Friday, 10 April 2015

Finding Money

Each time the Suffolk branch of the family comes to Ardnamurchan, we mount an expedition to the Shelly Beach, the one tucked in behind Rubha an Duin Bhain to the northeast of Sanna.  This time we reached it by leaving the car on the Sanna side of Achnaha, and walking along the old Achnaha-Plocaig track.

Plocaig is an abandoned village, one which was once more populated than Sanna but which died in the early years of the 20th century when the new road was built to Sanna, leaving the people of Plocaig with a rough track and a burn to cross, the latter being achieved by some stepping stones laid many, many years ago.

The Shelly Beach is one that it infrequently visited but someone had been there recently and created this lovely artwork.  We particularly enjoyed the pair of decorously placed limpet shells.

We go to the Shelly Beach for.... the shells, with which it abounds.  It has far more of them than any other West Ardnamurchan beach, but what's most important is that it has one particular shell, the pinkish one seen at bottom right of the picture - the northern cowrie - Trivia arctic or T. monacha - the species are indistinguishable except to the expert.

Why collect cowries?  Well, they're not easy to find elsewhere, there are just enough of them to collect a few but not too many, they're rather pretty and.... well, they're money.  The 'money cowrie', Monetary moneta, is probably the best known, having been used as currency in both Africa and Asia for hundreds of years, and well illustrates how the basis of currency doesn't have to be a precious metal like gold, it simply has to be something which is difficult to find or make, and is accepted as a unit of exchange by all.  Hence the bitcoin, the currency of the internet, which is 'mined' by computers.

It's quite amazing how a search like this draws in even quite 'normal' adults.  They found a few cowries but, between them, the two girls collected over a hundred, and discussed the possibility of taking them to the shop to see if they'd be acceptable in exchange for sweets.


  1. You say the family only collect a few, but between them over a hundred, I read this post each year and they collect them as there will not be any left for other people to collect.

  2. It must have been a good year for cowries. The girls have never collected so many. And, yes, you've read a similar post before - but it does intrigue me, the way that this expedition is always their favourite, and the way the adults, including me, are down on our knees finding.... very few. Jon

  3. An absorbing photograph of the shells; such colours. I am intrigued by the two red and blue interlopers - maybe the lesser spotted and the greater spotted beach jellies, or are they the legs of the common sugar star?

  4. Any suggestion of their being edible and we'd never have got the girls away from there!

  5. Where do these shells come from, and how common are they? You say collectively you gathered over a hundred shells and make similar trips each year, and my worry is that collecting such numbers might either diminish the enjoyment others could derive from them, or even be environmentally unsustainable (if there is a finite and limited number in the local area, as the article seems to suggest).

  6. Rest assured that there is no danger of running out of cowries, and they're very sustainable since the shells we collect are all empty of their original occupants.. Each year we go to this beach, we find more. In any case, there are plenty to be found on other beaches.
    As to where they come from, I really don't know, but there must be something about the sea bottom just off the Shelly Beach which makes them abundant. Jon

  7. A correspondent has told me that the beach is called Port Each Beag. I will add this to the database of local names which I am compiling.