Being an island nation, the excitement of sailors, shipwrecks, and pirate treasure is buried deep in our national psyche and culture heritage.

In the latest of my things to do at the beach series, the challenge of standing on a shipwreck makes an unusual idea for a family day out, with an out-of-the-ordinary start…

“A foreboding impenetrable fog engulfed our ship as if from nowhere, plunging us into dark isolation amid the raging seas. An ethereal shriek, like the ghoul of some hell-sent seawolf, pierced the gut-wrenching murk, stilling all souls aboard that deckswept ship. During such a storm, weird cries in the night mean only one thing to superstitious sailors; a man overboard. And the end of the ship. As if in answer, that mighty ship groaned and reared. She was going down and both she and her loyal crew knew it…. from land they watched us flounder, drowning men battling the angry surf. The landmen of Howick did their finest, children were sent home and the women, braced to deal with the tragic victims, vowed amongst themselves to ‘pull ourselves together.’ Boulmer lifeboat carried out a brave rescue, saving 25 sailors though 5 poor souls were lost. Their bodies lie at rest in Howick graveyard.” – 29 March 1913*

*The above is my re-telling of the real-life sinking of the French trawler, Tadorne, off the Northumberland coast over 105 years ago. Words in italics are from the actual newspaper report of the day – don’t you just love the women’s comment back then!

The wreck of the Tadorne was a tragic but not uncommon loss – imagine telling your kids such a tale before embarking on your own family adventure to search for a shipwreck?!

Image of wake behind boat with small motor showing at bottom right and distant land on horizon with man's arm pointing to land

Things to Do at The Beach

Spending time at the beach is most children’s (and many adults’) ultimate dream, and though I am definitely a sun-baby, I can’t spend too long just sunbathing. Shipwrecks have a maudlin fascination for me so finding this old wreck to explore on our doorstep ticked all my boxes for excitement, adventure and fun. After a hard morning’s sunbathing of course.

Last year my best friend and her family visited during Caroline’s cancer treatment and we took advantage of a sunny Autumn afternoon to visit the Tadorne shipwreck at low tide, hoping to explore it with the kids.

The Steam Trawler Tadorne

After a short drive to a lay-by car park on the clifftop just outside Howick we trooped down the track to the beach, excited to see how close we could actually get to the wreck.

All that remains of the Tadorne is in fact a large rusty iron boiler. Not as romantic as it sounds in the story but impressive nontheless.

Image of rusting boiler from the 1913 shipwreck of the French Trawler Tadorne in sea near Howick
The iron boiler, last remains of the wrecked steam trawler Tadorne

The wreck is quite a distance out to sea at low tide so we tramped over the sand, scrambled over rocks and plodged in shallow rockpools for a couple of hundred metres as the tide slowly came in. (Plodged is currently one of my favourite north-eastern words, along with hinnie and howdie – more another time!)

Image of three children climbing in rusted metal tube-like object

The children had a great time climbing in between the boiler’s pipes, scary but exciting.

Image of rusted metal tubes covered in whiteish rough barnacles, with blue sky behind
Bless my barnacles – the boiler is covered in rough barnacles from so long submerged

It was pretty rough on their hands but they climbed all over it. It may not look possible but they also managed to squeeze between the pipes and explore the inside of the boiler. Very nerve-wracking for us parents but a wild adventure we had wanted and so a wild adventure we had!

As the tide was rising we headed back to shore to avoid soggy welly meltdowns.

The kids enjoyed a riotous time at the beach, climbing a collapsed sea arch and rockpooling while we enjoyed a cuppa and some cake (we saved some for them, honest)

Image of three children on grassy topped sea stack to left of rocky beach with sea and blue sky & clouds behind

Please take care at the beach.

Whilst we let the children have free-reign to adventure all over the boiler, there were 4 adults with them at all times and we made sure we were fully aware of the tide times in order to stay safe on our adventure. The tide comes in quickly and a long way, submerging the wreck several metres under water so it could be a very dangerous place to play.

Safety in the Sea

The first two photos in this post above, show the boiler of the Tadorne at low tide when it can be reached and climbed on. The following shot is at mid-tide when it looks like a triangular rocky outcrop, and at high tide there is no sign whatsoever that a wreck or the beach, even exist.

Can you spot the wreck in the right hand shot? Mid-tide & almost submerged

When exploring shipwreck locations remember particularly to check the weather and most importantly check tide times to ensure your wild adventurers stay safe. There are links in my family beach safety guide for these and many other safety suggestions.

For more things to do at the beach check out my beach and ocean pages, where more great days out are being added all the time.

A Shipwreck Near Me?

For ideas and shipwreck spotting locations around the rest of the UK including maps, photos and wrecks on land as well as under water, read my article on school holiday shipwreck seeking.

Share Your Wrecking Tales

I’d love to hear if you have a shipwreck story to tell (hopefully NOT one you were a part of!) – a wreck we could visit, a secret find etc. Let me know on the Facebook page or contact me here on the website.

There’s more outdoor adventure inspiration throughout the website from coasteering to citizen science, picnics to puffins. Let’s get the kids outdoors now!

Books to Read

If you’d rather be an armchair adventurer and read about wrecks by the fire at home, here’s a couple of books and some shipwreck hunting gear in case you’re inspired to go wreck hunting!

Click on the image for Amazon prices.

Treasure Island book

Robinson Crusoe and other stories

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, about Cornish shipwreckers

The Shipwreck Hunter

BinocularsWellies for plodging!