start a new tradition. In fact, I’ve been emailing Clare a bit and told her I’m planning to make some necklaces out of them. She volunteered to receive one. Perhaps that will be a nice start to who knows what.