Taking a walk over the Christmas break was a challenge. Not because we were so busy, but because of the awful weather. It’s been raining here non stop for the past month, not as bad here as further north, but enough to create a “cabin fever” atmosphere at home. Then finally it stopped raining on Boxing Day so we dashed down to Nash Point with Aunty and Grandad. What we hadn’t factored into the walk equation was the gale force wind! This curtailed the walk somewhat, and certainly blew of the cobwebs.
Nash Point has two lighthouses – not many places can boast of that. Trinity House instructed Joseph Nelson to construct two towers, 300 metres apart, at Nash Point. The light shining from the towers would lead vessels clear of the Nash Sands, which extend some 7 miles west of the headland. These sands are a major hazard to shipping even today, but in the past has contributed to the loss of many vessels and lives. In 1737 the snow “Pye” and the brig” Priscilla” carrying tobacco from Virginia, both went aground at Nash Point. Some 300-400 people stripped the ships of their cargo . They even burnt the hulls to get the ironwork.
On the night of 16th March 131 the “Frolic”, a schooner -rigged paddle steamer owned by the Bristol General Navigation Co., on the last part of a regular journey from Haverfordwest to Bristol, struck the Nash Sands, Glamorgan, with the loss of all 80 passengers and crew, which included General MacLeod and several other army officers as well as several Pembrokeshire merchants. The bodies of the victims which were washed ashore from Barry to Southerndown are buried at various churchyards along the coastal area of the Bristol Channel. It was as a result of the outcry following this disaster that Trinity House provided two lighthouses in 1832 to mark the safe channel between the sands and the mainland.
As recently as 1961 vessels were still being wrecked on the sands. On the 31st January 1962 the BP Driver, a petrol barge, was returning empty from Worcester to Swansea when it entered Nash Point at 8.30pm, guided in by the flashing light of the lighthouse a hundred feet above them, the fierce tide began to push the vessel close to the rocks. Bill Merrett, the Captain, due to the heavy tide was unable to hold his ship off into deeper water, felt her touch, first the shingle, then the jagged rocks. Captain Merrett immediately sent out a Mayday call on his radio, which was received by the coastguards, and they in turn called out Barry lifeboat. Other vessels in the vicinity also picked up the Mayday call and proceeded to the area to see if they could be of assistance. They arrived an hour later playing their searchlights onto the stricken vessel and surrounding rocks. The crew of five men could be seen clambering over the rocks to the safety of higher ground. Fortunately all escaped unhurt. The next day showed that the BP Driver was too badly damaged to be salvaged.
The lighthouses were designed by James Walker, Engineer in Chief, the two towers (which are 302 metres/1,000 feet apart) originally had fixed lights powered by paraffin. When navigating the Bristol Channel the pilot would sail so that these were lined up in his sights, ensuring that the vessel would be south of Nash Sandbank. The Lighthouse Tower near the lighthouse keepers’ cottages once housed the west or low light and was 25 metres high. The Lighthouse Tower (originally painted black and white stripes) with the east or high light is 37 metres high and is nearer the fog horn. At the beginning of the 20th century the low light was removed, although the tower remained, and the high light was changed to a catadioptric lens with white and red group flashing. It was electrified in 1968.
Nash Point Lighthouse was the last manned lighthouse in Wales to go automatic when it became computer controlled in 1998 and a rotating optic was installed. The keepers left two years later. The fog horn is no longer used for shipping purposes but is heard when it is sounded on special occasions. Visit Trinity House website for information on lighthouses.
The keeper cottages are now holiday homes, and what a great place to stay. It’s a good job the fog horns are not longer working or it could be a very sleepless night in the wrong weather.
A fuller picture of the number of shipwrecks and lives lost in the Bristol Channel has been compiled by Ron Tovey and is available online at http://www.swanseadocks.co.uk/Gower%20wrecks%20Rons%20write-up%20site.pdf