Curious Feature On Whiteford Sands

Saturday, August 29, 2009 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


My final post covering my recent visit to Whiteford Sands concerns the following curious feature.

11319 - Curious Feature at Whiteford Sands 11318 - Curious Feature at Whiteford Sands

Upon first glance this looks just like any other clay deposit peeking through the sands towards Whiteford Point. However, this feature is almost perfectly circular measuring some eight foot in diameter with a lower centre. Indeed it looks as if the clay has been constructed into a wall to form a shallow pool within its confines. Without excavation I cannot tell how deep the sand is within the hollow or even what shape the clay takes underneath.

The mystery here is what is this strange feature? I can't even decided if it is natural or man made. There are apparently glacial deposits underlying Whiteford Point so could this have formed from a rock swirling around in these deposits causing a circular depression as can frequently be seen along the edges of rivers? On the other hand could this be some sort of ancient fishing trap designed to leave fish stranded in the pool as the tide retreats? Either way I haven't a clue and have spent a good few hours on the internet trying to find evidence of similar features to no avail. Of course this could just have formed through a coincidence of natural processes and my imagination has been running wild. Whatever the background this is yet another example of the brilliant things that you can discover when exploring the great outdoors.

Do you have any theories about what this could be? If so please leave a comment below as I'd love to hear them.

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Whiteford Point Lighthouse Structure (Fish Trap?)

Friday, August 28, 2009 Adam Tilt 2 Comments


After finally making it to Whiteford Point I was once again thwarted from reaching the Victorian lighthouse by a rapidly incoming tide. As I turned around to begin my return journey I noticed a fairly substantial structure poking out of the ground. On closer inspection the structure turned out to be a lengthy scaffold type arrangement, heading in a perfectly straight line from the dunes directly to the lighthouse. At its widest I estimate the width to be approximately eight foot or so, and it isn't hard to imagine that some sort of platform could once have resided on top of the framework.

11344 - Remains at Whiteford Point Lighthouse 11342 - Remains at Whiteford Point Lighthouse
11340 - Remains at Whiteford Point Lighthouse 11338 - Remains at Whiteford Point Lighthouse

The only reference I can find to this structure is a passing comment on another website that mentions that these are the remains of frames from which fishing nets were once hung. I 'm not convinced by this explanation as to me the construction and alignment just aren't right. Firstly, if I wanted to hang fishing nets I wouldn't have built such a wide structure with quite so much metal work. Secondly it is hard to see where the nets could have been attached given the relatively small holes between the lattice of poles. Thirdly, and for me the biggest clue, is the structures perfect alignment with the lighthouse. Although some areas have been obliterated, the widest area can be traced across the beach and much of the muscle beds, before a single line of posts leads almost up to the lighthouse itself. My best guess is that this was either built to transport materials during the building of the lighthouse, or was used to ease access when the lighthouse was in operation. I can't say for sure but I am absolutely fascinated by these sort of mysteries. Someone went to a great deal of effort to build this, and for it to have passed out of living memory is tragic. Many people wouldn't take a second glance whilst walking along the beach, but I find myself being drawn to track down the stories behind these forgotten gems.

If you have any more information I would love to hear from you. I will carry on with my own research as well and will update this post if I find any more information.

UPDATE: It is looking more and more like this structure was once a fish trap as the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust detail one at Whiteford Point in this position. On top of this materials were brought in by boat to build the lighthouse.

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Gower Shipwreck - Whiteford Point

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After exploring Whiteford Sands I arrived at Whiteford Point to discover another Gower shipwreck that I had not previously explored.

11329 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point 11321 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point

Unlike the famous Helvetica at Rhossili, this wreck is predominantly metal and has a few key features still visible. The primary artifact is the large boiler that would once have powered this ship. Amazingly after all these years the boiler is still within the confines of the rusting hull, in what must not be far from its original position.

