Ghostly reminders of scotland’s maritime history

Tuesday 1 August 2000

The University of St Andrews is to investigate and record a selection of Scotland’s ship graveyards.

The Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies has been awarded grants by the Society of Antiquaires of Scotland and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to examine six fragile sites around the coast which feature collections of abandoned sailing ships.

The sites are largely unrecorded and under-researched and have come to light during the Institute’s ongoing work to enhance the Maritime Record of the National Monuments Record of Scotland. The bulk of the ships are nameless but it is hoped to identity each craft and its history. Data derived from various inspections will significantly enhance the NMRS and provide information for future archaeological management.

Project Manager Deanna Groom said, “The sites have a wonderfully eerie, magical quality. Seeing the skeletal frames of the vessels rising out of the water can make site visits quite spooky at times, especially when the sea mist rolls in.

“The hulks represent vessels which have been abandoned at the end of their working life at the edge of estuarine marshes. These are areas which can provide good preservation conditions for waterlogged wood. The sites can provide valuable information on vernacular craft, such as Scotland’s Fifie herring drifters, which were once ubiquitous but have now all but disappeared. Their builders rarely made plans, but constructed by eye and a lifetime of experience alone, so ship graveyard hulks can represent the most pure form of evidence for certain types of traditional Scottish craft. The reason for the graveyard’s existence can also shed light on aspects of local community history. There is some evidence to suggest that craft may have may been deliberately stock-piled for periods of more favourable trading conditions which never came”.

The first site to be examined is on the foreshore of Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve in East Lothian. Lying on the beach are the upstanding remains of nine hulks, consisting of frames, ballast mounds and isolated ships’ fittings. The site is now part of the nature reserve but a local story suggests that the Earl of Wemyss, a keen artist, bought the hulks to create a romantic maritime scene to sketch. Initial research indicates that it is perhaps more likely that the craft are the remains of Cockenzie’s once proud herring fishing fleet which was still using the sheltered anchorage of Aberlady Bay in the 1920s.

Other sites to be examined include thirteen wrecks lying on the foreshore at Kincardine which once used to have a thriving ship building industry. First surveyed by Maritime Fife (a project also based at the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies) in 1997, it is believed that one of the craft may be an ancient cattle ferry.

Another “graveyard” is at Ardullie Point on the north side of the Cromarty Firth adjacent to the A9 road bridge. The site is being investigated with the aid of Highland Region Archaeology Service and the local landowner who has contempory photographs of herring boats moored off the point. Meanwhile, another sandy Highland beach at Ardantrive Bay in Argyll and Bute has become the last resting place of at least four wooden hulks, a wartime concrete lighter and a “Para Handy” type Clyde puffer.

Further south near Glasgow, another site lies at the entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal which has become the last resting place for fourteen wrecks from fishing boats to leisure craft and Admiralty tenders. Not far away, a small creek separating Newshot Island from the mainland contains the remains of several mud punts (once used for dredging operations on the Clyde) and three other skeletal craft. The Clyde Navigation has a rich documentary history and the project team is anticipating many hours of fascinating archive research.

The project’s additional long-term objectives are to involve local communities with the history on their doorstep through offering schemes of participation in simple survey work, archaeology/local library research and various recording projects.

The Scotland’s Ship Graveyard Survey is the first project being managed by Connect Archaeology which is a new contract archaeological company currently being developed by the University.

For more information, please contact Deanna Groom and Ian Oxley, Connect Archaeology, University of St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9AJ – telephone 01334 462886, fax 01334 462927, email [email protected] or [email protected]. Further information can be obtained via the SIMS website –


NOTE TO EDITORS – Should you require directions to any of the sites (for photography purposes), please contact Deanna Groom on 07712 841552. Deanna will also be able to advise on the most photogenic sites!

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email [email protected] Ref: shipgraveyard/standrews/chg/31july2000

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