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The Cockles Of Your Heart by Nigel Roth

Dernière mise à jour : 2 mars 2021


This week, two-hundred and twenty-four years ago, Robden of Solway Firth died.

He was just 37 years of age. His lighter-Scots dialect ensured audiences beyond Scotland mourned, as sorrowfully as the Scots themselves, the death in Dumfries of The Bard, Rabbie Burns.

His verses no doubt warmed many a fair-maiden’s heart and girded the loins of Scots from The Rhins of Galloway to Dunnet Head. There is also very little doubt that he probably loved his cockles, which have been eaten in Scotland for at least the past six thousand years, in vast quantities.

A cockle, by the way, is the common name for a group of mostly small, saltwater clams that live in sandy, sheltered, and often dangerous beach areas throughout the world.

Burns, whose exquisitely-crafted lines included … “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie, O, what panic’s in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty, Wi’ bickering brattle! I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee, Wi’ murd’ring pattle!” … and which I often recite after a wee dram or four, may not have even made it to thirty-seven had he been forced to grab his own cockles.

For cockling, you see, is for brave hearts. Real ones. Not Australian anti-Semites.

When sweet Molly Malone screeched - for it was her that was sweet, not her voice - in Dublin’s fair city about her lively cockles, she did so with the happy knowledge that before her had gone intrepid cockle-pickers who traversed swathes of dangerous quick-mud so she’d have something to croon about.

Let’s go to the Solway Firth.

The Firth itself, to which Burns was oddly linked since he was born over a hundred miles away, has a name derived from two thirteenth-century words that mean mud and ford, a wholly appropriate name. The soft mud flats, which appear bridge-like between shallow sea channels while the tide is out, are mortally deceiving.

One evening in early February 2004, twenty-one cocklers drowned in Morecambe Bay, the next large sea inlet down from Solway, as the tide crept in. As a result of this extreme danger, and for additional environmental reasons, cockling is banned on the Solway.

But, in the fiery land of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert the Bruce, Rob Roy, and Sheena Easton, rebellion is rife, and a cockling gang was reportedly afoot.

The gang was allegedly rampaging along the coast with their cockling tools, causing immense damage to the microbiology of the region, and leaving residents in fear of their safety.

Whether those residents were the cockles themselves or Scots living nearby the Firth was unclear in the reports. But, it was claimed that while illegal cockling was flourishing, policing of these barbarians of the cockle-world was nonexistent, the authorities washing their bivalve-stained hands of the whole matter.

The police (both of them) said they had inadequate powers to enforce the ban. And, Marine Scotland added that it’s not safe for its staff (of geriatric volunteers in wellington boots, one might imagine) to tackle the cockle gang alone. A deep row broke out and the Scottish Parliament clammed up over the whole issue.

Now, you could be saying to yourself, why so much fuss over cockles in the first place?

And indeed, vitamin-wise, cockles are not the Centrum of the Sea. Per serving, cockles contain 3% of riboflavin and 4% of niacin. You’ll get no thiamin, vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, folate, pantothenic acid, choline, or betaine. You’ll get zero carbohydrates or fat of any type, just a drop of calcium, and about 8% of protein.

You will get a marvelous 25% DV of iron, but that might come at a price: an unhealthy dose of your favorite gram-negative bacterium, E.Coli.

To the Ribble Estuary.

Cockles from the Ribble Estuary in Lancashire, a little further down from Morecambe Bay, but on the same side of the country, have been found to contain levels of E.coli which will kill you dead, and so trade in local cockles has been halted.