11326 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point 11332 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point

As for what this ship once was, the details are as always a little hazy. The closest candidate that I have found is not in fact one ship but nineteen, all of which were wrecked near this location during terrible storms on 22nd January 1868. Imagine if you will a late Sunday evening as a fleet of nineteen coastal sailing vessels leave Llanelli, heading up the Burry Inlet to the open ocean. Each of the ships is carrying between 80 to 400 tonnes of coal and forms a chain of six vessels behind a single steam tug. The tugs task is to get the sailing vessels clear of Burry Holmes to allow them to safely sail under their own power with what little wind is present and the aid of an outgoing tide. Despite bad weather the previous day, this night is relatively still so many of the sailors are at ease. Suddenly the wind dies down completely and the the tide turns. The swell of the sea builds up to such a level that waves began traveling up the estuary without breaking. The result is simply catastrophic. As the ships attempt to drop their anchors the swell drags them along the sea bed, their sails useless to fight back with. As the waves rise and fall the boats are lifted up before being smashed onto sandbanks. Many boats lose their bottoms this way and simply sink in the middle of the estuary. Others are dashed onto the rocks or washed up onto the beach.

The next day must have presented a shocking scene. The beach from Whiteford Point to Burry Holms was strewn with the detritus from the night before. In all nineteen lives were lost, as well as four ships belonging to Llanelli; the Onward, Amethyst and Jennie Celine foundered with all hands, while the Brothers, the Huntress and Roscius were among those that stranded on the sands. In all three ships made it out into the bay that night. Two ultimately reached their home ports, whilst the third was wrecked in Rhossili Bay.

11322 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point 11327 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point

The presence of the boiler with this wreck and a lack of evidence for other wrecks at this location leads me to believe that this was one of the tugs that was leading the sailing ships out into the bay. One can only imagine the horror of that night.

11334 - Gower Shipwreck, Whiteford Point

The information from this post was partly obtained from: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/davjw/shipwreks.htm

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Jellyfish and more at Whiteford Sands, Gower

Monday, August 24, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend I took a walk around Whiteford Sands on Gower, starting from the car park at Cwm Ivy and following the beach to the lighthouse at Whiteford Point, before heading back to the car along Whiteford Burrows. During the few hours that I was out there I saw an amazing variety of wildlife as well as some very intriguing man-made features that I will share with you here over the next few posts.

11288 - Kestrel at Whiteford Sands, Gower 11294 - Common Green Grasshopper

Firstly lets start with the wildlife. My approach to the beach was accompanied with the sight of a Kestrel sitting atop the cliffs at Cwm Ivy Tor. This particular bird can regularly be seen in the same spot presumably due to the commanding views that it offers over the surrounding countryside. Just below the Kestrel there were a good number of Common Green Grasshoppers.

On Whiteford Sands themselves I was met with a rather unusual beach visitor. Despite looking somewhat like crashed UFO's, the beach was playing host to numerous Barrel Jellyfish that had been washed up on the previous high tide. These can be easily identified primarily by their massive dome shape that can measure up to 1m in diameter. Indeed some of the ones that I saw were approaching that size. Beneath the dome can be found eight mouth-arms that resemble a cauliflower in shape. I believe that the colour variation exhibited in the photographs below is due to natural variation and differing extents of decomposition. The Barrel jellyfish is present from July to September so expect to see many more of these being washed up on Gower beaches throughout the next month or so.

11312 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands 11296 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands
11311 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands 11310 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands
11302 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands 11298 - Barrel Jellyfish at Whiteford Sands

Due to spring tides the sea levels were very low for my visit, exposing some prime feeding ground for the many gathered waders. In all I estimate that there were around one thousand Oystercatchers present, as well as several hundred Ringed Plovers (some now in their winter plumage) and twenty or so Dunlin. Surprisingly there were even a couple of Grey Herons fishing in some of the larger pools of water. Mixed in with the huge flocks were a couple of rarer species, including a single Brent Goose and a couple of Sandwich Terns moving up the Burry Inlet on the incoming tide. The reason for so many birds at this location is evident when you take a closer look at the sand and see the wealth of life that is present.

