Rock pooling – finding the best spots for a great day out

Rock pooling is a great nature activity that can be done year round with the kids.  It’s like the pond dipping equivalent for the coast!


What is rock pooling?

Rock pooling is the exploration of small, shallow pools that are formed when the tide is out at the coast.  Often they will contain sea life like crabs, limpets and even starfish.  

The rock pools are covered at high tide which allows the sea life to come and go but when the tide goes back out many of the animals take refuge in the safe confines of a rock pool rather than the open sea.  You’ll also sometimes find some fish that find themselves trapped as they wait for the water to come back so they can swim again!


Rock pooling can be done just by looking at what is in the pool or by being a bit more active with nets, buckets and brave hands!  There are so many natural rock pools all around the coast of the UK that it can be done almost anywhere on our many miles of coast line.



What can you find in rock pools?

The most asked question I get is what can you expect to find when rock pooling.  Crabs are the big, wonderous and familiar creature that many people enjoy finding and catching but you can also find:

  • mussels
  • limpets
  • seaweed
  • starfish
  • periwinkles
  • prawns
  • crabs – hermit and shore
  • fish – species can include butterfish, shanny and rock goby amongst many others
  • anenomes
  • lobster

… and so much more!

If you want to identify what you’re finding in the rock pools then I really recommend getting yourself an inexpensive spotter guide like this one.  Children’s books will probably be plenty in depth enough for most casual rock pool visitors but a more serious book for adults I recommend is this one.



How to find rock pools

As I said before, you can find rock pools all along the coast of the UK.  What makes a good rock pool is going to be ease of access from the beach – although some clambering is inevitible you don’t want to wander too far away from the shore.  The best way to find a good rock pool location that’s near to you is to either ask locals in the area or to simply Google for rock pools in ‘insert county here’.

If you’re already at the coast and wondering whether there are any rock pools around then simply wait until the tide is out and scan the shore to see if there are any natural formed pools that might have some exciting life to explore.  Rocky beaches are the best ones to look for as there is more chance that you’ll get pools forming.  Look at the edges of flat sandy beaches as there might well be pools formed along there.

Basically, keep your eye out and get ready to explore if you find something interesting!


Tips for rock pooling

Rock pooling depends on the tides so you’re going to have to pay attention to these if you want to have a successful trip.

It’s also extra important to be aware of when the tide is rising so you don’t get cut off on the rocks – it does happen and can be quite scary so again, consult tide times and if you’re not sure ask someone local.

Safety is really important and many of the accidents occur from people slipping on the rocks.  I highly recommend getting some waterproof beach shoes for both kids and adults which means you’ll not worry about getting shoes wet and you’ll have much better grip around the rocks.

Before you get started put some sea water in your bucket ready for when you catch your first creature – that way it will be perfect and ready for them so you don’t upset them too much.  Adding a little bit of seaweed in might be good too so shy animals have a place to retreat to and it will keep them cool if it’s a sunny day.

Always be extra gentle when handling sea creatures as they have soft bodies which can be damaged if they are picked up too roughly.  Also don’t touch anenomes – they can sting!

Be slow and steady when moving rocks and looking for life.  Sometimes patience wins out!


Also remember that you can go rock pooling at any time of the year so don’t feel like this is just a summer activity – if you live near the coast or having an out of season break and it’s winter just get some waterproofs on and head on over.  You might be surprised at what you can find and it will be interesting to see if it’s similar to a summer exploration.


If you’re spending a day at the beach check out  my guide to the best beach tents


What equipment do you need for rock pooling?

The following is a good idea to have for rock pooling although none of it is mandatory – a good eye and willingness to be patient and see what moves can also work well too!  But of course, we know that kids love to catch the animals in rock pools and it can keep them quiet for quite some time so:

  • A fishing net
  • a bucket – clear is good if you can get one
  • magnifying glass
  • ID guide as mentioned above


Most things will be available from seaside shops if you arrive unprepared!


And in order to keep safe I also recommend:

  • beach shoes (something like these are perfect – you want to keep from slipping as much as possible)
  • a sun hat
  • suncream
  • some anti bac gel if you’re worried about germs when you’re done



Another popular seaside activity is crabbing – check out our guide here