The 20,000 seashells on the Suffolk coast with a hidden tale of friendship and strength

  • The stretch of white shells tells a tale of friendship, as Tanya Mercer reports.

On a remote section of England's coastline, lie 20,000 shells arranged in a line, stretching out to the sea.

It has become a marvel for local walkers in Suffolk, prompting questions about how the third of a mile of shells came to be.

The story behind the manmade wonder reveals the strength of a lifelong friendship of two women who escaped to the wild remoteness to cope with their real-life problems.

Lida Kindersley and her friend Els Bottema grew up together in The Netherlands, with Ms Kindersley later moving to Suffolk.

It was their diagnoses of cancer just weeks apart which brought them both to the coastline between Bawdsey and Orford.

The seashells were laid individually, now totalling over 20,000. Credit: ITV News Anglia

As the pair battled the disease, they gathered their strength by starting to lay a long stretch of white shells.

"We just wandered around and we saw some white shells and both Els and I just automatically picked up some wonderful big white whelks," Ms Kindersley explained.

"And then, as exhausted as we were about all this treatment, we just fell down on the on the shingle.

"We didn't even mention it. We just started, she put a few shells one way, and I put a few shells that way. And then we left it there.

"When we came back half a year later, it was still there. So then it started becoming a thing.

"We'll come back. If those shells can do this, if they can survive all the onslaught of the world, then we can do this."

Lida Kindersley (left) and Els Bottema (right). Credit: The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop

The section of coastline offers a place to explore and contemplate, as it is untouched except for a few fishermens’ cottages and holiday homes.

Brown hares, otters, around 250 bird species and hundreds of flowering plants and insects are among the wealth of nature which greets walkers.

For the two friends, returning twice a year, that nature was therapeutic. Ms Kindersley, now a stone cutter in Cambridge, said: “It's a complete healing thing which can help you completely inside, outside.

"It's fresh air. It really is a healing place, it envelopes you completely.

"The wind is strong, the sun is strong, the water is strong. Everything is stronger. You forget about your own troubles.

“The shell line is symbolic of how we keep going, shell-by-shell, day-by-day. And it’s really fantastic. People add to it, so it’s not our line. It’s a line of the world, of this place, of people.”

The friends, now cancer-free, wrote a poem about the shell line and their journey, with their words encompassing the strength of friendship and the healing power of the stretch of Suffolk coast.

It reads: “None are perfect here in this wild corner wind blowing, howling and rain beating and we brave the elements as we conquered our misfortunes together.

"Half a year later, we returned to the beach, to the line, still visible, but blown. And so year after year, shell after shell, two friends made pain into joy."

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