Shelling on Ocracoke

Shells Scotch

Scotch bonnet

Everyone who visits Ocracoke has a favorite activity. For some it’s visiting our museum, for others it’s eating great food, riding the best wave, listening to local music, meeting interesting new people or just enjoying the soft sound of water lapping against the shoreline. I love all these Ocracoke activities, but my real love and obsession is shelling. It’s fun going out on the beach even if I don’t find anything, but discovering a treasure that has washed up from the ocean makes the visit even better! It’s not always shells that make my heart skip a beat. Occasionally exotic seedpods, shards of sea glass, chunks of coal and sticks of tumbled driftwood appear on the beach. When shelling, my hope is always to find the perfect Scotch bonnet, an elusive tun shell, or an imposing-looking helmet, but even broken pieces have their own beauty and artistic charm. When I find a perfectly whole shell I’m always struck by how amazing it is that it withstood the pounding of the ocean to come to rest fully intact on the sandy shoreline. Winter is the best time for shelling, but treasures can be found all year long, so when you are here next, take a moment to tear your eyes away from the mesmerizing waves to see what treasures the ocean may be leaving at your feet.

Shells Blog Collection Shells coal Shells on beach
Helmet, coral, Scotch bonnet,

lightning whelk, sand dollar, driftwood,

coal, glass, seedpod, lettered olive,

channeled whelk

Coal…from a long lost shipwreck? Knobbed Whelk and sand dollar can be found!

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5 thoughts on “Shelling on Ocracoke

  • Susan Miller Thomas

    Oh what a special place this little island has in my heart….I have a cart I drag behind my steps down the beaches…A great haul is sometimes just one shell…and other great finds are sometimes only captured on film…But there is always that little “somethin.”…..I feel like Hemmingway when I’m dragging my feet…keeping it slow…Looking for the best shell…to bring all the way home…I’m ready to return

  • Sue Marshall

    Looking forward to reading about Ocracoke here! My husband and I love to stroll those not very populated beaches in the Fall tolling for treasures. One year we brought friends who had never been-we were walking and a gal running down the beach nonchalontly looked down as we was passing my friend and said, “you’ll want one of these’ and it was a perfect scotch bonnet. Such a lovely memory. The kindness of individuals there have always touched us.

  • Robb

    From an email to a friend, Catriona, about shelling

    Arlene told me that you got the shell. I’m really glad that you think it’s so nice. There’s a story behind this and it gives me a pang of love, loss and extreme happiness just to think back about it.

    When I was a wee lad (LOL; yes…back when we only had light by candle) I used to love going to the beach and we would spend what seemed like eternity there. I still do, but wish I could stay longer; life sure does change. There were many a day spent laughing and frolicking in the wash, kicking sand at my brothers and sister (we all did) and making sand castles on the beach only to see them wash away, despite the best of efforts. Moats would be built with the best of care, but the sea always won.

    I think back on it all and, even then, knew full well, how small I was and how big the ocean is; as is everything else; looking to the east to far off lands and such; always with a feeling of wanting to go. Sometimes I would wake up before dawn and grab a pad of paper and colored charcoals that my mother had bought me and do my best to catch the beauty and wonder of the sunrise; usually to end up thinking it was utter crap and ball it up; to try again another day.

    The ocean is such a humbling, wonderful, centering place full of life and containing just enough danger to keep your straight and paying attention. The ocean gives up more than most would ever, ever notice. You just have to listen, ever so slightly harder, and there she is; wise and wonderful.

    On many occasion, quietly and stealthily (so as not to wake anyone), my Granddaddy and I would head off to the beach; sometimes it would be later depending on when it was low tide, but the best was when the light was around, but before the sun was up. Quietly, we would walk along the beach and follow the “debris lines” and look for shells. We rarely talked, sometimes holding hands, sometimes one of us well ahead of the other, but our faces, both, nearly dragging in the sand, since we would both be bent over looking for shells.

    He would be so proud of me when I found something special; and upon our return would trumpet to everyone (who cared enough to listen, mind you) “look what Robin found!”

    Ok, a little side information… from the womb, I was an early riser… sometimes, these days…not so much ;- ) ANYWAY, that’s what they called me until I was in the 4th grade and I thought that ROBB was a little more manly…LOL.

    When granddaddy found something special (and since I was a little younger and a little more spry) I’d come flying into the beach house trumpeting the same; “Look what Granddaddy found!!!” I was usually a little louder about it than he was (SHOCKING!!).

    OK…there is more here, other than the reminiscing of an older gentleman (OK…fine… old man). Cut forward to this year. Here I am walking along the beach in Ocracoke and who should join me along the way? Not really shocking to me, but here we were; me in the real, my Granddaddy in the ethereal, and he’s talking to me; pointing to me wonderful shells along the beach in Ocracoke and mentioning that he thinks it’s nice and such; that it’s kind of like Figure Eight was “back in the day”.

    I had the sense that he was leading me to look here and there at shells, worthy of picking up and taking home. You see, I think he knew I was on a shell mission, but not fully cognizant of the manner and aim of the mission. He questioned me about what I was doing, but I stuck to my guns; I needed to find a heart shaped shell for Catriona.

    “There’s no such thing” he protested”…wouldn’t she like that one much better; like this one (my eyes would then dart in the right direction) it’s all intact and it’s a wonderful shade of white?” (And it was! Almost like snow). He even mentioned the name of the shell; I can’t remember now, I’m such a dolt… He’d beckoned to look over in another spot, and there would be one that had such lovely shades of purple and shaped perfectly like the Shell Oil sign. Nope, I was on a mission… and would have none of it.

    Finally I stopped, looked to the sky and said aloud “Are you here to help or not? Cuz I could use a little help here…”

    I felt/heard a distinct “FINE!!!”

    And there at my feet was the shell that you now have. I laughed out loud when I picked it up. At first I was thinking/talking, this doesn’t look ANYTHING like a heart; only to be corrected with a stern “Well, you’re not holding it right!”

    Sure enough, I plopped it in my hand and there was the heart! “It’s old and grey looking…and it’s broken..” he said

    But I said, “Nope, it’s perfect. This one is the one.” I laughed and he did too. I felt it.

    Thank you so much for making that request or…I need to thank Dana and Arlene. I should thank someone. For the first time in more years than I’m willing to mention 😉 I was five years old without a care in the world walking hand and hand with one of the most wonderful people that I know.

  • Roger Brooks

    We have been coming to Ocracoke every spring for 19 years and my favorite thing is watching the sunrise over the ocean and looking for shells