Child of the
On the east
coast of Scotland our
Earlsferry home was
but a few steps from the sea.
caused the seas waves to crash on to our shore. At high tide the sea would
come right up into the Cross Wynd where was our home and our way to the beach.
In my birth month of February the sounds of the sea are loud as
winter gales come roaring ashore. The high tides leave behind all
kinds of tangles, seaweeds, shells and all kinds of flotsam and jetsam.
something primeval, magical, mystical and captivating about
salt air, the wind and the sea and I don't remember a time when I
haven't been a beachcomber. Since I
was old enough to be trusted on my own I roamed the beaches. Seashells
have always fascinated me. Even though shells of a type may
look alike, they're not. Not even limpets. Each
shell is as distinctive as you or I.
Limpet shells on
Any time I get near a beach, in short order I'm walking the tide
line. Soon my shoes and my pockets become filled with sand and the treasures of the sea, gifts
to the finder. Sea shells are indeed wonders of creation. My
extra special ones are the tiny cowries that are to be found on the
Earlsferry and surrounding beaches. Some are ivory white and some
are delicate shades of pink. To this day, except for the shells that I've given
away, I have about every shell I've ever picked up. Our home and
garden has shells everywhere. Not just hundreds of them, thousands
of them. Each shell started as a tiny speck to became shelter and
home to the creature that lived within it. On rainy and blustery
days when I'm kept indoors my shells are great reminders of the
sunny days when I picked them up as I walked barefoot along far away
my parents never worried about me even though I'd sometimes
disappear for almost all day. They knew where I was and what I was
on the state of the tide I'd spend hours laying beside the low tide pools
straight down from our house or I'd be at the high tide stickleback dubs at
the Dome Park, watching the movements of
the many creatures that lived there. Whelks, hermit crabs, sea anemones
of every color, urchins, starfish, cockles, periwinkles, myriad hued
seaweeds, bladder wrack, little fish, all living in harmony with the
sand and the pebbles in the bottom of the pools. There were times
when I'd come home from school and the tide was out and in a flash
I'd be down in the rocks where the sea creatures live. The once
heard, never to be forgotten, lonesome, haunting call of a long
billed curlew, the harsh cry of a herring gull, the shrill call of
tern and an oyster catcher mingled with the
ever changing voice of the wind and the waves was my music.
Looking into an
Earlsferry tide pool
The Bakin, The
Earlsferry beacon, just off the point at Chapel Green
always had a small wooden boat of some kind. My first was a raft
that I made from driftwood. Later John, my brother, made me a beautiful and very
seaworthy canoe. With this I ventured far out to sea. I fished with
a heavy chord hand line that I baited with lug worms that I dug on
the beach at low tide. There are monsters in the deeps. One day I
was fishing, just drifting along on the incoming tide, about a half
mile offshore in the vicinity of the Earlsferry beacon. Wham.
Something took my bait. Hard as I tried I could make no headway
trying to pull up whatever it was that was on the end of my line.
Whatever it was, it pulled all of my line out then pulled the boat. It dragged me for about a mile before the line, that I always had
tied to the front of the boat, parted.
day when I was anchored and fishing, a whale about a mile away
started jumping straight out of the water. As I watched, it
repeatedly surfaced, each time in a straight line and heading
straight towards me. When it came so close that I knew that next time it
surfaced it might toss me into the air, boat and all, I furiously
grabbed the oars and rowed with all my might to get out of its way. I
made a great commotion in the water with my oars then discovered to my horror that
in my panic, I'd forgotten to pull up the anchor. Obligingly the
whale skipped a surfacing and passed right under me to come up again
behind me. Was I ever lucky that day. It doesn't bear thinking
about what would have been the outcome had the whale snagged the anchor rope.
Another day I was anchored and fishing in about the same spot.
When I set out from the beach it was an absolutely beautiful dead
calm, warm sunny day, so much so that I decided not to take the
little Seagull outboard engine but rather just to leisurely row out
and back with the incoming tide to take me westward and the
outgoing tide to bring me back home. As I fished I happened to
look to the East in the direction of the May Island about ten miles
away. I couldn't believe my eyes. The sky there was pitch black and
a wall of water was standing up to form a giant wave on both the
northerly and the southerly ends of the island. I hauled in my line
as fast as I could and to save time I cut the
anchor rope. Despite this, before I could get
underway I was engulfed in a maelstrom, a screaming wind and a torrential downpour.
Instantly it became very dark and very cold. The waves grew huge and I feared that
this was it for me. All I could do was lie in the bottom of the
boat and bail as I struggled to keep the boat from broaching. I feared that
if I could keep the boat from getting swamped at best I'd be
very lucky if I got driven right up the Firth. Inwardly, I
prayed. I really did pray. "Oh
Lord, your waves are so huge and my boat is so
The howling storm and the
huge waves raged past.
With my row boat about half full of water and almost awash I
finally made it to
shore at the nearest point which was the Kincraig cliffs. Soaking wet and shivering, I bailed out the water,
the boat out, tied it up as best I could and walked home. I'd just used up one of my lives. So much for a
not a care in the world, beautiful, dead
calm, warm, sunny day.
War II many ships were torpedoed and sunk in the North Sea. After
finding several gold braided Royal Navy and Merchant Navy sailors
hats mixed in with the sand on the tide line, it dawned on me that
these were the hats of seamen whose ships had gone down and their
hats had floated off their heads as they sank beneath the waves. I
placed them in a special part of our garden. The sea can be
cruel and unforgiving.
I must go
down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask
is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail shaking,
And a grey
mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go
down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild
call and a clear call that will not be denied,
And all I ask
is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung
spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go
down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gulls
way and the whales way where the wind's like a whetted knife,
And all I ask
is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.