Poems: 'Lowlight on Burnham Beach' & 'Lugworms'; Trinity House & More About Lugworms
Rôle of Lighthouses
Lighthouses are less important than they used to be, especially those on land or shoreline. Many have been decommissioned, their lights snuffed and turned into homes, museums or nostalgic landmarks. Trinity House is the body which decides the fate of each lighthouse.
My first poem is about the Lowlight on the beach of Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset. It was decommissioned some years back but has a fascinating history and draws visitors from afar because of its unusual structure. Nine sturdy wooden legs and a cubed wooden core enclosing a large light housing, stand on Burnham Beach.
Low & High LightsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Here I stand astride yellow, shifting, fickle sands,
peril-red stripe splits my torso, aligning with Highlight,
matched above on land, we both helped fishermen coming home.
Sturdy nine legs, monochrome, ‘neath window clear,
with all my might shone crystal throbbing, revolving light,
to guide wave-flung boats from harm, fishermen coming home.
Then came GPS, radar means they stumble less
upon the rocks and foaming crests of waters’ current power,
inching past craggy danger, following screen, the fishermen come home.
Times they change, now I’m not needed, Trinity House
says I’m superseded, also the Highlight, decommissioned,
left in others’ hands as long-reach tides bring cargo boats and fishers home.
Redundant yes, but I still stand high, new white and fresh red
paint have I, to please the visitor’s eye, striking symbol of the town,
a sight nowhere else seen in this land of sailors and fishermen coming home.
‘Race you to the lighthouse!’ cry the boys and girls,
adult alike. ‘Take a snap of me beside sturdy, thickset stumps.’
Camera clicks making semaphore blips, images sent to others staying home.
I’m the emblem of Burnham-on-Sea, seen on tea-towels,
crests and tea. Postcards show the red-striped me to send to Gran.
Spread the news to lure more friends to see the families coming home.
I survey softest sands and skies, feel cool waves,
hear seagulls’ cries, watch brave surfers ride the tides
where rivers and estuary meet, waters merge ebbing, flowing home.
Other side of marramed dunes, white Highlight soars
to the moons, a home for holiday folk wishing to dream, live
a lofty life, keepers where others have seen fishermen coming home.
Many love this place of mine, returning often, time to time,
strolling over rippled sand, wafts of tradition from brass band-stand,
fish and chips, whipped ice-cream van, all feeling they are coming home.
Marram Grass on the Dunes
Trinity House, London
Corporation of Trinity House
This is the corporation which controls lighthouses and other navigational aids at sea.
The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, is a private corporation governed under a Royal Charter. It was formally known as ‘The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity’ or ‘Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St Clement’ in the Parish of Deptford Strond in the county of Kent. I always thought that Trinity House was a grand name but those outdo it in bucket-loads!
Trinity House is the official General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. It has three core functions, being
- responsible for the provision and maintenance of navigational aids, such as lighthouses, lightvessels, buoys and maritime radio/satellite communication systems,
- an official deep sea pilotage authority, providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters and
- a maritime charity, dispersing funds for the welfare of retired seamen, the training of young cadets and the promotion of safety at sea.
Funding, Founding & Masters
Trinity House’s funding for its services is derived from ‘light dues’ required of commercial vessels calling at ports in the British Isles, depending on their tonnage. Their maritime charity funding is a separate entity. The name of the guild derives from the Holy Trinity and St. Clement, the patron saint of mariners.
The corporation was founded in 1514 by Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII. There was concern over the poor conduct of unregulated pilots on the Thames and the Corporation wanted a licence to regulate pilotage.
Its first master was Thomas Spert, others being Samuel Pepys, William Pitt the Younger, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania).
Winston Churchill was also associated with Trinity House. He was made an Elder Brother due to being First Lord of the Admiralty before and during World War I.
In 1566, it was Queen Elizabeth I’s Seamarks Act which enabled Trinity House to, ‘at their wills and pleasures, and at their costs, make, erect, and set up such, and so many beacons, marks, and signs for the sea… whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped, and ships the better come into their ports without peril.’
The present Master of the Corporation (now an honorary title) is the Princess Royal, Princess Anne.
Ensign of Trinity House
Piles of Sand = Lugworms!
This second poem is inspired by the squiggly piles left on the beach by local fishermen digging for lugworm bait for their hooks. It looks as if there are huge beach moles, digging upwards, making way for homes beneath.
Piles of sand worms at low tide,
those are the ones which didn’t hide.
You see, men dig to find lush lugs
and leave their sand-traces to look like bugs.
Lugworms, meant for juicy bait,
used to stop a long, long wait
before fat fish bite on the line.
Thank you, lugworms, that one’s mine!
Serious fishermen dig all day
trying to make their efforts pay.
For with a mound of these they try
to land much bigger fish - to fry!
Poor old lugworms, deep in sand
don’t realise their fate’s at hand.
They don’t know they’ll soon be up a
fish’s mouth, both meant for supper.
What does the lugworm need to do
not to get into such a stew?
Bury his head down, down in the sand,
further, to beat the fisherman’s hand.
So spare a thought for the lowly lugworms
which make a great meal in fish’s terms;
just look at the piles of squiggly sand
and hope, deep down, thrives a lugworm band.
What is a Lugworm?
The lugworm or sandworm is a large marine worm. Its coiled castings are a familiar sight on a beach at low tide but the animal itself is rarely seen except by those who dig the worm out of the sand, usually for fishing bait.
In the UK the lugworm is commonly called blow lugworm and rarely exceeds 130mm, about 5 inches.
‘A lugworm lives in a U-shaped burrow in sand. The U is made of an L-shaped gallery lined with mucus, from the toe of which a vertical unlined shaft runs up to the surface. This is a head shaft. At the surface the head shaft is marked by a small saucer-shaped depression. The tail shaft, 2 to 3 in (5.1 to 7.6 cm) from it, is marked by a highly coiled cast of sand.
The lugworm lies in this burrow with its head at the base of the head shaft, swallowing sand from time to time. This makes the columns of sand drop slightly, so there is a periodic sinking of the sand in the saucer-shaped depression. When it first digs its burrow the lugworm softens the sand in its head shaft by pushing its head up into it with a piston action. After that the sand is kept loose by a current of water driven through the burrow from the hind end by the waves of contraction passing along the worm's body. It weighs 2 to 5 oz (57 to 142 g). Lugworms also have hairs on the outside of their bodies that act as external gills. These can rapidly increase its uptake of oxygen.’
What wonders lie beneath our sands!
Burnham and Berrow to its north both have wonderful long sandy beaches. They are beautiful to look at but sadly have a sinister side. Much of the beach at low tide is treacherous as there are quicksands and mud.
Notices warn visitors and bathers but not all heed the advice and there have been tragic incidents.
Nevertheless, the beach offers beautiful views, lighthouse history, driftwood and miles of walks, a haven for people, dogs and horses, all of which love to use the beach for exercise. Its views across the estuary are wide and airy and its sunsets beyond spectacular.
If you visit, be sure to take a walk at low tide, look around you and take in all that this wondrous place has to offer. You might even see the lugworm mounds!
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ann Carr