Making Glass: location

As the lemony sun sinks into a grey cloudbank over Mount Edgcumbe in south east Cornwall, Stuart films me on Stonehouse Pool beach, round the back of the playground off Cremyll Street. Walking the treasure line between land and sea, I glean small nubs of glass. Views south west to the Royal William Victualling Yard and then west across the Hamoaze, where the River Tamar pours through the narrows into Plymouth Sound and joins the ocean. A full moon tide coming in fast, with low swooping waves breaking on the barrier of seaweed. The Cremyll ferry coming back to Admiral’s Hard. A pair of swans in the swell by the corner, hemmed in by ancient walls, bobbing on a soup of toxic foam. A couple of teenagers stroll along the walkway by the new townhouses, stop, lean in to each other, and kiss.

An abused landscape. Scummy urban beach, a rubbish strewn fan of sandy grit overlain with squelchy mounds of sticky bladderwrack uprooted by Thursday’s storms, tossed with debris of plastic bottle tops, rope ends, feathers, squashed drink cans, polystyrene chunks, and worse. Bladders popping underfoot, releasing a waft of fermenting home brew, I step carefully down from the slipway across the heap of rotting seaweed onto the narrow strip of sand below the high water mark. This isn’t a beach for making sandcastles, for sitting or sunbathing, for swimming or picnicking. This cold forgotten place, tainted with sewage and leaking radioactivity, is swamped with fucus vesiculosus, a form of brown algae, also known as back tang or sea oak, which is covered in air-filled pods. Rich in iodine, the living plant is harvested from the seabed and used as a herbal stimulant for the thyroid and to extend the menstrual cycle. But not from round here.

As I walk to and fro in the winter light, bent over, my eyes sweep the ground for fragments of colour. Brown ale, chestnut, green algae, deep moss, crystalized sugar, pink lemonade, precious lozenges of bright turquoise blue. Preferring the softened feel of worn glass to sharp cutting edges, newly broken. I glean two small triangular shards of pottery: a curved lip glazed deep primrose yellow, a crazed piece of plate decorated with tiny blue-green flowers. I want the glass so I can see through the tiny translucent panes, but the surface of the crockery attracts me.
Royal Clarence Baths and Victoria Cottages, Devonport. Engraving: Smith c1845.
Sutton Pool is close to the starting point of voyages of discovery. For two months in autumn 1831, Charles Darwin lived a few hundred yards further along the coast to the north west, at 4 Clarence Baths on Mount Wise foreshore, while the the HMS Beagle was refitted in Devonport Docks for its second epic expedition. Its first voyage was surveying Tierra del Fuego (1826 to 1830). The Beagle was finally ready to set sail on Boxing Day from its mooring at Barn Pool across the Hamoaze. But almost the whole crew were absent or still drunk from celebrating Christmas, so the voyage was delayed until 27 December.

Light falls into dusk. Waves suck at the holes in the limestone wall. I wrap my finds in paper towel and pocket them. At home in the kitchen I scrub my hands and wash the glass several times, laying the pieces to dry on the window ledge.