Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Lobster Tickling In Cornwall.

I was reading John's blog this morning (you must pop over if you don't already), and was reminded by his tale of a close encounter with a Conger Eel while fishing off the coast of Wales, of the time M and I went to Cornwall with his dad to look for lobsters.

Lobster tickling is an ancient art, and the whereabouts of the lobster holes on this particular stretch of the Cornish coast a closely guarded secret, passed down by word of mouth through generations of sea folk. Bob, my father in law, spent most of his childhood summers in a house high up on the cliffs above the holes, from where he and his two brothers would go fishing with the old boys of the village. In a time honoured tradition, the old boys showed the young boys where the holes were and how to tickle the lobsters out. He is keen to pass this knowledge on, now that he is in his ninth decade and thoughts of mortality begin to circle.

At over eighty, and seventy years after he first started lobster hunting on these very same rocky shores, he is as spry as ever and equally up to the task of clambering down the steep cliff face with nothing but an old bit of rope for aid as M and I were....

 
 The terrain on this bit of coast is perfect for lobsters, which means it is treacherous for people...



Another hazardous element is that Lobster holes are often the favoured abode of Conger Eels. These enormous ancient leviathans of the deep have teeth like razors and jaws of such strength that a friend who once got bitten had to have the jaws prized off his arm even after the Conger was dead. It bit down and then wrapped itself tightly around the man's arm. I am on the side of the Conger here. Who sticks their arm down a Conger hole when you know a Conger is in residence?

Bob has all the locations of the holes firmly embossed on his memory, but even so it takes a while to locate them when the guidance tools you're using include remarks like 'somewhere between the big rock that looks like a rabbit and the other big rock that looks like a hare.'




Lobster tickling is an ancient art which uses very minimal materials and therefore probably hasn't changed much in centuries. It involves two long poles, each with a small hook on the end, and a net, and that's it. The object is to get the pole in under the rock in such a way that the tip is positioned behind the lobster, and then you simply tickle him gently forward until he comes of the hole and into the net. When they decide to move they shoot out rapidly so you've got to be ready. Lobster holes are often very deep and can extend way back beneath the opening so the poles (which all have to be brought down the cliff and carried across the beach) are very long.

Here are M and Bob looking for a lobster in one of the established holes, with Bob instructing M on technique.....



And this is what they caught....

Crab

Hmmm.

After almost an hour I was starting to get bored wonder if we would ever find one, so I wandered off to explore on my own and guess what happened?


LOBSTER!

Completely unexpectedly, right there, sitting in a pool of water beneath a slab of rock at my feet. No Tickling Required.

Seeing a real, live, wild, free lobster in its natural habitat for the first time is a magical experience. They gleam and glitter a sort of blue that is unlike any other colour I have ever seen. They also live to great ages, yet they show no sign of wear and tear because their bodies contain an enzyme called telomerase that enables them to repair their own DNA.

I felt a sense of something move through me when I looked at him. A prickling on my skin; a tingling in my fingertips; a whisper in my ears- a breeze from the sea, perhaps.


Bob is a fisherman, and I knew he was hoping to find some lobsters to take home to eat, and suddenly I didn't want him to. I felt an empathy and respect for this sea creature who had been born and lived his days in an environment so different from my own, yet who had chosen to reveal himself to me and me alone on the one day in my life when I came looking for him. I didn't want him to be taken away from his home (lobsters will often chose a hole and inhabit it all the days of their life, returning to it when they've been out at sea). I didn't want him to die and be eaten by people miles away from where he lived. I didn't want him to die and be eaten at all.

I deliberated saying nothing and steering the hunt away in a different direction, which would have meant cradling the memory all to myself which felt selfish, but then I thought: what if this is the only lobster who shows himself all day long, and M doesn't get to see him? So I whispered a quick prayer to the sea and, crossing my fingers that it would be alright, called them over.

Inevitably, Bob wanted to get him out of the hole, and with only a little bit of tickling he shot forward, straight into the net...


In what I thought was a remarkably brave move (considering the length of his arms and the close proximity of my hand to those incredibly sharp pincers), I picked him up.....



And then a few seconds later dropped him.

Quick as a flash, he had whipped his claws up and backwards in a lightening move. 'Snap! Snap!' Luckily, they closed on air rather than my skin. He landed in the water, shot backwards under the cover of his rock and sat there, waiting.....




'Nice. But a tiddler,' remarked Bob, looking down at the shape in the water. 'Probably only my age! No point eating him, best leave him here.'

Phew.

I glanced at M, who had a strange look on his face. He was brought up on a working farm and has a practical if caring approach to all things in life. He is not given to flights of fancy, and yet as I looked at him I got the strangest feeling that he too had heard that whisper from the sea and did not want the lobster harmed.


The tide was turning by that point, mermaids riding their white horses closer to where we were standing, so we judged it a good time to retreat off the beach and leave all the unseen lobsters to get back out to sea when the water flooded in to reclaim them for its own.




It was, and remains to this day, the only time I have ever seen a lobster in the wild. I still think of him from time to time, and wonder if he is still there, sitting beneath the ledge of rock in his pool of water in his hole on the Cornish beach.

CT :-)

16 comments:

  1. Ooh! I'm glad he let the lobster go and that you still have all of your fingers after picking it up. :o)

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    1. I was brave, don't you think? They can move like lightening too! :-)

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  2. Very interesting post. We never called it ticklin' lobsters when the tides went out. We just roamed the beach and looked at the rock holes, hoping we would find a lobster or two or three and bring them home for supper. Those rocks look dangerous enough and as my Dad would say " A bit slippy". Nice post, beautiful photos, great adventure.

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    1. They were dangerous :-) Not a place you could do more than walk very slowly across and pray you didn't break an ankle... All worth it for seeing him :-)

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  3. What I wonderful post, I love your description and I am glad the lobster lived to swim another day. My dad was a sea angler and I remember his tales of Conger Eels being landed in the boat and everyone scarpering quickly in case it got its teeth into you :)

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    1. You should read John's post Chickpea- a very similar tale, told with great humour :-) I've never seen a Conger and now would quite like to (from a safe, dry, steady distance) x

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  4. Beautiful post me dear....I've yet to see a wild lobster (can you get tame ones) so I envy you greatly. Oh and thank you for the mention, you're too kind me dear x

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    1. Hee hee, I meant wild as in not in a tank in some fancy restaurant :-)
      And the mention was well-deserved, yours is a great story, told beautifully x

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  5. Glad the lobster got a reprieve :) Lovely post - brought back many happy memories of Cornwall and rock pools :)

    Your newly decorated living room looks great btw - excellent choice of paint colour :)

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    1. Rock pooling- one of my favourite things to do. I can spend hours pottering by the sea. Thanks re the room, v pleased with how it turned out (phew). :-)

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  6. It sounds like a fabulous day, lovely to see the wild lobsters and even better than none were eaten!

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    1. It was magic. M and I are planning to return. We'd both love to see them again but not to remove them or eat them. I am really looking forward to going back. Apparently, there is an enormous conger in one of the holes, sharing with a lobster, so I may get to see one yet! :-)

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  7. Lucky lobster, lives to nip another day.
    Jean
    x

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    1. Yes indeed. Hopefully to a Grand Old Age as well :-)

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  8. What a lovely post CT. I really enjoyed it and learning about lobster DNA too! I'm glad it got away, and how lovely for you to share a moment ot two with this beautiful creature.

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    1. Thank you :-) I don't think I will ever forget that lobster- he could easily outlive me so is hopefully still going strong!

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x