Sunday, 24 June 2018

JOURNEY'S END


In January 2011 I set off on a virtual blogging journey around the British coast, and this month I finally ran out of coast to blog about.  “Why?” I hear you cry.  Well, I have always had a fascination for the idea of travelling around the entire coast of Britain, preferably on foot, but for various reasons I have never had the time, money or energy to do it.  I also enjoy writing, however, and one dark winter’s morning as I was lying in bed I suddenly had an idea: “I know, I’ll blog my way around the coast”.  Added to which, the British coast has given me a huge amount of pleasure over the years, and I just wanted to give something back.



So what have I discovered about the British coast?



-          There’s always something going on!  Music festivals, food and drink festivals, sea shanty festivals, literary festivals, sailing events, surfing events, marathons and half marathons – the list is endless.  Although I have stopped blogging, I will continue to list selected events for each week, so if you want to find out what’s going on, check in from time to time.



-          Every single place, no matter how small, has a story to tell, and there is so much history everywhere.  When I came to Charmouth on the Dorset coast, I wondered how much I would find to say about such a small place, and then I discovered that it was the scene of a succession of bloody battles against the Danes in the 9th century.  Moreover, that Catherine of Aragon had once stayed there in a building later to become a pub, after which Charles II turned up in disguise after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.



-          Our coastline is one of the most varied of any country in the world.  From the towering cliffs and pounding seas of Cornwall or Pembrokeshire, the islands of the Hebrides, some doing an imitation of the Caribbean with their pristine white sand beaches, interesting rock formations and sea stacks, dunes such as those at Camber, the marshes of North Norfolk, the rias of the South Cornwall and South Devon coasts, the risky mudflats of Morecambe Bay.



-          There is one recurring theme which strikes me as particularly sad, and that is the amount of industry that has disappeared from our coasts.  The most visible example of this is in Poldark country, my home county of Cornwall, where everywhere you go there are reminders of a long-lost tin and copper mining industry.  In Combe Martin, Devon, it is lead and silver mining which have bitten the dust.  Other places have lost their coal mines, and in North Yorkshire it was ironstone which ceased to be mined.  Strontian in West Scotland lost its lead, zinc, tin and silver mines.  Another disappearing industry in many places is shipbuilding, and numerous ports have become shadows of their former selves due to the decline in export activity.  As for fishing, although it continues in many places, there are countless places where the fishing has given way to more leisurely pursuits.



-          The amazing people who selflessly give of their time for the benefit of the coast and the people who enjoy it.  First and foremost, the brave people of the RNLI who risk their lives to save others, and the folk who work for the Coastguard, doing their best in the face of brutal cuts.  The people who give up their weekends for beach cleans, wildlife surveys and other activities.  The people who organise the aforementioned events and festivals and who raise money for charity.



And finally, I would like to dedicate my blog to its biggest fan, my lovely mother Barbara, who will be 90 in a few weeks’ time.  You can see some of her paintings in the Cornwall section of my blog.

Friday, 15 June 2018

RATHLIN ISLAND


And so to the last island on my coastal blogging journey.  With its distinctive boomerang shape, Rathlin Island has the distinction of being the only inhabited island within the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.  The island is easily accessible from the mainland, being linked to Ballycastle by means of a ferry service for passengers and vehicles, the maximum crossing time 40 minutes.  Most of the signs of civilisation, including a bar, accommodation and shops, are to be found next to a small west-facing harbour, the departure point for the ferries.  Among the historic sites on the island are a Kelp House, where kelp used to be stored prior to being sent to Scotland, a standing stone and the site of a Neolithic settlement, a reminder of the earliest human presence on the island between 4000 and 2500 BC. 



There is a well-known story about the Scottish king Robert the Bruce, in which he is taking refuge in a cave after being driven from Scotland by Edward I of England.  He observes a spider persevering in repeated attempts to bridge a gap with its web, and the spider’s efforts inspire him to return to Scotland to regain his crown.  As is often the case with such stories, there are a number of places where this event is claimed to have taken place, but a few years ago one of Robert’s descendents claimed that it happened on Rathlin Island.



Another notable event from history was the Rathlin Island Massacre in 1575.  At that time there was a castle on the island, and the MacDonnells of Antrim took refuge there and used it as a base for their resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster.  Their leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, also decided to send a host of women, children, elderly and sick to the island for safety.  However, this proved to be a bad move when Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys, acting for the 1st Earl of Essex in his campaign to subdue Ulster, attacked the castle, and even went as far as seeking out the more vulnerable folk who were hiding in caves.  The result was 600 dead, including over 400 civilians.  The dead included the entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who was forced to watch helplessly from the mainland.



Rathlin Island had a mention on the last episode of this year’s Springwatch, when it was announced that the corncrake has returned to the island, making it the only place in Northern Ireland where the bird has been heard in recent years.  According to the island’s RSPB  page, as well as the corncrake, the island is home to Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of chough, while other birds to be found there include puffin, guillemot, kittiwake, razorbill and fulmar.


Rathlin’s liveliest week of the year comes in the first half of July when Rathlin Festival Week takes place.  For a list of events on the island follow this link.

Map of the area.

File:Church Bay - geograph.org.uk - 469318.jpg
Church Bay. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 4 June 2018

CULMORE


Culmore is at the mouth of the River Foyle, a short distance downstream from the city of Londonderry, or Derry, slightly further inland.  This geographical location proved to be of strategic importance in May 1600 when Sir Henry Docwra, 1st Baron Docwra of Culmore, landed here with his army prior to taking Derry in an attempt to quash a war against the crown in Ulster.  The 17th century Culmore Fort on Culmore Point played a part in another event a few years later when Sir Cahir O’Doherty captured a supply of arms from there before launching what came to be known as O’Doherty’s Rebellion.  A more recent claim to fame for the village is that Amelia Earhart completed her solo translatlantic flight in 1932 by coming down on Culmore. 



Just beyond Culmore is the border with the Republic of Ireland, making it the last mainland coastal settlement on my blogging odyssey around the British coast.  However, there is one last place to blog about: Rathlin Island.  Watch this space.


File:Culmore point - geograph.org.uk - 953319.jpg
Culmore Point. Photo by Kenneth Allen, via Wikimedia Commons