The Great Storms – St Andrews Bay

St Andrews bay snow storm WMA storm in St Andrews Bay.

This winter the “old grey toun” has experienced a few bad storms in St Andrews bay. The ‘beast from the east’ is not new. Throughout the centuries many a great storm has been recorded.

On the 5th of March 1881 the wildest sea storms and snow storms on record hit the east coast of Scotland. No fewer than 30 vessels were wrecked that day. Heavy snow storms and a raging East-South-Easterly gale was blowing in St Andrews bay. It was the day of the annual Kate Kennedy Procession, the oldest historical pageant held in Scotland. The Procession goes back to the 15th century, to the adoration by the university students of the niece of Bishop Kennedy (1408–1465), the founder of St Salvator’s College. The Bishop’s niece was Lady Katharine Kennedy, affectionately known as Kate, the fairest and most beautiful woman in her day. The first procession since 1874, thousands of students and locals gathered on the streets of St Andrews to watch the pageant which assembled outside the Cross Keys in Market Street at 11:30 that morning.

 Cross Keys bar WMThe Keys Bar.

About one ‘o’ clock the boom of the signal cannon on Kirk Hill was heard. The Norwegian 98-ton registered schooner Harmonie, from Falkenburg to Bo’ness with a cargo of pit props, was being driven ashore in a horrendous gale. The vessel was dangerously close to the rocks at the back of the Public Baths (now Castlecliffe). Luckily the schooner managed to steer away from the rocks and ran ashore on the sands 200 yards to the north of the Swilcan Burn on the West Sands. The lifeboat and rocket apparatus were on scene and rescued the crew of four men and a boy. The vessel became a total wreck and her cargo was carted to the harbour and re-shipped.

 Stormy Castle and West Sands WMSt Andrews castle and behind it lies Castlecliffe.

No sooner after the rescue of the Harmonie, the signal cannons sounded again at 4:30 in the afternoon. The Sunderland, England, 367-ton, registered barque Merlin bound from Sunderland to Bordeaux with 700 tons of small coals with a crew of 10 men and one boy, was being driven ashore in the gale. When about three quarters of a mile east from the pier head she tried to tack and was nearly round but did not make it and carried on towards the castle. The lifeboat was ready to launch at the West Sands next to the wreck of the Harmonie and the rocket apparatus team in readiness at the north end of Castle Street.

At 5:30 that afternoon the Merlin, helpless and broadside, struck the rocks 300 yards north of the Public Baths.  A rocket line was fired to the ship and successfully grabbed but a huge sea pushed the boat further on to the rocks and the line was lost. Within 15 minutes of striking the rocks the raging sea had turned the vessel into a shapeless mass of broken timbers, iron, masts, spars and sails. 10 men and one woman lost their life that day. Many were washed overboard, and all were drowned. The youngest was a man of 18 years and the oldest a man of 64 years.

In the cemetery at bottom of the Pends, you will see a large light grey coloured headstone. It was erected by the public of St Andrews in memory of the crew of the barque Merlin of Sunderland. There are 10 male names and one female name.

11. Merlin Gravestone close upThe gravestone to those lost on the Merlin down at the bottom of the cemetery at the Pends.

An unknown young St Andrews girl, touched by the disaster, wrote this poem:

“Close by St Andrews rugged shore

A saddening sight we see-

A vessel crushed upon the rocks,

Lashed by the raging sea.

 

The crew are clinging to the chains,

They cry for help in vain;

The Life Brigade did all they could

To save those drowning men.

 

One still is left upon the deck,

So youthful, brave and strong;

Haste! Haste! Oh, lifeboat crew, to save,

For there he can’t cling long!

With outstretched arms we see him there,

A mother’s pride and joy;

Oh, God! will you not hear her prayer

To save the sailor boy?

The cruel waves have done their work,

And claimed him as their prey,

While sorrow wrung each pitying heart

Upon the shore that day.

