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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Start Bay

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas NOVEMBER. 06, 2020

[93-365] 6th. November 2020- It is a beautiful day today, 2nd day of our new lockdown. I decided to explore the beach about two miles away. During the last lockdown it was all fenced off, car parks closed and occasional police presence. Today it all looked quite normal. I think because many people are back at work and the schools are still working there is probably a lot less worry about large numbers of people gathering than when the weather was much warmer back in the Spring and Summer.

There were walkers, fishermen, joggers and dog walkers all enjoying the mild sunny weather. I wonder how many of them know what is out there under the waves.


The coastline from Start Point to Dartmouth is strewn with shipwrecks of all shapes and sizes, from warships and schooners to cargo ships, steamers, submarines and emigrant ships, many of which involved the local population in rescues and recovery of lost cargo. As a result of so many shipwrecks in the area, in 1836, South Devon’s Start Point Lighthouse was built to alert ships to the danger of Start Point and its surrounding rocks. However, this didn’t stop the heavy loss of life associated with great storms and even submarine gunfire during the wars.

Cargoes lost over the centuries on South Devon’s rocks range from china clay, timber, tea, tin, coal, clothing, bricks, jewels and silver. One significant wreck near Start Point found by a group of local divers still contained its precious cargo of Islamic gold coins, jewellery, gold ingots and nuggets dating back to 1635.

But this treasure was outclassed by their subsequent find of a nearby wreck site where over a period of time a collection of Bronze Age axe heads and rapiers together with a still brilliant gold torque dating from circa 3,000 years ago was found. The artefacts proved there was a shipping trade dating from this period, leading to the rewriting of history books. Some of the finds can be seen in the British Museum. (

When a Dartmouth family set out on a birthday treasure hunt treat the last thing they expected to find was real treasure – dating back to battling King Henry V. But that is exactly what Mathew and Emma Cusack did when they and their two children went exploring the beach at Slapton with their son’s 11th birthday present – a metal detector. They had come up with a few corroded pennies and two pence pieces when Mathew spotted what he thought was a shiny cap to a wine bottle with the vineyard’s crest on it. When he picked it up he quickly realised it was gold. And, within minutes the family had found a second coin. The treasure trove turned out to be a pair of gold quarter Nobles ( The noble was the first English gold coin produced in quantity, having been preceded by the gold penny and the florin earlier in the reigns of King Henry III and King Edward III, which saw little circulation. The derivatives of the noble, the half noble and quarter noble, on the other hand, were produced in quantity and were very popular) dating back more than 600 years and worth something like £500 to £700 each. (South Hams Gazette)

These coins date back to a fascinating period in English and French history, where territory regularly transferred through marriage and war between the two kingdoms. The coins between Henry IV and Henry V differ in that "and Aquitaine" is missing from the latter's coins. During the hundred years war the map continually changed from about half of modern France actually being England and then back again. One of the big players was Eleanor of Aquitaine who owned one of the key territories. She married both the French king and then subsequently the English king. I can recommend a brilliant film called The Lion in Winter which dramatizes this marriage between Eleanor and the English King Henry.

In 1066 when the Normans invaded and took control of Britain, the territory included the Norman islands we call the Channel islands today, as well as modern Normandy in France. Over the centuries, the tiny Channel Islands just off the French coast which are part of modern Britain are the only remnant of Normandy that remained British, leading some to claim not that the Channel Islands are a part of Britain but that historically, Britain is really part of the Channel Islands.

I don't know if it's true but I was chatting to a metal detectorist a few weeks ago who reckoned that many people found gold coins at Slapton beach over the years. He himself had found some. There is a local legend that a large country house near Slapton was robbed hundreds of years ago and the thieves made of in a small boat which never survived the journey. This it is claimed, is one source of many of the gold coins that get washed up here.

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