The River Scheldt, on which the port lies is not so well known as the Rhine or the Meuse perhaps, but that’s probably more to do with how far it travels in comparison, rather than anything else. From its source near Gouy in Northern France, it runs for 350 kilometres (220 miles) and enters the North Sea near Vissingen (Flushing) in The Netherlands. On its journey, it runs through Belgium and crosses over the Dutch border near Antwerp. The strategic importance of both the river and the city of Antwerp has had a profound effect on the fortunes of, not just the city itself, but also the Low Countries in general.
This coast road is part of the Wester Ross section of the North Coast 500 (NC500) route.
For those unfamiliar with the NC500 it was a concept dreamt up by the tourism marketing people to provide some joined-up thinking to promote all areas of the North Highlands and was launched in 2015.
It was an immediate success and featured as one of the Top 5 Coastal Routes in the World by Now Travel Magazine.
Having covered the full 516 miles in stages over a period of time (most of it before the NC500 was conceived) I would have to say that some parts of the route deserve more time to cover than others, and Wester Ross warrants more time than the area around John O’ Groats for example.
The full route starts out from Inverness, crosses over to the West Coast, and then follows the road north, across the top, and back down the east coast.
The Wester Ross section includes Applecross, Torridon and Loch Maree, and the coast road to Ullapool, and here I’m covering the section between Gairloch and Loch Broom, so pack a picnic, put some Celtic music on, and join me for a leisurely drive around some fabulous coastal and mountain scenery.
Along this coastline are a string of attractive fishing villages, the most interesting being St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther (including Cellardyke) and Crail.
If you’ve travelled to Fife over the Forth Bridge, then the first of these villages is St. Monans, about an hour’s drive away. There are several theories as to who St. Monan was, but the church that is dedicated to him is often described as Scotland’s nearest church to the sea, which is only around 20 metres away. It’s been here since the 14th century so whether it’s been that close since it was built, I wouldn’t like to say.
From what I can see of it nothing much has changed around here since we visited, but one thing I’d better mention is that we didn’t drive along here all in one day, as the route I’ve described would take at least four hours without stops; and although it might be possible, I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to enjoy the area properly.
Naturally, I wasn’t expecting the same jaw-dropping scenery that the Highlands can offer, but I already knew from experiences elsewhere, that the Lowlands of Scotland have an appeal of their own, but in a much more subtle way.
Immediately after crossing the border into Scotland is Gretna Green, the famous runaway wedding location, where most first-time visitors will want to stop – even if they don’t intend getting spliced. Having been here before, I was keen to move on because I think it’s one of those places that, unless your name’s Henry VIII, you only want to visit once, and so we carried on along the ‘B’ roads towards Caerlaverock instead.
As the Vikings proved, Lindisfarne was vulnerable. The natural harbour provided protection for ships, but the island itself wasn’t safe from invaders: The Vikings may have gone, but there was still a threat from the Scots, and when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Lindisfarne Priory, an opportunity presented itself to put the priory’s remains to good use.
Initially, the Priory church was used as a naval storehouse, but as the need for reinforcing Beblowe Crag as a defensive fort became more important, then the stone from the Priory was used to build a new fortress.
However, the need for strong defences against the Scots became virtually unnecessary with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England, and consequently uniting the two kingdoms together:
Apart from the Royalist castle surviving a six-week siege during the Civil War and a short-lived Jacobite takeover in 1715, in truth, the castle didn’t really see that much action.
From North Shields railway station, it’s a fairly uninspiring, but easy, 10-minute walk down to the quayside, but I always think it’s best to get the worst bit over with first don’t you? From the front of the station turn right into Nile Street and then then left into Railway Terrace. At the end, turn right into Bedford Street and follow this road across Saville Street down to the bottom of the hill. You’re now down by the riverside and will need to turn left into Liddell Street and head towards the Fish Quay. You’ll know you’re going the right way if you come to the Prince of Wales Tavern with the ‘Wooden Dolly’ outside.
The current Wooden Dolly is the latest in a long line of replica figureheads that have replaced the original one that stood here at the entrance to the Customs House Quay in the 18th century. It belonged to the Alexander and Margaret, a collier brig that was attacked by a privateer off the North-East coast in 1781 and held to ransom. Why sailors thought that cutting pieces off of it would bring them good luck at sea after that ordeal I can’t quite fathom, but that’s what they did.
