King Neptune and The Pembrokeshire Coastline

During a lifetime of summer holidays in Pembrokeshire, mainly spent on the beaches with a family that grew to include what became four children, we all enjoyed beachcombing. For the small children stories of King Neptune and beach searches for “gifts” from King Neptune were an important part of the summer holiday. Tiny tots were fascinated to learn about King Neptune who lived in the sea and was very very rich because of all the treasure lost in shipwrecks. On the west facing beaches of Pembrokeshire many things arrive, some of which have travelled far from the Amazon, the Caribbean, eastern USA or shipwrecks. Freshwater West and Marloes Sands were favourite collecting grounds and we would spread out and then meet up for a “show and tell” session with our treasures or “gifts from King Neptune” as we called them. Top priority was sun-dried firewood for a small BBQ fire. But there were sea shells (some for painting), pretty pebbles, driftwood with shapes resembling fish or animals, fish net floats, once a message in a bottle from a young lady on holiday in Pembrokeshire, coloured seaweeds for making seaweed pictures, cuttlefish shells, fishing net, plastic fish trays stamped with trawlers names and ports (some in Europe), a boat oar, lifebelts, lobster pots, wormy timbers from sunken wrecks, jelly fish, dead birds and fish, mermaids purses (dog fish egg sacks), echinoid shells and the footprints of many birds. Several times we found golden slow worms on the sand that had fallen down the cliffs and these were carried up in buckets and deposited back in the grass.

Over the years many different things came ashore and some had interesting stories to tell. August 1979 was the time of the Fastnet Race disaster when a storm disabled or sank 25 of the 306 competing yachts. The following summer the west facing Pembrokeshire beaches were crowded with fragments of fibreglass yacht hulls that had drifted in from the Irish Sea and been broken up on the rocky coasts. Newgale beach remains famous with us for the time when a yacht surfed ashore in a huge early winter gale. Aboard was a frightened young man. It emerged that he had hitch hiked a ride on the yacht that was leaving SE Ireland to sail to Wales with an experienced solo sailor. During the crossing of the Irish Sea they were caught in a horrible storm and the experienced sole owner was thrown overboard and lost. The hitch hiker was left alone on a yacht he did not know how to sail. He battened himself inside, tied to a bunk. The storm carried him ashore fortuitously on Newgale beach. If the boat had come ashore on the great sea cliffs of Pembrokeshire there would have been only some more of those abraded fibreglass fragments to be seen. We went to look at the yacht and she was embedded upright in the storm beach with her bows almost on the asphalt. Her hull was split and leaking out of the fissure were remnants from the interior. The main items were small glass fragments less than a centimetre in size. The motion had been so violent that the galley contents had been pulverised. That hitchhiker was a very lucky man.

Over the years King Neptune has provided the people of coastal Pembrokeshire with vast amounts of both fire wood and sawn wood. Every decade or so some ship in the Irish Sea loses a deck cargo of timber and tons of this can wash ashore particularly on Marloes beach. The local farmers there are not slow to take advantage of this and assemble bundles of planks and tie them to long lines thrown down from fields at the top of the high cliffs. With their tractors they then pull the loads up the cliff faces. A few years ago the entire west coast of the British Isles received a scattering of large plastic tooth brushes, some of which are still arriving.
Another year a deck cargo of pine trees poles of telephone pole dimensions washed up. I could not refuse such gifts from King Neptune and went out in a leaky old boat to collect two of them that had come ashore on the rocks of Lindsway Bay. Many came ashore on Marloes sands. I lashed the two together and set out towing them which resulted in travelling slowly as I propelled my leaky boat with a double bladed canoe paddle only. About half way back to Sandy Haven having rounded Great Castle Head, my boat slowly filled with sea water. I was in a dilemma as to whether to remain in the boat towing the two poles or whether to get on the poles and tow the sinking boat. I managed to beach the boat in a sinking condition before reaching Sandy Haven and bail her out and continue the journey to arrive again in a sinking condition with the boat at Sandy Haven. Those two pine poles were each cut into lengths and these are now mounted as the cannon of Fort Sandy in the large garden of The Anchorage.

One time we found a plastic doll washed up on Lindsway Bay and we called her Dolly. Small children’s enquires about Dolly’s adventures and about her salt-stained clothing and bedraggled hair occupied many rainy days in Wales and had to be repeated. We examined the evidence and drew our conclusions and a short summary is given next that was listened to by one young lady with large round eyes again and again. It seems that Dolly must have been on board a yacht that sank far far out to sea where the sun shone a lot. In the rush to get the small boat away with the family, Dolly got left behind and went down to King Neptune’s Kingdom with the ship. There King Neptune showed Dolly many of his treasures and she met with mermaids who showed her lots of splendid sea shells. There were lots of fish swimming around King Neptune’s palace. Eventually she got tired of these things and wanted to go back to her family. So she went to see King Neptune and he agreed and sent her with two mermaids to go to the land. For many days they swam and drifted in the Atlantic Ocean and finally land was sighted and the mermaids said goodby to her. Dolly washed ashore and landed at high tide on the rocks at the top of Lindsway Bay near where we found her. But it was not summer and nobody came to find her. There was a small cave in the rocks of the cliff around which in summer the sea pinks grow and Dolly sheltered in that cave. Soon she met a field mouse who became her friend (field mice can be seen on the cliffs and a field mouse is the emblem of the nearest village – St.Ishmaels). They had long talks but as everyone knows mice cannot say the letter “M” because of the shape of their mouth and he called himself “Ister Ouse”. They spent a long time on the beach until one sunny day a family came and one of the little girls called Alice found her and brought her home.

