The Sea Is Not Made Of Water by Adam Nicolson

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

To sit a watch the waves by the sea is one of the ways that I find to relax, but under this ever-moving surface there is often much more going on than you realise. Life and death in all of its form is taking place day in and day out and we are totally unaware of it. One way of seeing the creatures that inhabit this space is to go rock pooling.

In the intertidal zone, as the water recedes some creatures are left in the pools and if you know where and how to look, you can find a rich variety of life. On the coastline of Argyll, Nicholson wants to see what he can find in this zone, but first, he needs permission from the Scottish Crown to create his own rock pools. It is quickly granted and he sets about making them using rocks and waterproof cement. It was cold work and took three days but he had his first pool. The first tide came and went that evening and under the light of a full moon, he could see the first life in his torchlight; prawns.

The first few chapters are about each of the creatures that he finds in the pool; winkle, crab, anemone and sandhopper, with a potted history of each. The second part of the book suddenly zooms right out from the microscopic view, and then he is considering the tides that bring these animals in twice a day before taking an even bigger step back to look at the geological time and the rock that make up the bay.

The final section is the people that have inhabited this shoreline, how they came to be there, how they survived on the most meagre of rations and their faith that somehow sustained them is this harsh place. The book ends with the creations of a third and final pool and the latest influx of creatures that end up within it.

As with almost all of Nicolson’s books, this is a well researched and well-written book. He has a way of writing that feels knowledgeable and accessible at the same time and I always come away feeling that I have learnt something. What did through me a little though was the way he went from a detailed examination of the life in these pools that he has made to a full widescreen view of tides and how the very rocks he was standing on came about? It is a bit discombobulating, but picks up on a thread that is appearing in more books that I read at the moment; everything is interconnected even over aeons of time. This is a really good book and I highly recommend that you read it.

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  1. Jackie Law

    Sounds intriguing. I’m sure the book explains, but I was perplexed that he had to create man-made rock pools for his research – a bit invasive?

    • Paul

      In some ways it was, he got permission to do it and used a mix of natural materials with some manmade to make them. There are pools all along that shoreline, just not many near where he was based

  2. Liz Dexter

    Skimmed this as I have it to read – but it’s one of my readalongs with my best friend so won’t be for a while! Glad you rated it so highly, though.

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