11314 - Lugworm Cast on Whiteford Sands 11315 - Lugworm Casts on Whiteford Sands

The casts shown above are produced by Lugworms, a favourite for both birds and fishermen alike. I actually watched the single cast being produced which is something that I have never been lucky enough to witness before. After photographing the area I couldn't bring myself to walk across it and actually headed further up the beach to bypass the casts as it was a scene that was just too magnificent to disturb.

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Kittiwakes and Mediterranean Gulls at Mumbles

Sunday, August 16, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


One of the great things about this blog is that it is a constant encouragement to get outdoors and try to capture some of my surroundings to share with others. Yesterday was a perfect example of this as despite the changeable weather I decided to head down to Bracelet Bay and the Mumbles with two target bird species in mind.

The first species on my feathery hit list was the Mediterranean Gull. I have seen up to eight individuals at Bracelet Bay over the last few months, either in a raft at sea or feeding on the grass near the car park. This time was no different with five birds on the aforementioned grass along with several Black Headed Gulls. At an initial glance the Mediterranean and Black Headed Gulls can appear very similar, but there are a few key differences that mark the two species apart. The most obvious is the head colour. Despite its name, the Black Headed Gull actually has a chocolate brown head, whilst it is the Mediterranean Gull who has the true black head. Unfortunately all of the birds were in their winter plumage on my visit, which means a predominantly white head. There are slight differences in the shading that is still present at this time of year, but this is best seen when you have one of each to compare. The other key differences to look for are that the Mediterranean Gull has a completely white tail as opposed to the black of a Black Headed, as well as a more substantial beak and blood red legs. The Black Headed Gull has a more slender beak and less bright legs. Taking a combination of these factors together should enable a positive id. The Mediterranean Gull is listed as a scarce but regular summer and winter visitor, so keep your eyes peeled at the moment as there are a fair number about. The following pictures should hopefully show you the differences a bit clearer.

11231 - Mediterranean Gull at Bracelet Bay 11225 - Mediterranean Gull at Bracelet Bay
Mediterranean Gull in the foreground with Black Headed Gull behind

11227 - Mediterranean Gull at Bracelet Bay 11232 - Black Headed Gull at Bracelet Bay
(Left) Two Mediterranean Gulls in center (Right) Two Black Headed Gulls

Following that first success it was on to the second bird of that days hit list. the Kittiwake. Normally a cliff nesting bird such as those at Worms Head, you would expect this one to be a little tricky to find at the Mumbles. Not so, as there is in fact a colony at the end of Mumbles Pier. This colony first appeared in around 1993, and has since then held up to 92 breeding pairs in a single season. To gain decent photographs that would normally require a trip to a remote colony, you simply need to pay your 50p entrance fee to the pier, walk to the area at the end that is fenced off for repairs, and start snapping away. This years young are all well grown by now, but still have a lovely distinct plumage that photographed very well. Many of the adults were either flying around or were roosting on the slipway of the attached lifeboat station. Next season I will make a few visits throughout the year to hopefully document the whole breeding cycle from nest building through to fledging. For now just enjoy the pictures.

11269 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier 11251 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier

11254 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier 11270 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier

11259 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier 11240 - Feral Pigeon on Mumbles Pier
(Left) Adult Kittiwake (Right) Feral Pigeon

I also made a short video to capture some of the activities. The loud beeping noise that you can hear in the background of some of the shots is the foghorn from the Mumbles lighthouse. Despite the relatively sunny conditions of the video, a wall of fog and rain was blowing towards the shore at a rapid pace.


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Night-Time Photography at Cefn Bryn, Gower

Saturday, August 15, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Thursday night saw me sitting atop Cefn Bryn on Gower waiting for the Perseid's meteor shower to start putting on a show. To pass the time I decided to try my hand at a bit of night-time photography. This is something that I have fancied doing for a good while now and after seeing the results is something that I will definitely be experimenting with a lot more.

