Jan Tregeagle was a wicked man, possibly a magistrate, who lived in the early 17th Century near Bodmin. In order to keep his soul out of the hands of the Devil, and busy until judgement day, he was given a limpet shell and the task of emptying The Dozmary, a gloomy, bottomless tarn on Bodmin Moor, and just to make sure that he did not complete his task before judgement day, his shell was one of those with a hole in the peak.
Jan Tregeagle must have hated it, bent over the cold black water, his knees aching with the damp, the skin of his hands white and gummy, rotting with exposure to the water, the pale shell clamped between his fingers, and worst of all the hopelessness of his task.
I have always liked limpet shells though, and have been painting them for a long time. When I was a child they reminded me of those oriental hats, the chinese call doo li. I like their subtle colours and the way that the lines cross each other like strands of different coloured wool in a scarf, or a natural and very restrained tartan, and the way that like all shells, though clearly of their own species, each one is noticeably different.
I walked out at dawn to look for limpet shells at Gillingvase Beach. The beach is loved by Fals. It is on the edge of the town, even early in the morning there were walkers, runners, art students making a film. Later on the surf shop opened and two boys set off on paddle boards, silhouetted against the rising sun, and the tankers on the skyline like fishermen from an earlier time and a different place.
Limpets are home loving creatures and having created a depression in the rock they leave a trail behind them when they graze so that they can find their way back to occupy the same place. They are prey for just about everything else in the sea, birds, crabs, starfish and even whelks, all except the seaweed upon which they feed. They do have a tactic to make things a little bit more difficult for starfish, rising up and rocking from side to side and then stamping the edge of their shells down on the finger tips of the starfish.
At the moment there is a collection of my work at the Great Atlantic Gallery, in Falmouth. For more details see the links page.
Photography by www.jamesforshallphotography.com
Beautiful: both the limpets and the photographs !
Limpets are the perfect shells to put as hats on the tops of turrets of sand-castles…
We used to find them (among myriads of other sea shells) on Studland beach, Dorset on our annual holiday in the fifties.