The bell tolls

On Friday 30 January 1953, hurricane force northwesterly winds drove the freighter Clan Macquarrie ashore at Borve in the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Its crew were all saved using the breeches buoy apparatus, and were put up in the village. Some of them stayed and married local girls.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, the ferry Princess Victoria set sail from Stranraer in southwestern Scotland for Larne in Northern Ireland. Her stern doors were smashed in by mountainous seas in the North Channel, and the ship went down with the loss of 133 lives.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, hurricane force northwesterly winds drove a storm surge down the North Sea. It breached coastal defences in eastern England, along the Wash and in the Thames Estuary. Three hundred lives were lost in England.

On Saturday 31 January 1953, the National Water Agency in Holland was anxiously monitoring the coastal defences in the southwest of the country. Although low tide was at 6pm, at the time the sea was at high tide level. When the storm surge struck, shortly after midnight on Sunday 1 February, it combined with high tide and hurricane force winds to overwhelm the coastal defences in the provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Zuid Holland, causing massive flooding, in which 2,000 people drowned.

This is a repost of a poem I published on 12 October 2012

The bell tolls
Hauntingly over the dark moving plain
Fast moving currents of air
and of water
Smash through the doors, flooding

The bell tolls
Its call answered from all corners, echoed
Driven ashore, the boat is stuck fast
The men taken off, on the edge
Taken to safety - the wind still howls

The bell tolls
An alarm call to all
The low tide at high tide level
The barriers stand, but what will hold
Force 12 at springtide flood

The bell tolls
Over torrents of water, flooding
Crumbling barriers, sweeping away all
Islands retaken, the sea reconquers
Lost for centuries, it reclaims within hours

The bell tolls
As dawn breaks, over a sea of death
Houses afloat, byres adrift
Roads washed away, the railway torn up
The tide has turned, but the water remains

The bells ring out their peal, joyously so
The barriers gleam white
Blocking river from the sea, deprived of its spoils
Peace for our time
Can we withstand?

January storm 2013

Mother Nature is in charge
She has stamped her foot
And spoken out loud
We cower in fear of her rage

Cloud scud along
Rain sweeps the bay
Winds thunder along
triple digits last night

Although the worst
is now past
I can still see
more fury

As angry squalls
race through
from the ocean

The boats
scurried for cover
We are an island
once more

Mother Nature is in charge
"Who do you think you are?
I can stop you all
and I will"

But for all that
We have been spared
the agony of '05
When five did not return

Storms coming

Winter is in flight
leaving a final calling card
deep snow
out on the hills

Here in the isles
we batten down the hatches
and watch
as the barometer falls

Will we be an island this week
as winds bully
the ferries
off the seas?

Sea ice

No wind
No clouds
The stars twinkle down
The scene is set

The chill wafts down
to its lowest point
and frost forms
even on the sea

A paper thin layer
of gossamer white
stills the ever moving
water of the sea

As the tide falls
The lace drapes
over rocks
hung over ropes

Caught the buoys
in a tender embrace
A fond farewell
From winter's grip

The Atlantic is clearing its throat
The south winds are blowing
an overture towards
the Hebrides

Watching out

Watching out to the southeast
from where the ice cold wind
keeps coming to our shores
I'm waiting for the spring

Watching out to the northwest
from where change should come
eventually in days ahead
I'm waiting for the spring

Watching out to the southwest
now the silent quarter
no mild breezes for now
I'm waiting for the spring

Watching out to the northeast
where the distant mountains loom
clad in icy wintery white
I'm waiting for the spring

Watching out as days lengthen
new life stirring, yet to come
buds folded tight on trees
Spring is coming eventually



















The circle patiently stands
the wind freely passing by
the rain leaving its intermittent mark
like so many tears

The panels faithfully show
through day and night
summer and winter
although paint's flaking

The obelisk
in the village street
with a dozen or so names
who went, never to return

The tower on the hill
nigh upon two dozen
plaques with a thousand
names and many more

Two dozen their number
Memorials by two dozen thousands
remembering those who did not

The hills remain
to remember
The wind on the moors
will be there to remember

The sea washing
the shoreline
echoes the voices of
those who were lost

Their memory remains
From what they left
Our future
for abandoning their today

January morning

Cold dark January morning
winds buffeting from the south
as rain spatters on the window
bare branched bushes sway

