We were largely unsuccessful on all our previous seal-spotting trips during our week in Cornwall. We’d seen a couple, far away from shore, bobbing around and sunning their faces, but for the most part we were left disappointed.
We’d become a bit obsessed with seals after spending an afternoon in the summer watching them through a telescope off Lizard Point. That was the right season to see them though, of course. Nevertheless, we went back to Lizard Point in late November to try our luck.
We were the only people there.
Somewhat disheartened, I decided to go the fish-in-a-barrel approach instead and drove us over to a seal sanctuary which did not disappoint.
It turned what was a miserable afternoon into one of the best of the week because, let’s be honest, seals are funny as fuck.
The sanctuary is essentially a seal rehabilitation centre. They have a hospital where any seals found to be in trouble off the coast are brought in to be treated and healed, and they also provide homes to any former zoo animals or otherwise injured animals that would unfortunately no longer survive if released back into the wild.
Our favourite was Ray. Many of the permanent residents had plaques with information about them and their lives on and Ray’s story was that he was found off the coast with a severe head injury, presumably caught up in bad weather and slammed against Cornwall’s jagged coast line. They said he was brought in but suffered brain damage so he needed some extra help from the staff but he was loved by the vets and other seals alike. It said you could spot him quite easily because he acted very different to the other seals.
We couldn’t stop laughing after looking over the barrier to see a seal flat on his belly on a step, face half-submerged in the water, just blowing bubbles and insistently making weird noises to himself. That was Ray. The special seal.
A lot of the other seals had damage to their eyes. Apparently, in the wild, when they’re feeding, it is not uncommon for them to be attacked by seagulls trying to steal what they catch. They peck their eyes out, which easily become infected, and then they’re brought to the sanctuary to heal up. It was quite sad how many were missing eyes or were completely blind, but they were no less playful despite that fact.
On our way round, we were stopped at one point by a woman doing a survey about visitor experiences in the winter. She was lovely and really helpful and gave us tips on where we might be able to see more seals in the wild at this time of year. She mentioned the Godrevy coast, across the Carbis Bay from St. Ives. Saying goodbye to our seal pals, we went there next.
By the time we arrived at the Godrevy coast, the weather was taking another turn for the worse. We walked some of the way along to the Godrevy lighthouse and saw two seals relaxing on the beach but little else.
As the sun was descending rapidly, we decided to turn back, making our way to Urbanomic HQ and thinking we should bring Robin back with us the next day before our long drive back to London.
The next day, Robin did join us. He fantasised about moving to the Godrevy lighthouse to become a lighthouse keeper — “for the psychological challenge” more than anything.
We climbed the hill, heading to the furthest end of the headland where we were told there were some 150 seals basking on the beach in a little colony.
We assumed that 150 was an exaggeration.
There were signs everywhere asking for silence. Any sudden movement or loud noise could make the seals think their cove was unsafe and scare them away for good.
After watching them for some time, with binoculars and through whispers, we descended to a seal-free beach on the other side of the point before scrambling across the jagged rocks back to our car, with Robin commenting on the strata along the way.
Heading back inland, we stopped for lunch to warm us back off and later said our goodbyes, driving back to London in heavy rain and fog. It was a miserable journey.
We’ve been quietly looking at jobs and houses in Cornwall ever since we got back.