Half term is on the horizon, time to get outside and enjoy the Autumn sun.
It might mean one last chance for a seaside holiday before Christmas – probably not a sunbathing break but there are plenty more adventures to be had at the beach in all seasons.
If you’re after something different to get your wild kids out and about in the holidays, there are many things to do at the coast in (almost) any weather. One of my favourites is searching for shipwrecks..
I fell in love with shipwrecks years ago on our annual family holiday to Cornwall. An unseasonable storm partially uncovered the wreck of the S.V. Carl in Booby’s Bay near Padstow, a beach we visited regularly.
S.V. Carl, shipwrecked 07 October 1917
The German sailing vessel (SV) went down 100 years ago today. No souls were lost as the vessel had been captured by the Royal Navy during WWI, suspected of being a minelayer, and was being towed to London for scrap. It was wrecked when the tow rope snapped en route!
In previous years no more than 30cm (12 inches) of the Carl’s masthead showed above the sand at Booby’s Bay so it was exciting for us children that more of the iron skeleton was suddenly revealed, firing our young imaginations with tales of wreckers, pirates and ghost-guarded treasure.
Sadly, by the end of the holiday shifting sands had re-buried the ship’s remains. It became my lifelong dream, right into adulthood, to visit Cornwall should the enigmatic wreck be exhumed once again. It was a long wait!
In Spring 2014 after a winter of violent storms, the S.V. Carl magically re-appeared. It was fantastic to see almost the complete wreck visible (even though I visited in the autumn, in equally as stormy weather, when sand had already buried the ship yet again!)
Peter and Chris Mitchell’s excellent website Submerged has lots of useful information on shipwrecks in the UK and abroad. Click to read their article on the Booby’s Bay shipwreck which has some brilliant photos from early 2014 when more of the ship was visible than on my visit, above.
Thousands of UK Shipwrecks
There are some 44,000 shipwrecks along the UK coastline including around 3000 in Cornish seas and 1600 off Devon. There may be 655 wrecks around the Isles of Scilly alone, offering plenty of opportunity for shipwreck seeking, if you know where to look.
Top Tips for Shipwreck Hunting
The best way to find out about shipwrecks is to speak to the locals to learn the tales, legends and locations of shipwreck sites.
Research shipwreck information using the links below.
Fire the imagination. Kids love legends of the Cornish wreckers with lanterns in clifftop church towers luring ships to a watery doom to plunder the cargo. I lapped up these stories as a child.
And who can resist tales of Turkish pirate ships in the North Sea, Spanish galleons and Royal warships sunk without trace, the Mary Rose, Titanic and more recent wrecks like the Torrey Canyon oil disaster? Talk about these to whet the children’s appetite.
Check tide times if viewing wrecks on foot. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get off the beach before the tide catches you. Tide times here.
Check the weather.
Divers can speak to local dive shops for information about exploring submerged wrecks.
Obtain a diving licence if required.
Don’t forget the camera!
Take care under foot. Some beach wreck sites can be very sharp and dangerous for bare feet.
How To Find A Shipwreck Near You
- Submerged has a great selection of wreck locations including Plymouth, Devon and world shipwrecks and some great recommended reading, as does the website of the excellent
- Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre near St Austell, Cornwall which includes west country and world wrecks and Titanic information
- The UK Diving website has a list of shipwreck dive sites
- UK Shipwrecks has created a record of most UK shipwrecks though the website does not seem accessible to the public
- Shipwrecks in Scottish waters have been charted by RCAHMS with 1,200 years of shipwrecks shown. I have been unable to find a reliable link.
- Some dive sites are protected, see below map.
Visit a Great British Shipwreck
Almost every cove in Cornwall shelters the remains of some shipwreck or other! If the S.V Carl is not your thing there are famous wreck sites and information centres to explore all around Britain. Here’s a little inspiration.
The Mary Rose, sunk 1545 after 34 years service, 132+ souls lost
I remember the raising of Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose in 1982. We’d waited years for the moment, having watched reports of the planning and preparation on Blue Peter and Newsround as children! Visit this incredible restoration in Portsmouth.
Discover the Mary Rose
The RMS Titanic, sunk 15 Apr 1912 on maiden voyage, 1500+ souls lost
Visit the docks and pump house in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built and sailed from. Or see what the Titanic looked like inside with a visit to Alnwick, Northumberland’s White Swan hotel where the restaurant uses the original panelling, mirrors, ceiling and stained glass as well as a staircase and revolving door salvaged from RMS Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship.
Discover the Titanic
Grace Darling & the SS Forfarshire, sunk 07 Sept 1838, 43 souls lost
Visit the RNLI Grace Darling Museum, Bamburgh, Northumberland, to learn about the rescue of 9 survivors, by Victorian Britain’s greatest heroine, from the wrecked paddle steamship SS Forfarshire in a rowing boat! Take a boat trip from Seahouses, Northumberland to see the lighthouse and location of the wreck.
Discover Grace Darling
‘Visitor’, wrecked 19th January 1881
For a rescue of epic proportions read the story of Robin Hood’s Bay lifeboat men who, along with around 1000 other people including children, battled 8 miles of blizzards helped by 200 men who cleared 6 foot snowdrifts to get them to the lifeboat in treacherous sea and high winds to reach the wrecked ship Visitor, in the bay. It’s an incredible read. Discover the Visitor
And for an unusual bit of shipwreck bagging, pop to Northumberland’s Howick to spot the remains of a ship’s boiler on the rocks:
The French trawler Tadorne, wrecked 29th March 1913, 5 souls lost
En route to Iceland the trawler wrecked in dense fog with 25 souls rescued by the Boulmer lifeboat. All that remains of the ship at low tide is its boiler.
Sutton Hoo, Anglo-Saxon ship burial
If you’re not mad for the ocean why not visit the site of an ancient ship burial? It’s safe and dry, no risk of sea sickness and a fascinating site. There’s the 1400 year old ship and replica treasure on display as well as the burial mounds and other artefacts.
Discover Sutton Hoo