Not all the reincarnations have been faithful to the original, and at least one of them was even a carving of a ‘Fishwife’, which was an acknowledgement of the important role that women used to play in the fishing industry. The current one is a replica of the one that stood here in the late 19th century. I have a fascination for figureheads normally with their elaborate carving and interesting history, but quite honestly, if sailors wanted to take chunks out of this latest one, it might upset some people, but I’m not sure it would upset me too much.
The construction of Cumberland Basin and the New Cut meant that an island was formed between where the river was diverted and Bathurst Basin at Redcliffe. This island became known as Spike Island.
Jessop’s plan included an ‘Overfall’ Dam to allow excess water in the Floating Harbour to flow over into the New Cut, but by the 1830s the harbour was becoming badly silted up.
Although Jessop had included sluices with his Overfall Dam, the main method of clearing the silt out was to drain the harbour and remove it by hand, which was less than ideal to say the least.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was brought in to make improvements to both Cumberland Basin and the Overfall Dam, and for the Overfall Dam he recommended developing Jessop’s sluices further and using dredger boats to remove the silt.
He devised an Underfall system where three shallow sluices could be used in a way that would control the harbour water level according to the tide and weather conditions, and a fourth ‘deep scouring’ sluice which could be opened at low tide when a powerful undertow (undercurrent) would suck the silt into the New Cut to be carried away by the next tide.
This Underfall system is still in use today, although a more modern system of dredging is used.
All the same, I’ve decided to include some information about the Cumberland Basin for anybody who would like to know a bit more about how this important part of the system operates.
The Floating Harbour project was awarded to William Jessop, an engineer from Devonport, who started work on the scheme in 1804. It took 5 years to build and was officially opened on the 1st May 1809.
For the Cumberland Basin, his plans included two entrance locks from the river into the holding basin, and a junction lock between the basin and the Floating Harbour. Why it was called Cumberland Basin I’ve no idea, but it was used as a lock when there were a lot of ships sailing in and out of the harbour.
The port developed approximately 8 miles from the mouth of the River Avon during the 11th century, which at the time would have had the distinct advantage of being in a very sheltered location. Not only that, the River Severn has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, which meant that the fast-flowing tide could bring ships swiftly up the Severn and the Avon to the protection of Bristol’s inland harbour.
For centuries it worked well, but as the ships got bigger things became a bit more complicated. Anyone who has witnessed the ebb and flow of these rivers will know only too well how quickly the tide can go out as well as come in, and the bigger the ships became, the more often they got stuck in the mud – and there’s plenty of that here.
London has Piccadilly Circus; Glasgow has St. George’s Square and Bristol has The Centre! Not the most innovative name for a focal point I’m sure you would agree, but before you start thinking that it’s just an easy way to name Bristol’s city centre, the name is actually an abbreviation of the Tramway Centre that used to operate from St. Augustine’s Parade, and it’s not the centre of the city anyway.
The pictures I’ve included show what it can be like here on a lovely day. As you can see, our day started off well and finished even better, with a beautiful sunset and a drink (or two) in the Ship – but the weather’s not always like that in Mounts Bay.
St. Ives is one of those places that is blessed with some lovely sandy beaches, but for this article I’m excluding the large expanses of sand at Carbis Bay and Hayle and just concentrating on the town beaches.
There’s not a lot that can be written about them except to say that they are all ideal for just lying around on, and taking a casual dip every so often into the shallow turquoise sea; perfect for kids and sun-worshippers alike, weather permitting of course.
Consequently, this post is mainly a pictorial one to show where the beaches are and what they look like.
There’s a difference between a harbour and a bay for instance, and I think it’s fair to say that Sydney Harbour is the most likely candidate for being the largest. The other contenders will have to fight it out because it’s not clear cut. Falmouth however, does qualify as being a natural harbour because it’s really a tidal drowned river valley, or ria, to give it the proper name – and it is deep.
Several rivers merge to provide fresh water for the harbour and they all end up in Carrick Roads, the main body of water in Falmouth Harbour. Its unusual name comes from the Karrek Ruen (Black Rock) which is a potential hazard at the mouth of the estuary between St. Anthony Head and Pendennis Point.
