Wednesday, August 01, 2007

From Shovell's pocket

So that my family can access it, a couple of images from my trip to the Scilly Isles. The first, way out at sea near the Bishop's Rock lighthouse, is of the Gilstone, with the Gilstone ledge beyond it. This is where Sir Cloudesley Shovell's 'Association' struck in October 1707. He just about fetched up on the first possible rock, but there was no escape. Had his ship missed this, in a few hundred yards, it would have hit the Rosevear Ledges or the Western Rocks. The other image is of a rather battered half crown, a William III of 1696-7, and a ducaton of 1734 from the 'Hollandia' wreck of 1743, both retrieved by divers from the wreck sites. I was surprised to find them available, and reasonably priced (the English coin was £35). I suppose that for the coin collectors, the cleaning process such coins must undergo after such a long immersion detracts from their value as collectable pieces.

The Scilly Islands made a good week. St. Mary's, the largest, is unpretentious, the 'off-islands' are varied and engaging both for sea-scapes and up-close island flora. You spend a lot of time in boats going from shore to shore, and the boatmen are all cheerful and good value. In our trip out to the Western Rocks and Bishop's Rock lighthouse, to enable everyone a good view of seals at their haul-out rocks, the boatman, in a heaving sea, was willing to take his boat very close in, almost to the point when you thought, 'OK, we can see them, now get us away from these rocks right now'. A seasonally belated puffin appeared, circled three times, dived for fish, and went off to its island after exhausting its full puffin repertoire.

Coming from multi-racial Reading, it struck me that there might have been an invisible colour bar just off Cornwall. Everyone is Caucasian, locals and visitors (odd that one should notice). The line from literature that kept coming to my mind during the boat trips was that of Dorigen in 'The Franklin's Tale', about the 'grislie rockes blacke'. Even on a good day, the Western Rocks are frightening, lethal boat-rippers. It must have been hard to believe in a benign creation if you were an early mariner. When the Schiller wrecked in 1875, drifting past the Bishop's Rock lighthouse in a fog, with the passengers lined up on the rails on the wrong side of the boat trying to get a glimpse of its light, the Scillonians were so kind to the German bereaved that (it is said), Scilly was out-of-bounds for all military action by German forces in World War I - they also say WW2, though it is hard to imagine that the Nazis would have scrupled if there were military advantage to be had.

No comments: