Searching for shipwrecks at Sennen

It's an early December morning and the ground is crunching beneath my feet from the first frost of the year. Despite it being a little chilly, the skies are ice blue, and I know that as we approach lunchtime, the cold bite in the air will soon be burnt off.  

Once again, Instagram has led me to a new coastal curiosity that I can't wait to land my eyes on. Apparently, there's a shipwreck in-between Sennen and Land's End that is visible from the cliffs. It's rare to see a shipwreck on dry land, so I grab my camera and hope that I can catch a glimpse of history. There are notoriously stormy seas around this stretch of coastline, and I feel a sense of urgency to see this shipwreck soon in case it gets carried out to sea or eaten up by one of the monstrous waves that often make front page news during the winter months. 

Below are some photos of the legendary storm waves, powerfully smacking into the Sennen cliffs. I didn't take any of these 4 photos below, but I'm hoping to do some storm chasing this winter and have all my fingers and toes crossed to capture something on this scale. (All other photos on this blog post are my own.)

From the pictures above, it's easy to imagine why all the nautical charts of this section of coastline are literally peppered with the "(wr)" markings, the nautical sign for shipwrecks both old and new. It's said that ancient fishermen from Sennen had prior warning when big storms where brewing. A mysterious fog used to descend on Sennen, and from this fog, a strange whooping sound warned fishermen not to venture out on their boats. The next day, ferocious storms would blow in, wrecking many foreign ships on the rocks and drowning all their sailors. However, on one occasion, two local fishermen ignored the mythical warning and beated their way out through the thick fog in their boat. Neither the fishermen nor the whooping was ever heard of again. Thankfully, modern fishermen still have storm warning systems but they come in the form of shipping forecasts and weather charts.

Today, despite being in the middle of what's known in Cornwall as 'the wrecking season', it couldn't look more different from the stormy sea photos. There is barely a ripple on the ocean and when I look down from the cliff tops, I can see all the details in the reef below through the Evian clear water. 

It's easy when walking through places like Sennen to feel a tangible connection to the past. Not much has changed over the centuries and many of the buildings used by smugglers, wreckers, and the local fishermen of the 16th century are still standing today. Even sections of the coastal path that leads from Sennen to Land's End were taken advantage of by wreckers to walk their donkeys in the dead of night, flashing lights to confuse passing ships and hopefully lure them onto the rocks where they could loot their holdings.

Many a Cornish family survived off the trade that was known as Wrecking. One plank of salvaged timber or the mast of a ship could bring a local man a whole months wage in those days and there was often even more profitable loots onboard than timber. In fact, on the 23rd September 1641, a merchant ship was lost in stormy seas just off Land's End. The ship was carrying 100,000 pounds of gold (about 1.5billion USD in today's currency), 400 bars of Mexican silver (another 1 million USD), and another 500,000 Spanish Dollars, making it one of the most valuable wrecks of all time. Despite many marine exploration companies' attempts to find this wreck, its treasure is still held captive by the sea. Maybe if you wish it hard enough, a walk along the beach after a storm may end up with you scooping up arms full of gold as the lost treasure from this ship is finally swept ashore landing richly at your feet. One can dream. 

I pass the old coastguard lookout which is now closed for business and walk along the coastal path. The views here are insanely beautiful, and every ft of ground that I cover, I have about 100 photos to show for it. I'm struggling shooting into the sun. It's low in the sky and glaring across all my shots. I put my camera down and sit on the cliff top; the sun beats down on my face. Being December, the coastal path is almost empty; I listen to the sounds around me. The slow flow of the waves gently easing out to sea and then slowly folding back onto the rocky shoreline. It's so peaceful here. 

I'm captivated by all the different shaped rocks. Some of them look as though they have been gently placed on top of each other using some physics wizardry to balance them. I imagine climbing on top of them and in my head they all tumble over and crash into the sea. I wonder how they have survived their balancing act with the winter waves pounding against them. I guess they are sturdier than they look. 

As I pull around the next cove, I get a glimpse of the wreck that I've come here to see, RMS Mulheim. Unlike the treasure ship I mentioned earlier, this ship was transporting 2,200 tonnes of scrap car plastic from Cork. It reportedly ran aground on the rocks in this little cove known as Gamper Bay on the early morning of 22nd March 2003. The official story of the cause is quite a comical one. Apparently the Captain stood up from his chair, got this trousers caught in his seat, fell over, knocked himself unconscious and woke up with his ship on dry land. However, the local story is somewhat different. The rumour is that the captain got drunk and woke up with the worst hangover story of all time.

Either way, all the crew were thankfully airlifted to hospital and no one was hurt. Unfortunately as the ship was bashed against the rocks all of its diesel oil and 2,200 tonnes of plastic was deposited into the sea. As I try to picture the scene in my head, my imagination jumps forward to a thousand years in the future. I picture scientists huddled on beaches and putting sample pipes in the ground. They pull them out to reveal the different layers of sediments representing all the generations throughout time. In my mind I see the scientist (dressed in space age suits, obviously!) pointing to one layer of sediment that represents our generation. It's all fragments of brightly coloured plastic. I'm sad this may be our legacy. 

A waiter at the cafe in Sennen Cove told me that the wreck was easily missed, and that there wasn't a great spot to view it from. Believing this to be true, I wrongly think that I'm in the best viewing spot and climbed down the cliff edge (as much as common sense told me was sensible) and took about a million shots from this awkward angle. I change lenses (multiple times), played about with the buttons on my camera that I still don't know how to use properly, and I curse the glare of the sun. 

As I followed the coastal path around, I realise that this is a much better vantage point. From here I can see the stern of the ship and the name "RMS Mulheim" clearly printed on the back. There seems to me to be quite a substantial amount of ship still left, but when I get home and google images of what it looked like originally, I realise that I'm actually only looking at about 1/4 of the original ship. Click on the image below to see the ship before the sea did its thing with it. (This photo is another that I've lifted from Google)

As you can see from above, it was quite a hefty ship when it ran aground. There's a path leading down to the cove, but there's also National Trust signs everywhere saying not to go down there because of the rusty metal hazard. They're probably only there to protect people with no common sense, and I know from pictures that I've seen online that many people do decide to go down there. I decide that as I'm alone it probably its wise to head down there but vow to drag Leigh here at some point and get more close up photos. I'll update the blog with those photos when I get around to it. Until then, here are some snap shots that I got from the top of the cliff looking down on it. 

I continue my walk along the coastal path towards Land's End. There's some crazy looking rocks down there that I've never seen in person, and a day like today would be a good opportunity to photograph them. I'm going to save this second leg of my journey for another blog post which I'll post in a few days time. Watch this space. 

Hails x