They saw the “Merlin” and her crew–

A band of sailors brave

As ever stood in jackets blue-“

 

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A Day out at the RICOH Women’s British Golf Open and the loss of HMS Success

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As a Fife Ambassador, I was fortunate to be invited to a hospitality day at the golf courtesy of Fife Golf Partnership and the Fife Tourism Partnership. Kingsbarns is a wonderful golf course with breathtaking coastal views of St Andrews bay and Kingsbarns beach.

I walked down to the 1st hole and watched golfers from Thailand, Wales, Spain, USA, Korea, Germany, Iceland, Germany and China to name but a few tee off. I witnessed some great golf and found a friendly atmosphere. There were some dramatic skies with the building up of rain clouds but as it is Scotland the spectators and golfers alike were prepared.

I went up to the Champion’s Club at the hospitality area and had breakfast and met up with some fellow Fife Ambassadors and members of Fife Tourism Partnership, Tourism St Andrews and BID St Andrews. After a hearty breakfast, I went down to see Scotland’s Sally Watson tee off and follow her for a few holes.

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A significant moment for me was looking out from Kingsbarns beach I saw the St Andrews fishing boat “Brothers In Arms” shooting creels off Kingsbarns harbour. My 12-year old son, Harris was out on the boat learning to be a commercial lobster/crab fisherman.

Time for lunch, and a chance to chat and a wonderful lunch washed down with a few Darnley’s gin and tonics. Sadly, the golf succumbed to heavy rain showers so I watched the play from the shelter of the pavilion balcony.

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Kingsbarns beach. HMS Success wrecked  just to the right of the right hand rocks in the picture

 

Kingsbarns golf course is a wonderful course. Looking east along the beach from the harbour at the second tee it was hard to imagine the events that took place here on the early hours of the 27th December 1914 when a strong north-easterly gale was blowing in St Andrews bay.

The 210-foot long Royal Navy “B” Class torpedo boat destroyer HMS Success on her way back to Port Edgar in the Firth of Forth from a patrol of Heligoland (German coast). Her route home took her in the direction of Aberdeen, down past the Bell Rock Lighthouse round Fife Ness and then up the Forth. It was a dark night in the strong gale and heavy sleet showers. In order to avoid the full force of the gale HMS Success kept close to the land. As it was wartime, shore lights and beacons were extinguished and it was impossible to judge the exact proximity of the land. The water is deep at Kingsbarns close up to the rocks and nothing in the vessel’s course suggested that danger was so near at hand. At 04:00 in the morning HMS Success ran aground with a crash on the Cambo Briggs rocks just 300M from the shore at Kingsbarns beach.

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HMS Success

 

The firing of the vessel’s guns first boomed out he news of the disaster to the shore and a wireless message for help was sent to other known naval vessels in the area. Tow torpedo boat destroyers and two minesweepers appeared on the scene in response to the call for help. The Coastguards at Fife Ness were alerted and the Crail and St Andrews Lifeboats called out. HMS Success lay with her bows completely underwater with the crew clinging to the chains and standards on the stern. Attempts to use the rocket apparatus failed due to the weather so the lifeboats bravely rowed their way through the rough seas and after many dangerous trips managed to get all the 67 crew safely to the shore.

After a brief rest, the crew returned to the shore to secure their ship. The ship was badly holed and water had flooded the engine room. By the next day the sea had worked the bows of the ship round and she lay with her stern pointing towards the shore. Salvage work commenced and her two torpedoes were laid on the shore and steamers were alongside to receive her guns and other moveable gear. It was found that it would not be possible to refloat her, so she was stripped of fittings and from the beach, traction engines removed most of the hull. What could be used again was taken back to the naval dockyards at Rosyth. At certain low tides and when the sands have shifted, remains of the lower hull of the ship can be seen.

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Remains of  HMS Success

I highly recommend a visit to Kingbarns Golf Course, Kingsbarns beach and of course the British Women’s Open.