The time when it was possible to catch thousands of tons of pilchards a year is just a distant memory now, and tourism is now more important to Mevagissey than fishing. Even so, tourists come here to enjoy the harbour life as much as anything, so it’s still important whichever way you look at it.
Meva hag Ysi is named after St. Mevan (a Welshman) and St. Issey (an Irish woman) and has two harbours: The Inner Harbour was constructed in 1774, and the Outer Harbour in 1888. It might not come as any great surprise therefore, to learn that boatbuilding was also another source of income, but the boats built in Mevagissey were used for smuggling rather than fishing, and the best place to find out more is at the museum which is housed in a former boatbuilding yard that dates back to 1745.
This is one of my short posts where pictures are probably better than words, and the gallery below shows a selection of images from around Mevagissey.
West Polmeor, as it was originally called, was just a small fishing village until a harbour was constructed to fulfil the needs of the local mineral mines and clay pits.
A local businessman by the name of Charles Rashleigh was the man responsible for building the harbour, and in 1799 the village was re-named ‘Charles’ Town’ after him.
The only problem is that I’m not the only one who thinks it has everything, and so if you choose to come at the same time as everyone else then Polperro might not live up to expectations. I know this applies to any popular destination, but if you can come on a pleasant day out of season (preferably with an overnight stop) then you will be rewarded with a much better experience.
You can reach Polperro from Looe by a bus service that suits the company more than it does the passengers (remember everything down here operates on Cornish Mean Time), but if you have your own transport you will have to park at the top of the village near the Crumplehorn Inn where the local highwayman used to masquerade as the car park attendant. These days he’s been replaced by his metal mickey equivalent whose advanced technology doesn’t seem to stretch as far as being able to dish out any change.
East Looe is somewhere that needs to be explored, and as such this stroll around town isn’t meant to be a definitive trail, but a guide as to what can be seen when wandering around.
With this in mind, the bridge that connects East and West Looe is still a good place to start, as it’s probably the first thing that visitors will see when entering the town for the first time, as well as being one of its most important historical features.
The first bridge to be built across the river was a wooden affair in 1411, but by 1436 a sturdier stone bridge was erected to join the two towns.
In a wall on the West Looe side of the bridge there’s a stone reminder of this bridge showing that it was repaired by the county in 1689. It sounds as though this medieval bridge was quite impressive, but of course time took its toll and the one we see today replaced it in 1853.
Lying along the western bank of the River Dart just before it reaches the sea, Dartmouth owes its very existence to the river. Primitive settlements were set up along the muddy banks as far back as Celtic times, but land reclamation over the centuries have seen the town develop into how it looks today.
During that time the deep natural harbour has seen many comings and goings: The 12th cent saw ships leave here for the Crusades, and Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine saw a lucrative wine trade flourish with Bordeaux, but the most influential person in Dartmouth’s history was a local man by the name of John Hawley.
If you feel cheated in not being able to wander around and watch all the activity, then there is a viewing platform where you can see most of the harbour and the boats that are in port. For a better idea at what happens on the other side of the gates, I can highly recommend one of the early morning tours of the market, although during this year of Covid, I don’t believe they’ve been running them. You may also like to read my post, Brixham and Fishing for a better understanding of what the industry means to the town.
Up until then, deep sea fishing had largely been done by long lining which, as its name suggests was a technique that used hundreds, if not thousands, of baited hooks. Although trawls had already been invented, a much better system was developed by Brixham boat builders and fishermen that allowed trawls to be towed from beams that not only caught more fish but could also do so in all kinds of weather.
These boats with their tall gaff rig had sails which were treated with a local red ochre dye to make them more durable, and a design that made them both fast and strong. Only a small number of these boats have survived, but six of them have been restored and at least two or three can usually be seen alongside the pontoon next to the Prince William pub on the far side of the harbour.
There were in excess of 200 of these boats that sailed from the harbour to places as far away as the North Sea, where demersal fish such as plaice, haddock, and cod were much more plentiful. To begin with they returned to Brixham with their catch but as time went on, they started to put down roots in places like Hull, Grimsby, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and it wasn’t long before these ports became much bigger than Brixham itself.