11219 - Night Photgraphy at Cefn Bryn, Gower

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A Summers Evening At Worms Head, Rhossili

Friday, August 14, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I can't think of a better place to escape to after a hard days work stuck in the office than Worms Head on Gower. Tuesday provided just such an opportunity with a glorious blue sky and the promise of a meteorite shower as night descended. Unfortunately the cloud arrived before the shooting stars did but we still had a relaxing couple of hours. Here are a few photos from that evening. Enjoy.

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Rhosilli Beach bathed in sunshine

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Some fascinating shapes to the cliffs on the way out to Worms Head

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A Gower rabbit enjoys the last of the summer sun before the cloud roles in

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A Wet Day At WWT Llanelli - and no photos to boot

Thursday, August 13, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After the glorious weather of the weekend it was back to earth with a bump as our return to Wales heralded the end of the sun and the arrival of the fog. Monday was a day of misty rain and blustery winds and certainly not one for any lengthy walks or decent photography. As a result we decided to pay a visit to the local WWT site at Llanelli as it had been a couple of months since we last had a chance to look around. Previously we had been managing a visit once every week or so, but due to the season and ongoing maintenance work the birds simply weren't around to warrant very regular trips.

Battling against the elements we headed first to the British Steel Hide to take a look at the new earthworks that have been put in place to maintain the water levels in the lagoon once the tide goes out. The previous structure had become far too leaky to keep any water in at all, leading to a rather baked and barren expanse of dry mud with very little interest to anything. The new barrier is now complete and is doing a very good job. Some new mudflats have developed nicely and look to be proving a big hit with the Lapwing and Redshank. It was nice to see that some of the Black Tailed Godwits had also made the trip round to the new areas as I hadn't seen them from this hide in the past. The barrier itself still needs to mature and gain some vegetation, but Black Headed, Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls were all making great use of it as a roosting site. As with Rutalnd Water the day before, much of the wildfowl in the shape of Gadwall and Shellduck were once again in eclipse plumage. It was very nice to see a couple of Widgeon still hanging around as well. It shouldn't be too long now before the large flocks start arriving back at the site. I would love to witness the moment when they arrive for the first time but I think the chances of that are rather slim. I will however have my camera with me this year so hope to capture some good shots of these fabulously colourful birds.

Elsewhere on the reserve things were very quiet, with barely nothing on the main central pool. Indeed even the Shellduck numbers seemed to be well down on what I would normally expect. Although the pair of Spoonbills that have been frequenting the area had been seen in the morning, by the time we arrived they had long since headed out onto the Burry Inlet to feed. It was nice to see a few Chiffchaff however, as well as Blackcap and Bullfinch. The Sand Martins were also showing very well, filling the air above the water along with a few juvenile Swallows.

The only other bird of note seen was a single Kingfisher out by the new hide in the Millennium Wetlands. Fortunately it didn't seem to mind the strimming that was going on around the pool unlike all of the other birds who had quickly scarpered.

Despite the ongoing works at the site, we still managed to record 42 different species even with some notable absences such as Pochard and Little Egret. I'd recommend another couple of weeks before starting to make regular visits again as I intend to. The improvements that are being made are going to be brilliant come the autumn and winter, but for now the birds need a chance to settle and regather once things have quietened down.

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Rutland Water and Weddings

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


This weekend saw me heading on the long journey up North to Leeds to attend a friends wedding on Saturday. When I awoke to glorious sunshine I was a bit annoyed that I was going to be missing the best day to be outdoors that we have had for the last couple of weeks. The day wasn't to be a total loss though as apart from the wedding itself being a great day, the reception took place in the grounds of Harewood house. As we were being served drinks and nibbles in the ornamental gardens to the front of the property, I noticed an RSPB 'Aren't Birds Brilliant' station set up with a few telescopes trained on the nearby trees. Being curious I wandered over and had the pleasure of watching a female Red Kite sitting on a nest in a tree next to the house. Apparently this individual originated from Northumberland, some 124 miles to the north. It just goes to show how widespread these magnificent birds are now becoming. This particular bird didn't even seem to mind the music from a rather cheesy DJ. I suppose that it's probably used to it by now!

