Updated: Sep 25
I recently went on my 6th visit to Seaham since my first in October 2019 and I thought, since my post on Portishead was so popular, I would do a write up on Seaham for you and try to explain a little about what it is that makes it so attractive to sea glass hunters the world over and whether it really does live up to the hype.
Seaham glass is highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts because of its unique qualities and history. It is a type of sea glass that is found on the beaches of Seaham, which is a small town on the northeast coast of England, near to Sunderland.
The thing that makes Seaham glass so special is its origins. It is believed to have come from the remnants of a huge Victorian bottle factory that operated in the town until its closure in 1921. The factory discarded its waste into the sea which over time became tumbled by the waves to create the sea glass that is there today. The beach at Seaham is a mix of sand and pebbles which, combined with the often-rough North Sea, creates the perfect conditions to create particularly smooth and polished pieces which is what makes them so attractive.
In addition to this, Seaham glass is also known for its vibrant and unique colours (known as 'multis') which probably originate from decorative glass factories based on the river Wear in nearby Sunderland that have found their way into the ocean. These pieces are very rare and are the reason so many glass enthusiasts and beach combers are drawn to the town.
What’s the journey like?
In a word, from the midlands it can be a nightmare. A total of about 240 miles each way, on a good day you’re looking at a minimum of 4 hours driving time but as you travel through Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, it often ends up taking much more. I don't like to be sitting in traffic so I left at 6am on Wednesday and I was at Seaham beach for 10.30am having made one pit stop on route. I considered this to be fairly good to be honest.
I always park at Seaham Hall Beach Car Park (SR7 7AF), it’s free to park all day and there is a café there with toilets. There is also bizarrely a ‘mole sanctuary’ here which always makes me chuckle. I’ve never seen a mole but I have seen plenty of evidence that they do in fact reside there. From the car park, it’s ‘just’ a case of navigating a fairly long set of steps to get down to the beach.
What do you need for a day Seaham Sea Glass collecting?
The one thing that I always say to people is that it can be seriously cold there so make sure you prepare for that! In 2022 I went at the end of May and expected it to be pretty warm, I ended up buying a ton of extra clothes as I was caught out. This year was early May and I took waterproof trousers, fleeces and base layers, all of which I needed, as well as gloves. The second day I was there, the thermometer in the car read 9 degrees but the wind, when I was on the beach, easily made it feel sub zero, it was savage!
It's also useful to have tubs to store your finds and a trowel for digging. This time there was a large amount of dodgy looking brown foam coming in with the tide and I was seriously glad that I had brought rubber gloves with me (don’t worry, I do soak all of my finds in bleach before I use them in my art) but with all the recent sad news about sewage levels in the ocean, you can’t be too careful if you’re planning to pick things up off the beach.
Where are the best places to collect Seaham Sea Glass?
It pretty much depends on the landscape of the beach when you arrive; I’ve been when it’s been really sandy and also when there are lots of pebbles. This time, it completely changed from the former to the latter in the space of 2 days so it can be impossible to plan for. I’ve also heard that it’s pretty good after a storm but I’ve never managed to coincide a visit with this. Essentially you want to be looking for glass wherever you can see small stones rather than walking around on the sand. Therefore, I have found that if the beach is sandy, I go to the point where the tide last came up to, where the pebbles are, and I dig around with my trowel until I find pieces. If the beach has a lot of pebbles then I pretty much follow the tide out and scan the floor until I start seeing it. I also dig around here whenever I come across a spot where the pebbles are deep.
I usually don’t have to venture too far from the bottom of the steps to be honest. If the beach is pebbly then I work from the bottom of the steps to the water. If this section is too sandy then I will turn left at the bottom of the steps and walk along there a few hundred metres or so, digging in little spots that look interesting.
In summary, is it worth the hype?
I have written this piece because I think it’s worth managing expectations. I know people who have been there and been disappointed and I suspect it's because they have envisaged a Fort Bragg type scenario with coloured glass as far as the eye can see as soon as you step onto the beach. This isn’t the reality, but it is there, you just have to look for it and you have to be prepared to be on your knees a fair bit with cold hands and back ache if you really want to find significant amounts.
Having said that, it's a nice beach, the locals are very friendly and you can easily spend a few mindful hours there strolling along with the dog and the kids looking for pretty pieces and hoping you’ll be lucky enough to spot a multi just lying there on the sand (it’s rare but it does happen).
If you’re just looking to have fun for a few hours then I would combine a trip there with a holiday up north or on the way to Scotland rather than making a special trip. There isn’t a huge amount to do in Seaham itself though I know there are other places locally that are really interesting to visit, I just can’t comment on them as I’ve never had time to visit them because I’m always on the beach!
If you’re a serious hoarder like me then it’s definitely worth the trip as you can pretty much guarantee to return with a few kilos but you’ll also have wind burn, frost bite fingers, squelchy knees and an achy back – and that’s without the 4 and a half hour journey home (if you’re lucky!)
If you want to see what I do with the sea glass I collect, you can check out my shop.