Gulls enjoy the lift
swooping on the squalls
as clouds scud by
headed for the open ocean

The mildest in the country
winter a distant prospect
the Atlantic keeps us well wrapped
in winds from the distant tropics


Where the vagrant prince
once refuge sought -
he was declined
yet not betrayed

The old farmhouse
on the peninsula
just off the moorlands
overlooking the town

Were it to return
it would be suspended
many feet
in the air

The tranquil loch
laps the shore
by the side of the road
under the monument

A path runs on its banks
to a remote
yet beautiful
quiet inlet

The lighthouse beyond,
at the peninsula's end,
signalling the entrance to
the harbour bay

Its light never reached
to where many were once lost
although but a mile away
at the reefs of the Beasts

Heavy industry thunders
shrieks and grinds
cutting and welding
for oil, wind and wave

A revolving door
closed open shut
not reliable for
the island's future

Not for that
will the diaspora return
Not for a phantasmagora
dreamt up in a distant room

The island remains
Its people come and go
Twice a day, and at night
past Arnish Point

The Hebrides

Scattered in northern seas
like so many jewels
in hues of green
with a white fringe

Lighthouse to lighthouse
Butt to Berneray
islands 80 miles long
or just 80 yards

The Atlantic pounds
on their western doors
brashly demanding entry
mostly rockily rebuffed

Hardy folk
making their living
from the hard land
or the unforgiving sea

Unflinching loyalty
to hearth and home
to king and country
to their sacred lands

The storm (repost)

Dark grey and ominous, scudding by low
Sun breaking through, blinding brightness
Parallel lines streaking southwest
Pockmarking the water, running with tide

High in the sky towering tall
Deep freeze above, chilly below
A puddle now forms, where the drain is blocked
The pavement is washed, by each passing motorist

Tide rising high, through sun and moon opposing
Wind rising too, the equinox past
Angry white riders, rearing up tall
Crashing in fury, augmented by wind

The watery road is closed, as the spume flies
Tied up by the pierhead, lights dimmed
Wind rising higher, beyond Beaufort's scale
Soon triple digits, even in imperial

Stones, pebbles, spray, clatter from shore
The walls resonate with the onslaught
Are they still safe, will they keep us

Fleeing the elements into the darkness
From which they will never emerge
Sweet and salt water combine
And swept off to oblivion, five they were

That was a bad one, thank heavens it's daylight
My roof's gone, the barn's a wreck
Trees down, power is off
That's nothing.
Where are the five?

(related to a true event, 11 January 2005)

At dusk

A blaze of glory
fades to the southwest

the wings of darkness
beat west
draining colour from the sky

the lighthouse winks
taking the place
of the distant hills

as I look southeast
whence I came
some days ago

others were also
coming northwest
but never regained

the shores
of their native island

the faint echoes of their cries
continue to haunt
the houses of this island

The glade

In the sunniest glade
of that quiet corner
where the beech trees
stretch to the sky

I had to say farewell
some years ago
Although but a marker now remains
I will call round

The compass swings round
to point northwest again
in a few days
I'll follow its bearing

But part of me remains
where the trees
meet the sky
at the end of the pathway
to heaven

The belvedere

A grey expanse covers the sky
Light barely gets through
the dark days after Christmas

A mist softly shrouds
the treetops all around
coalescing into a soft soft drizzle

The belvedere stands tall
but offers no views
the valley is shrouded from sight

The trees stand motionless
to attention
as they remember

A dozen young men
picked up, at random?
and executed in these woods

68 years ago last month
we remember their names
their sacrifice

The mist settles
into droplets on branches
in mourning perhaps

The cruelty of occupation
spared to those in the northwest
who nonetheless fought to end it

Their sacrifice too
is not forgotten around these woods
on a dark January day


94 years ago tonight

94 years ago tonight
the new year was
not a beginning
but an end

94 years ago tonight
the end was
not of a year
but of a time

94 years ago tonight
a new beginning
after war
had ended

94 years ago tonight
the new start
on rocks

94 years ago tonight
the rockets
were fired not for joy
but in distress

94 years ago tonight
each village
in the sinking of the Iolaire