We were originally planning on returning straight back to Swansea on the Sunday until I realised that the reserve at Rutland Water was a short detour away. It had been at least seven years since I last visited so I thought that a return visit was long overdue. After paying the very reasonable £4 entrance fee (even better when you consider that the parking is completely free and the pass allows you entry to both reserves that border Rutland Water), we popped up to the upper deck of the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre where large windows give commanding views over one of the main lagoons. The first birds that I clapped eyes on were a single Spotted Redshank and two Green Sandpipers feeding on the near shore. This was going to be a good day. Further out on the water a good mix of wildfowl in the form of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shellduck, Shoveller and Teal was present. Most of these birds were now in eclipse plumage which made identification a tad challenging for a while before I managed to get my eye in. The Gadwall were particularly difficult, looking a lot like female Mallards at this time of the year. Towards the back of the lagoon was what must be one of the largest collections of Cormorants at an inland location in the country. I counted over one hundred individuals before giving up. The sky above the air was no quieter with a good number of Common Terns screeching and fishing. Not to be outdone a nearby colony of Sand Martins numbering over 70 individuals were putting on a good aerial display. It was somewhat surprising that we only saw a couple of Swallows and no Swifts however.

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Green Sandpiper Feeding

From the visitor centre it is possible to either head north or south to visit some of the twenty seven hides at the reserve. We decided to head North as most of the hides looked over lagoons rather than the main reservoir itself. Many of the pools held very good numbers of wildfowl such as those seen from the centre, but added other species such as Little Egret and a few more Green Sandpipers. My first sighting of this species was only a couple of weeks ago at Upton Warren and now they seem to be everywhere! A particular highlight was a kingfisher who chose to sit on rocks just below the opening in a hide that I was looking out of. It is by far the best view that I have had of a Kingfisher anywhere. By the time that I had got my camera out he had unfortunately realised that he was visible and flew off further around the pool. The woods and bushes on the walks between hides were alive with wildlife, including Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Blackcap and my very first Stock Dove and the first lifer of the day. Due to their similarity with feral pigeons I have always been dubious in the past of finding an example that I deemed tick worthy, but this individual had every identification marking in place.

Peacock Butterfly

Over the last few moths, Anglian Water has been undertaking some major works to create new shallow pools to better control the water levels across the reserve in an age of ever increasing water consumption. The result has been the creation of a huge new lagoon and several hides from which to view it. As we were walking across to the first of these hides a large bird of prey swooped overhead. I knew instantly that we had just had a close encounter with an Osprey. Rutland Water first hatched an Osprey chick in 2001 and since then they have been going from strength to strength. Even so I didn't expect to get views like that. At the hide we were were able to watch a pair of Ospreys sitting and feeding on top of a large pole that has been erected in the middle of the lagoon. These birds are apparently an immature pair which bodes well for the future breeding success at this site. Out on the water were yet more Common Terns as well as a family of Little Ringed Plovers. After moving on to another hide looking over the same pool we were able to get even better views of the Ospreys, including a charming scene where they both decided to take a bath in the shallow water.

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Pair of Ospreys on man made perch

I thought that things couldn't get much better than that but we were fortunate to find ourselves in a hide with a couple of people who were very eager to share information on what they could see. This was so nice to see as you do find a fair degree of hostility on occasions when asking someone for help when trying to locate a bird that they have been discussing. Anyway, the first thing we picked up on were two Ruff feeding in the shallows, quickly followed by a group of six Egyptian Geese on one of the islands. Nearby were a couple of Golden Plovers in full summer plumage. The highlight though was the Gulls. Amongst the Black Headed and Lesser Black Backed Gulls we picked up several Common Gulls and the second lifer of the day for me in the shape of a Yellow Legged Gull. I would never have been confident in positively identifying one without the knowledge of someone with far more experience, but once pointed out the differences to mark one out from a Herring or Lesser Black backed Gull were clear. In fact I believe that I have seen a few in the past but never realised what I was looking at.