Happy New Year Fife

RA1

Red Arrows fly past over the Old Course at St Andrews

2017 is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. As a Fife Ambassador I encourage you to explore the rich and diverse history and heritage of the Kingdom of Fife. You do not need to go far to discover something interesting. Go to the welcome to Fife website and take part in an exciting competition. http://www.welcometofife.com/highlight/year-of-history-heritage–archaeology-competition

So come on Fifers and visitors…explore!!!!

 

 

2017 year of History, Heritage & Archaeology

When I am not out at sea investigating deep water shipwrecks I am very much part of my local community and my local region. Not only am I a trustee of St Andrews Harbour Trust, I am a Fife Ambassador. Made into the local news all over Fife. That’s me holding the letter A for archaeology. I am happy and proud to be a Fife Ambassador and during 2017 I will be blogging and tweeting all sorts of interesting stories and facts about the amazing Kingdom of Fife.

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Red Arrows over the Old Course at St Andrews

RA1

Always something interesting happening in St Andrews. Saturday evening I took my youngest son down to the 18th green at the Old Course to see a fly past by one of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams…….the Royal Air Force, Red Arrows aerobatic team.

St Andrews is hosting the Links Trophy where the world’s leading amateur golfers compete for the Links Trophy. Some of these amateurs will go on to become household names.

The Red Arrows were conducting a 30 minute display at the Arbroath Festival of Heroes. Flying the distinctive red Hawk jets with the coloured smoke trails the Red Arrows flew low over the Eden estuary, the back nine of the Old Course and passed over the 1st Tee and 18th green.

Sitting on the steps in front of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the fly past was over to quick. Flying in formation with coloured smoke trails the Red Arrows flew low over the golf course and head south-east over the town. It was a great spectacle for members of the public and the golfers. I hope the Red Arrows did not put any of the golfers off their shot!

RA3

 

Fife’s National Dish – A challenge to the Kingdom’s chefs

Pie Dish

As a Fife Ambassador I enjoy visiting the many varied and interesting towns, sites and places around the kingdom. Of course this involves enjoying the abundant, varied and interesting cafes, restaurants and pubs that are found throughout the kingdom.

What do you and the many chefs of Fife recognize as Fife’s “national dish”? As an archaeologist and historian my research has come up with reference to a Kingdom of Fife Pie. A traditional rabbit pie. So what is the best recipe for such a pie? Is there another dish or recipe that can claim to be Fife’s National Dish? Some say its Chilli Ca Canny……..

The Golden Fringe of Fife – Elie Ness Light House

Elie Neil WM

It has been a great week of sunny clear skies and wonderful sunrises and sunsets throughout the kingdom. The other evening I was down at Elie Ness Lighthouse to catch a wonderful cloudless sunset. Looking across Largo Bay, the low tide exposing the East Vows rocks and its beacon. This was built in 1846 and the “bird’ cage on top of the beacon was intended as a safe refuge for shipwrecked mariners until they were rescued.

East Vows Beacon

Unusual to see so many oil rigs at anchor in the bay. A sad sign of the downturn in the North Sea oil industry at present. The three semi-submersible drilling units are the Transocean Prospect, the SEDCO 714 and a drilling rig I worked on as a Watchstander back in 1988, the SEDCO 711.

Lighthouses have been a safety aid to mariners for centuries. During bad weather and reduced visibility the lights from lighthouse helped mariners safely navigate their vessels around coasts, islands, rivers and estuaries. During the first decade of the 20th century mariners navigating the Firth of Forth were concerned that during bad weather the lights on the Isle of May and Inchkeith Island were not visible and as Elie Ness was a rock headland it would make sense to build a lighthouse there so that vessels would not come to grief on the rocks and reefs of the headland.

The Northern Lighthouse Board is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was formed in 1796 as the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. Its engineer in 1908 was David Alan Stevenson, grandson of Robert Stevenson, who built the Bell Rock Lighthouse and many great lighthouses around Scotland and cousin of the great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Built by James Lawrie Builders, Anstruther, the lighthouse went into service 1st October 1908. With the light evenings as we head towards the Summer Solstice, take advantage and get out and enjoy the wonderful sunsets that bathe the Kingdom of Fife.