Stories of King Neptune were popular rainy day activities for young children who had many questions. We talked about the Crossing the Line ceremonies. One tale of mine had to be repeated several times. It was about how one time that I almost met King Neptune far out to sea in the middle of the Atlantic when we had shouted back and fore. It is a true story that I cannot explain. In 1974 I had helped a friend of mine to build a 50 foot ferro-cement ketch on the banks of the St. Lawrence in Montreal, Canada. I was one of the crew on her maiden voyage to the Caribbean. We were late leaving Montreal as all the promised crew disappeared when departure date arrived. This was probably because at the time about 90 ferrocement yachts were being built in Montreal and we were the third to leave. The first yacht sank. The second got as far as Prince Edward Island where the owner was helping somebody put antifouling on the bottom of his yacht when she fell on them and both were killed. Sadly we later passed her moored and unclaimed at Prince Edward Island with her side chafed badly against the jetty so metal rods and mesh was showing through. So suddenly nobody wanted to sail on boat number three. We reached Lunenburg – our jumping off point for the Atlantic. We considered our 50 foot boat as having too deep a draft to sail by the inland waterway (a canal now much silted up that was dug along the east coast of the USA for ships to escape the German U boats during World War II). Happily at the last moment in December with snow falling and ice on the decks and our yacht dwarfed by the high bows of the Lunenburg scallop dredgers, we accepted a Canadian hitch hiker. We cast off wearing many layers of clothing and sailed out into the Atlantic. 200 miles out we left the cold Labrador current that flows south along the Canadian and American coasts, passed through a fog bank and entered the warm North Atlantic Drift flowing north east. Off came the many layers of clothing. About a week out of Lunenburg when we were on mid-Atlantic off Cape Hatteras, we encountered a huge storm. That day I had been spear fishing in the warm water around a floating box with a ball of fish beneath it. That evening we feasted on fried fresh fish as a last chance for a hot meal for some time, as we could see the storm approaching from the southwest as a black cloud line on the horizon with flickers of lightening. We had battened everything down and rigged a lightening conductor from the metal mainmast over the side. As darkness began to close in it was my watch. The black cloud was almost overhead and the first gusts of wind hit the ship and the sea began to rise. Unexpectedly I heard a distant voice somewhere out there hailing us with loud cries of “Hello”. These were repeated but I could not see anyone. I called everyone on deck and we listened and heard more cries and in turn called back. Thinking that there was someone nearby in a dinghy we put the boat about and sailed back. But we could find nobody. Further the cries were friendly and not distress calls or requests for help. So it got dark and the storm arrived so we heard no more and it was then a battle against the sea. We sailed for two days with a tiny storm job only and towing all our spare rope as we climbed giant swells and then slid down into windless troughs. It was our hitch hiker who first spotted the glow of Bermuda where it should not have been on our starboard beam (this was before the days of GPS navigation) and we turned and ran in as otherwise we might have gone on in the storm to the coast of Africa. We made Bermuda in the night but could not find the harbour entrance because of the many town lights of the capital Hamilton. We anchored amongst coral heads and next morning a boat came out and guided us into the harbour. So I can tell this story how one evening far far out in the Atlantic with a great storm approaching we all heard the cheery greetings of King Neptune himself from his ocean Kingdom. Who else could it have been out there cheerfully calling and without a boat? Our young children asked many questions about this.

As our youngest daughter Alice grew bigger, she wanted her first piece of non-plastic jewellery. So we decided to select a jewel stone gifted by King Neptune. One sunny day we went to Marloes Sands and walked to the south end of the beach where there is a band of shingle filled with interesting stones that have been rounded and polished by the waves. The sun was shining and the tide going out so that a band of wet shining stones provided a vast choice. There she searched for a suitable jewel from King Neptune. After much discussion Alice selected a pretty white quartz pebble veins. I took it out to the Middle East where I was working and had it polished and mounted in gold for her. The goldsmith was a bit of a villain and he put in far more gold than was necessary for a young lady (4gm), so it is rather a heavy ring and she still has it today. I like to think that this ring carries for her memories of her childhood family holidays in Pembrokeshire and our many stories of King Neptune.

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