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All About Beachcombing and Mud-Larking

Updated on March 17, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Driftwood sculpture of a horse by Heather Jansch.
Driftwood sculpture of a horse by Heather Jansch. | Source

What is Beachcombing or Mud Larking?

Beachcombing is the gentle pastime of wandering along a beach and “combing” it for treasures. It’s also known as mud-larking when done at a river’s edge, in estuarial waters or on an inland lake beach. This is because you’re more likely to encounter mud than sand on these types of “beaches”.

The best place to start your treasure hunt is at the strandline or tide-line on the beach. This is where waves have washed up seaweed, shells, driftwood etc. and left them high and dry in a ragged line.

Seashells washed ashore come in many different colors and shapes.
Seashells washed ashore come in many different colors and shapes. | Source

Features and Benefits of Beachcombing/ Mud-Larking

Feature
Benefits
1. Relaxation
De-stress and enjoy time out.
2. Mindfulness
Forget everyday worries.
3. Unlock creativity
Upcycle your finds.
4. Get close to nature
Experience the seasons.
5. Fresh air and exercise
Suitable for all fitness levels.
6. Family friendly
Anyone can join in.

1. Relaxing by the Ocean

If you need an excuse to go down to the beach, then beachcombing is ideal. A walk along the sand at your own pace is very relaxing. A high tide brings lots of new items onto the beach, but you can wander along the lake or seashore at any time. In some places there are literally thousands of beautiful seashells waiting for you. Pick them up, examine them, play with them. You may just want to look at their rainbow colors and then leave them for others to enjoy. Or you could collect them to make into jewelry or artwork when you get back home. The video below of Sanibel, Florida shows what you could find beachcombing as you enjoy a relaxing a slow stroll along the beach.

There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away.”

— Sarah Kay, Poet

2. Mindfulness is About Enjoying the Present

Some of you might want more than a calming walk. You may be looking for an activity in which you can practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of concentrating on what you are doing right now. You stop your thoughts wandering onto what you did yesterday or what you are planning to do tomorrow. You actively think about what you are doing in the present and enjoy the subtleties and nuances of the world as it is happening around you in the moment.

Mindfulness is a form of active meditation and many people practice it regularly to help them destress. If you are new to this idea, then I recommend you read “Mindfulness for beginners: reclaiming the present moment - and your life”. The book covers the concepts of awareness in the moment as well as the idea that an openness and curiosity about your environment keeps you grounded and stress-free.

Beachcombing in Virginia State Parks.
Beachcombing in Virginia State Parks. | Source

3. Unlock Your Creativity

Artists love beachcombing as many unusual and fascinating objects can be found on the strandline. These are found in abundance after stormy weather, so beachcombing “finds” can be especially good after winter storms. The objects you come across will be either flotsam, jetsam or natural debris and can be made of any material and be in any state of disrepair or decay. Some artists specialize in collecting one particular type of material. For example, they may choose to work with only weathered glass or bleached timber. However, the joy of beachcombing is the serendipity of objects washed ashore for you to find.

The video below shows what London artist Nicola White found when she went mud-larking along the banks of the river Thames. Her finds included metal objects from World War 2, Victorian shoes, broken ceramic pieces and a discarded modern supermarket trolley.

Mud-larking Along the River Thames

Strandline - A line of washed-up seaweed and other debris marking a previous high water level along a shore.

Flotsam - Goods floating in the sea after a shipwreck or other marine incident.

Jetsam - Goods that are deliberately thrown overboard from a ship.

Litter - Carelessly discarded refuse, such as paper cups and plastic bags.

4. Get Close to Nature

Naturalists are another group of people who love to see what the ocean (or lake) has brought on shore for them. They look out for natural souvenirs such as seashells, seaweed and other signs of marine life. UK wildlife expert Nick Baker shows some children in the video below what can be found on a British beach in winter. He comments that unfortunately there are many man-made objects (litter) which are also found on the strandline. Sometimes these can be upcycled, but often they are pollutants that need to be removed and disposed of elsewhere.

A useful reference book for the 7 to 10 year-old age group is “Beachcombing: Exploring the Seashore”. The illustrations are engaging and the author gives interesting information about wildlife and nature that helps young beachcombers identify their finds.

Beachcombing With Nick Baker

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Mother and daughter compare beachcombing finds.
Mother and daughter compare beachcombing finds. | Source

5. Family Friendly Fresh Air and Exercise

The great thing about the hobby of beachcombing is that there are no rules. You take part in your own way and at your own pace. It can be done individually or you can enjoy it as a group. It can be a restful activity or you can make it a competitive race to find specific objects. Beachcombing can be a gentle potter with grandparents or an exploring and learning experience that engages all the family.

Without thinking about it, everyone enjoys the fresh air and exercise as they hunt for what can be found in the sand and mud. Unusual finds can spark a lifelong interest in history or nature.

The video below is an example of how history can be brought to life by what you may find when mud-larking. It was filmed on a part of the mud bank of the river Thames, London, UK where executions took place until a few hundred years ago.

Uncovering History in the River Thames' Mud

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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 months ago from SW England

      I'm about to move back by the seaside and I love doing this. I was brought about near Brighton on the south coast of England. It's amazing what you can find, from driftwood for the wood-burner (or for carving) to pretty stones and glass.

      Interesting, informative article; I remember seeing a feature on television about Nicola on the Thames mud - she's superb at turning it into artwork, isn't she?

      Ann

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