Stormy Seas, Serpents and Shipwrecks

…. the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
Sea Fever – John Masefield (1878-1967)

shipwreck Ardivachar beach

Storms, shipwrecks and sea monsters are strewn throughout our cultural heritage, a tidal wrack of sagas, sea shanties and symphonies. Selkies, serpents, swans and sea birds feature as allegoric devices to convey moral tales or act as elegiac metaphors for death and the voyage from this world to the next. The sea has a rich mythology and retains its power to inspire and enthral.
Stormbound, watching the surf break over the reef and the squalls race over the horizon, the wind rising as a cannonade of rain batters the house and the skies turn from grey to deepest indigo; snatches of long forgotten poems weave their way through my day dreams. Romantic and tragic stanzas from Tennyson, Coleridge and Browning mixed with Homeric epics and Celtic myths fuel my sea fever. An intoxication which leaves me mesmerised by the sound of the wind and the sea, content to sit and watch the equinoctial gales, waiting for the tide and wind to retreat.

In the aftermath of a storm, the beach is often strewn with a rich harvest from the kelp forests, long tangles of amber dabberlocks and furbelows, dark ochre and olive fronds of wrack, strands of sea spaghetti, velvet green sea-fingers and translucent sea lettuce. Food for the land, the islanders and the shorebirds.

Too often there is an ugly tide line of plastic and assorted human debris, a wretched symbol of our contempt for our environment. This poisonous and ugly flotsam and jetsam disfigures even the most remote shores of our planet and leaves me with an aching despair. Too often a walk along the beach becomes a garbage gathering exercise only relieved by the delight of watching the sanderling scurry along the tide edge.

If the wind is in the north, the beach will be scoured, leaving a complex sculpture of sand ripples and beach cobbles. A novel landscape to explore for mysteries as the power of the storm can bring exotic visitors or reveal messages from the past.

Finding the wooden ribs of the vessel exposed on the beach presented an intriguing mixture of possibilities, tinged with an aura of romance and perhaps tragedy. It may have been the relatively recent wreck of a fishing boat or perhaps an echo of a more distant time when the islanders travelled by sea and traded with Ireland, Scandinavia, the Baltic and beyond. A reminder that from early prehistory the Isles were well-populated by complex and sophisticated communities and in the time of the Lords of the Isles were the seat of a maritime dynasty considered to be a second royal house in medieval Scotland. Traders, raiders, missionaries, messengers, diplomats, fishermen or adventurers, their story will never be told, but it is ours to imagine.

The magic of 21st century technology recorded its location for those who might one day seek to uncover its secrets, but with the turn of the tide it disappeared from view and was once more covered by the sea and the sand. Perhaps another maritime metaphor. 

22 thoughts on “Stormy Seas, Serpents and Shipwrecks

  1. Wonderfully evocative writing – i envy you your position by the sea (though the storms must be frightening sometimes?) Having just spent a few days in the hills of the Scottish Highlands, I have a similar wonder for the heights and the force of the water coming off them, and a similar sense of despair about the litter some people see fit to leave there.

    • I have fantasies about strewing grubby plastic bottles and bags through neat surban streets and gardens just to make people realise how offensive the effects are when other people are careless with their litter. Unfortunately it is not just the rest of the world, some of my neighbours can be careless with plastic feed bags and buckets, not to mention the horrible black plastic bale wrap that gets attached to the barbed wire on the stock fences. I can get very grumpy about this subject!

  2. A fabulous evocative post, Christine, full of ideas and wonderful writing. Thank you,
    Best wishes

  3. [J] I’ve checked the Canmore website, including Canmore Maritime – can’t find anything. Perhaps you might consider reporting the site to them for possible investigation?

    • Thanks Jonathan, it is an unregistered site and the information has been submitted by Simon Davis. Simon has been over to look for the wreck a couple of times, but so far it’s not re-appeared. During the recent series of very low tides we’ve not been able to get onto the beach because of “Operation Warrior”.

  4. The tourists are gradually diminishing in numbers. Soon I shall go down to the sea for a walk…. Lovely post. Thanks.

    • I think winter on the coast is a very special time, fortunately I’m in the minority so the beaches are always empty. However, in this part of the world you can always find a deserted beach even in August. Do hope you have some good winter waether for bracing walks along the beach.

  5. ahh, beautifully written! I, too, have noticed the garbage which more and more litters the beaches of Lewis. In August 2015 we thought it was wonderful how little litter there was on the beaches, but this year it seems way more! I also noticed a lot of litter left by crofters – empty feed bags etc. It’s a shame. When we have our own croft (hopefully within the next half a year) I will make sure not to leave any litter on my croft!

    • The amount of litter on the beaches is generally what is deposited by the tide (rather than visitors or locals) so it is weather dependant and is usually worse in the winter. A good SW gale normally indicates that it is time for a beach litter patrol. Unfortunately some crofters are careless with their feed bags etc. and seem oblivious to the rubbish they leave in their wake!

  6. olganorris

    Wondrous images you conjure – apart from the all too real dread debris, the reflux of civilisation! How invigorating to have WEATHER to live through, and to have the 21st century means by which we can share your resultant thoughts.

    • Thank you Olga. I hope that I have not coveyed the impression that we’re knee-deep in rubbish, comparative to our parts of the world it is not too bad and we try our best to keep our island clean. Our oceanic climate is invigorating and has an enormous impact on our lives. So I try to make the best of the fine days – so blogging only on wet days. Today is glorious and I’m off to plant some bulbs, pausing only to count the migrating geese as they fly overhead.

  7. Perhaps you have not seen Wild Daffodil’s posts about creating art from some of the less enticing things she finds on her Dorset beach… Something to do on those long winter evenings when the hatches are battened…? No, you will be too busy twiddling your thumbs of course… Only teasing, of course, as you have highlighted only a tiny fraction of the problem. I wonder if there is anything you did add to your shelves of finds though…?

    • Thank you for the suggestion of occupational therapy – alas my creative talents are cerebral -as you might have guessed from my lack of flower arranging skills!
      Lots of new driftwood for the garden, a second sperm whale tooth (will I get a full set?) and plenty of shells for the shelves. Lots of mini-sea monsters collected in photographic form – a blog will follow at some stage, but I must get on with my bulb planting.

      • How many teeth does a sperm whale have? You have trouved some lovely new objects 😉

        • A sperm whale has from 40-52 teeth on the lower jaw – those on the upper jaw don’t emerge!

          • And what do scientists/zoologists say is the purpose of these non-emergent teeth? Has their diet changed so much over the centuries?

          • Sperm whales do not appear to use their teeth for feeding, so it is possible that if their diet has changed in recent evolutionary time selection pressure has probably resulted in the teeth not emerging but has had not resulted in the complete loss of teeth. In evolutionary time scales anatomical changes only take place rapidly if there is a very strong selective advantage, if the advantage or weak or neutral changes will take place more slowly or not at all.
            Why change in diet has resulted in non-emergent teeth rather than the loss of teeth is more difficult to explain and will probably involve a whole series of evolutionay and genetic factors.

  8. Oh…the writing! “Listen to this David!” I say, while I’m reading.

    • Hi Connie thank you for dropping by the croft all the way from
      Toowoomba – what a great name. Thank you for your comment, it really made me smile.

  9. I enjoyed that passage and that walk along the beach. Thanks for sharing. Brick

    • A walk along the beach is always better with a companion thank you for your commpany.

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