The Story of the Solway

chapter three

Ships and seaweed

In a Firth with ‘changeable depths’, sandbanks and occasionally fast tides with a great tidal range, there will always be shipwrecks. The Hougoumont, wrecked off Allonby Bay, is the best-known (and there is a good account on Peter Ostle‘s blog), but the wooden keel on Ship’s Keel Scaur – which may, or may not, be of the William Leavitt, and the rotting hulk of the Fauna at Gibbhill Point on the Dee, are especially fascinating. Here are some extra photos.



Many of the ports, especially those on the rivers, were sites for ship-building in the 19th century. The gridiron at Maryport, on the R Ellen and adjacent to the excellent little Maritime Museum, was a place where boats were raised out of the water at low tide, to work on their hulls. But at Allonby there was a ship-breakers’ yard – ships were towed in and dismantled on the shore (the photos are scans from documents in the Maritime Museum, kindly made for me by John Whitwell, a volunteer there).


There are lifeboat (RNLI and independent Inshore Rescue) and coastguard stations both sides of the Solway. On one occasion I ‘drove’ the Workington RNLI’s previous all-weather lifeboat, the Sir John Fisher, for short time, heading down to Whitehaven.


The Solway’s fishing fleets, whether trawlers or dredgers, are now much reduced. Kirkcudbright is the home port of Scotland’s second-largest scallop-dredging fleet. Maryport is home to trawlers – and the annual Trawler Race for boats from Maryport and the Isle of Man.


Ballast, solid and water, and the hulls of ships can carry a variety of animals and algae between ports throughout the world – marine invasive non-native species  (INNS) which often out-compete local species. Sargasso weed is one such, and was even found and drawn – or in the case of Anna Atkins, captured by cyanotyping – in the 19th century. You can find out more in this Chapter, Ships and Seaweeds, and also in the Art and Science of Seeing Seaweeds here.