Upturned boat img003

“The common people ther do pray for shippes which they sie in danger. They al sit downe upon their knees and hold up their handes and say very devotedly. Lord, send her to us, God send her to us. Seeing them upon their knees, and their hands joined, you do think that they are praying for your sauvette; but their myndes are far from that. They pray, not God to sauve you, or send you to the port, but to send you to them by shipwrack, that they may gette the spoile of her. And to show that this is their meaning, if the shippe come well to porte, or aschew naufrage, they gette up in anger, crying, the Devil stick her, she is away from us.”

Robin Rigg, governor of Lindisfarne circa 1643

In the century following the dissolution of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the island community, once a centre of learning and devotion to God, descended into poverty and lawlessness: smuggling was rife and wrecking, the practice of luring ships onto rocks with false lights, had become commonplace, as alluded to by the then governor, Robin Rigg, in conversation with a priest, who had himself narrowly escaped being shipwrecked on the hidden rocks that surround the island while trying to make it to port.

A few miles east of Lindisfarne lie the Farne Islands, an archipelago made up of a dozen or so rocky outposts that are a haven for seals and nesting seabirds. They are also a ships’ graveyard having claimed hundreds of vessels and thousands of lives over the centuries. Even with modern navigation equipment and depth finders it’s still tricky; and last week my brother Graham, who brought along his charts to plot a navigable route through the rocks and sandbars for his upcoming voyage, joined me on the island.

Graham Ward is the Senior Project Manager for Balfour Engineering. He’s based in Newcastle, where he’s lived for twenty eight years and much of his work has involved building schools, universities and hospitals around the region: multi-million pound projects that he has to price, tender and build on budget and on time. It’s hugely stressful, but meeting him you wouldn’t know it as he just takes it all in his stride and gets on with it. Away from work and family, his passion is sailing and he will often take his small boat out into open seas on summer evenings and bracing winter days for the sheer joy and exhilaration of it all.

The wall of the Crown and Anchor pub, where we spent a pleasant evening, carries a chart of Farne island wrecks: it also has an inscription. ‘Oh Lord. The sea is so large and my ship, so small.’

Graham doesn’t have a recipe, but recommends Indian Brandee for gripe and similarly distressing disorders.

Next week: When the lake drops, Neptune rises.






  1. That description of the wreckers is truly chilling…reminds me of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel ‘Jamaica Inn’.

  2. If anyone visits Holy Island, I can recommend the Crown and Anchor. I particularly enjoyed the Tyneside Blonde (beer, that is) and the lemon sole.

  3. Some writers tend to come and go, but I think you’ll be around a long time. As long as you keep pumping out this kind of content you’ll be popular. Thanks for the great information.

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