Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Lobster hunting in Cornwall

My last couple of posts have been rather reflective and soul-searchy so it's time for something a bit more light-hearted and upbeat.

My father-in-law is a fisherman (he was an organic farmer but since retiring he spends a lot of his time fishing). There are some fabulous stories about him pursuing this great love which takes him all round the country at different times of year, from salmon fishing in the Highlands to looking for SeaBass in the tides in Cornwall. My favourite is the one where he'd forgotten to take his waders with him on a trip to an out of the way lake a friend had tipped him off about.

Having been dropped off at the lake which was in the middle of no-where by his lovely wife who is an artist and had gone off to paint for a few hours, he decided rather than get his clothes wet it would be much easier to strip off and then re-dress when he'd finished. He duly took off trousers, socks and shirt, left them folded neatly on a nearby bush and waded happily into the water.

Nothing was biting, so after a while he wandered off in his pants and shoes to another lake not too far from the first. So passed a happy and peaceful afternoon in the sunshine indulging his favourite hobby. 

It got near the time his wife was due to collect him, so he packed up his rod and walked back to the first lake, where he discovered someone had stolen all  his clothes. When his wife turned up a few minutes later he was sitting in his pants on a rock with two fish beside him and a philosophical expression on his face, quite unperturbed at the course events had taken. 

When I tell you he was busy pogo-sticking with his grandchildren the year he turned 80 you will understand the sort of person he is. 

When he was a boy his family had had a cottage on a clifftop in North Cornwall. One day he and his brothers were shown the secret of the local lobster holes by an aged fisherman who'd known about them since he was a boy, and so I suspect it goes on, way back through the generations. Seventy years later he took M and I with him to show us the location of the holes so they wouldn't fall out of living memory.

The approach isn't easy- you have to walk some distance over rough steep ground then abseil down part of the cliff on a thick ancient rope, carrying the special nets and "lobster tickling" poles with you. 

We got down to the beach ok, and began looking in various holes. These were located based on the position of certain large stacks of rock. We searched for an hour and although we found some lovely and interesting creatures in the rock pools, there were no lobsters.

My father-in-law is a tenacious person and said we weren't going to give up, so we kept on looking. I've never seen a properly wild lobster before and I was really hoping we'd find one, but also kind-of hoping we wouldn't, because I didn't want to have to kill and eat it. Little did I know M was feeling the same (he told me afterwards).

Anyway, I'd more or less decided there weren't any there when, glancing down under a small rocky ledge not expecting to see anything, I noticed a darker area of blue shadow and then realised with a start that it had large claws. I was looking at my first ever bonafide wild lobster. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited. I bent down very quietly and carefully to get a closer look and took this photo. He wasn't a whopper (big relief- hopefully my father in law wouldn't want to take him home for supper), but to me he was absolutely thrilling and very very beautiful.

I called over to the expert who began jumping up and down with excitement and nearly fell over into a rock-pool as a result. The two of them hurried over and we stood there admiring the lobster for a moment, then my father-in-law said something unexpected: "well, hoick him out then girl!"
"Pardon?" I said.
He gestured at the lobster. "Get him out, let's have a proper look at him." 
He glanced at my face, which had gone white because of the thought of the claws. "With the nets and pole," he said, waving them impatiently. "Come on, let's see if he's big enough to eat."

Oh No!

I glanced at my husband who raised his eyebrows but father in law was already handing me the net. "Hold it in front of him as soon as I tickle him with the pole" he instructed, "if we're lucky he'll run straight in to the net."
I did as I was told and low and behold the lobster scuttled away from the annoying prod of the pole and straight into my net.
Here he is in daylight in all his glory:

"Ah, a tiddler," said my father in law. "No point eating him. Lovely though isn't he?"


We admired him for a few more minutes as he dangled passively from my hand, then so quickly I had no warning at all of what was about to happen, he whipped those wicked front pincers up and behind his head and snapped at my fingers- one, two, quick as anything.
I squeaked and dropped him. Plop! he landed in his rock pool and scuttled back to safety under the rocky ledge.

It was one of the best days of my life and I'll never forget it. We went fishing for Sea Bass further along the coast that same afternoon, we didn't catch anything although it was exhilarating being in the crashing white surf, but even if we had, nothing would have compared with my lobster. 

I think about him from to time to time and hope he is still there, sheltering beneath his rocky ledge in the pool that waits for him when he swims in from the deeps of the sea. My father in law says they can live a great many years and grow to a huge size if they aren't caught. That is what I wish for him. Maybe when I'm 80 I'll take my children to his pool and look for him again.



  1. What a great story and nice to hear the word 'hoick' which I use on a daily basis!

  2. It is a good word isn't it?! The pic doesn't do justice to the amazing colour of the lobster- a really beautiful blue.


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