After that last flurry of activity it was time to head home as it was getting late and we still had a good four hour drive ahead of us. We had covered barely half of the reserve but what we had seen had been amazing, especially considering the time of the year. As we get further into Autumn a weekend visit is definitely on the cards as the birds present can only get better as the migrants begin to arrive.

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Gower Grasshoppers

Tuesday, August 04, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


As you may have noticed from the majority of my posts on this site, my main interest is in birds. However, I am just as interested in other forms of wildlife, it's just that quite often it is a lot more difficult to photograph. Over the last few weeks during walks out on Gower, I have come across numerous examples of possibly my favourite insect, the Grasshopper. Prior to writing this post I had assumed that one Grasshopper was the same as any other Grasshopper, so was surprised to discover that there are in fact eleven different species in the UK. How many of these are found on the Gower peninsular I am not sure, but I have examples of the first two species already in the bag.

This first photo shows a female Meadow Grasshopper, photographed in long grass just above the edge of the beach at Overton Mere. "Meadow grasshoppers usually have very short wings, the visible forewings normally being a quarter to three-quarters the length of the abdomen, which makes the grasshopper unable to fly. Long winged individuals capable of flight do occur sporadically, especially in hot summers and can be difficult to tell from other species of grasshopper. The colour is variable, usually some shade of green but often brown while females can even be a plum or purple colour. Its song is a burst of 10-15 irregular chirrups, lasting a few seconds, repeated at intervals. This is a grasshopper mainly of long grass. Eggs are laid in summer in the soil, hatching the following April, becoming adult in late June and surviving usually until about October, depending on the weather."[1]

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Meadow Grasshopper

This second photo shows a male Common Green Grasshopper, photographed in the slightly damper grass at the base of Rhossili Down. "The common green grasshopper is usually all or predominantly green but may have brown sides. Its song consists of long 'churrs' starting quietly and getting louder and lasting between 10 and 20 seconds. This is a species of longish grass, although it will occur in shorter, though not close-cropped turf, if the soils are moist enough. It is generally common over the whole of Britain. This is our earliest grasshopper to appear. The adult is present in June but survives no later than September. Eggs are laid in summer in the soil, hatching the following April."[2]

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Common Green Grasshopper
[1] [2]

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Gower Shipwreck - Vitte Zee

Sunday, August 02, 2009 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


During an explore of the coastline at Overton Mere yesterday afternoon, I came upon some very interesting remains of a shipwreck. Unlike most things that get washed up on beaches, these remains were very substantial in size to the extent that their original purpose was easily recognisable. I presume that the separate parts are all from the same shipwreck given that the thickness of the metal and deterioration all seem consistent, and that they are all found within the same large inlet of water. A lot of researching on the internet left me with almost no details, but what little information I did gather leads me to believe that these remains once belonged to the Vitte Zee, a Dutch salvage tug. She came to her untimely end during hurricane force winds on the 12th November 1940, though thanks to the brave actions of the nearby lifeboat all the crew were saved.

The following two photos show the bulk of the remains that are visible at low tide, but there are many smaller bits and pieces scattered all over the rocks. I presume that over time the regular storms along this coast have done a good job at breaking the ship up. The photo on the left shows a doorway (complete with old hinges) in the side of what I think was once the wheelhouse. The picture on the right shows the remains of the ships chimney complete with its mounting point, now detached.

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These two photos focus on the remains of the chimney mounting point. To my surprise the metal framework is actually inset with wood. Its preservation for this long is most likely due to having been coated in tar whilst the boat was in service.

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As I was finishing off my photographs the sea once again reminded me of its lack of regard or concern for those who brave it. With another turn of the tide the remains were once again submerged, their stories hidden from view.

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The information I can find came from the ever useful welcometogower.co.uk as well as the NCI Worms Head site. If you have any more information then please let me know as I'd be fascinated to hear some more on the story of this wreck.

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