Monday, July 30, 2018

Our Unique Souvenirs...Mermaid Tears by Jo Ann Brown

Last month, my husband and I spent a couple of weeks in England. Our trip up to the northeast of the country allowed us to indulge in one of our favorite past times...looking for sea glass. We search for it whenever we’re on a beach, but the shores of northeast England, especially north of Newcastle, are our prime hunting grounds. Back in the days before anyone concerned themselves with the state of our rivers and oceans, glass manufacturers in the Newcastle area dumped broken and irregular pieces of glass into the River Tyne. The glass washed out to sea where salt, waves and sand smoothed the sharp edges and took away the gloss to leave the surfaces pitted and coarse. In addition, ships used glass, tile and brick as ballast while at sea and would dump it as they neared the shore. Those pieces underwent the same “weathering” conditions.
Years ago, sea glass was known as mermaid tears and prized just as it is today. In fact, in the second book of my Sanctuary Bay series for Love Inspired Historical, A Hero for Christmas, which is being re-released this Christmas, the heroine teaches the hero about mermaid tears when she’s collecting pieces to decorate tables at her sister’s wedding.
Fast forward to the present, and strolling along the beach can turn into a treasure hunt. Our favorite place to look for sea glass is on the beaches of Lindisfarne. The small island, just south of the Scottish border, is also known as Holy Island. It’s a tidal island, which means that it’s cut off from mainland England twice a day at high tide when the causeway floods. The Pilgrim’s Way remains open at low tide, marked by tall posts, including a few with platforms where people have taken shelter when they misjudged the timing of the tides. Holy Island is the site of the first attack by Vikings on English soil, and ruins of the ancient priory are set next to the small parish church which is filled with memorials to the Irish saints who brought Christianity to northern England in the 7th century. On a wall near the altar is a small framed letter. It’s a formal apology from Norway for that Viking foray against the terrorized residents of Lindisfarne in 793.

Between the churchyard and a tiny island (reachable on foot at low tide) where St. Cuthbert built a chapel when he became a hermit monk is a beach that’s a mixture of sand and shingle (small rocks). Here, while we listen to the seals barking nearby and, on this most recent trip tried not to be blown off our feet by powerful gusts from a sea storm, we’ve found lots of sea glass in all sorts of colors. In fact, there’s so much glass washed ashore that we pick and choose what we want.
We don’t want modern glass which is much thinner than Victorian glass. We gather white and turquoise and dark green (sometimes almost black) and brown glass. We’ve found occasional pieces of yellow glass, which is much rarer. We also pick up unique pieces of broken tiles and ceramic dishes.
At home, I display the pieces in clear containers where the sunlight can shine through the glass and illuminate its shapes and colors. Each time I see it, I think about the two of us walking along the shore and being as excited with the last piece I pick up as the first. It’s a very personal sort of souvenir...the best kind!
And I'm curious...Do you have a unique souvenir you look for when you travel?


  1. I enjoyed this post so much, Jo Ann. I love sea glass. In fact, when I sold my first book to LIS, I bought a beautiful pair of sea glass earrings at a shop in Maine. I never knew pieces of sea glass were called Mermaid Tears, but I love that. It's so fitting. I made a note to look for the re-release of your book.

    Your trip sounds amazing.

  2. Jo, have you read Sea Glass by Anita Shreve. It's part of a trilogy (the final being The Pilot's Wife) and the heroine has a passion for sea glass. Your post made me remember. Great seeing you at RWA, which we'd had time to chat a bit more :)

    1. I've read The Pilot's Wife. I think I've got a copy of Sea Glass, so I'll have to pull it out of my TBR mountain.

      RWA was insane as always, wasn't it?

  3. Jo Ann, I've never heard of Mermaid Tears. Loved reading about you and your husband searching the beach for the special glass. I'll be in Ireland in the fall. Will I find Mermaid Tears on the shores there?

    Lovely seeing you at RWA!

    1. Yikes! This vanished before I could push publish. I was saying...I don't know about sea glass and Irish shores. Just google "Ireland" and "sea glass" and see what comes up. That's how I found some beaches in Wales to scour. The pieces were much fewer and far between there, but I found some interesting ones.

  4. I’ve never found sea glass. Very cool. I don’t have a specific souvenir I collect on my travels. I’m headed to Ireland this week. I plan to bring back an Irish sweater.