Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Rocking Lantern

Robin Hood's bay

This is from Sea Ghosts.
It followed Ghost of St. Mary's


The rocking lantern

Standing on North bay looking out to the North sea and thinking where did the name, Betty Moffat rocks come from. No name from the families in the area records, or from the area around Scarborough, this was the first puzzling factor, she must have come from somewhere.
The sea was raging that spring afternoon, not as bad as in the autumn when this search started, the day was misting over as I looked to the sea for guidance, thinking as I had done before that maybe the sea spirits could guide my thought.

Some might think me silly for doing this, but in the past, I had come to realise the elemental spirits can help if you let them, as a firm believer in spirituality I was hoping I might be able to see something, as the spirits found me last time.
Sitting on the wall by the Sea life centre and watching the waves, my mind resting with the pleasant sounds of the sea rolling in from afar, and the smell and tastes of the seas all about me, it was easy to drift away and imagine things, that were not there

I was in that semi-conscious area of the mind when I thought I saw something, just catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a boat heading towards the lighthouse and harbour, but how could I be sure, I hadn’t been fully concentrating on anything, that was the key. Trust your senses but let them tell you the story.
I sat there for an hour or two, just wave watching and thinking of what I had witnessed, the ship was going to the harbour, and making good time, but there was something amiss about her, and at this time I couldn’t place what it was, and there the story starts

Over the last few years my researches had ascertained one piece of information, of which I was 100% certain, nowhere in the records was a Betty Moffet mentioned, this was the reason for my fascination with this stretch of rocks, as they had to be named after someone or something but nobody had any ideas about whom
That night I was out late having a nice stroll along the sea front, enjoying the spring salty air and feeling good about things, I was here in Scarborough a town I had loved since my childhood days

Although the town centre had changed and was full of shops you can see anywhere, the old town by the harbour had changed very little with the passage of time, or maybe my mind wanted to remember the good old days
Here I was wandering around the old winding streets, a far cry from last autumn when I almost got blown down one steep street, the wind and rain was driving so hard I could hardly see my hand to hold onto the railing, tonight I was walking with the moon glinting of the damp cobbles and reflecting of the fish market, closed for the day, but never out of business


Sitting on the front looking out to sea, the only sounds registering were the waves rolling in across the harbour, as it jutted out, and the last of the gulls cawing for the chips, with the night light going and a chill spring breeze carrying the salty spray in off the sea, I decided to make my way back to the guest house for the evening, the walk would take on the path side of the harbour, during the day I would have gone via the harbour walls, but with the lessening light it was wiser to be safe
Walking along the path I remembered in the autumn the motor trials that had been held along this roadway, and the rough seas breaking across the road, so violent they were that half of the road was awash




I turned up the cliff path, and was heading across behind the vast rears of the hotels along the drive, when for some reason I stopped and looked out to sea, and then I saw it a ships lantern flickering past the point, but this wasn’t rocking gently to and fro, as it should have been, had it just been running the tide, this lamp was waving in a frenzied sideways action, as though some human hand was trying to attract my attentions, I only saw it the once that night, and then it went out

As always the mystery had roused curiosity now, to a fever pitch, my mind running with ideas of what might be there. But still at the front of my thoughts, was the fact that even in the records of the Maritime research project, there was no official record of a Betty Moffet, and here obviously in distress at the rocks of that name, was a boat or ship, could there be a link after all ? But why no records of her ?
Questions, questions but no answers, even if I did find out what this is about, would it help solve the mystery of the rocks, or would it just solve the riddle of the lantern ?

Time was getting on, and the night getting dark quickly, even though the path in daylight is perfectly safe, my eyesight in the dark isn’t too good, as the banks are steep I didn’t want to risk slipping, and ending up in hospital
As I got back to the guest house, I was met by Andy the proprietor, back from taking his dog, a lovely collie cross, for her evening walk

"Evening Al, been a lovely day again today hasn’t it."

"It has Andy, and looking good for tomorrow as well, judging from the skies tonight."

As we walked inside, talk was on what I planned for tomorrow, as he and his wife were knew to the area, I did not think they would know of anything to do with the mystery, so I let things ride for the night, as we climbed the steps to the door, and I went to my room
But still my mind was racing, at the possibility of another mystery to solve

In the morning, my fellow guests were all chatting about where to go and what to do, today’s venture appeared a trip to Whitby
The town is lovely, situated on the Esk river, but what people forget is Whitby is, as Whitby was and will forever be, it is a working fishing port, Whitby is also known for its shipbuilding yards, which can be seen, if you walk back up the river half a mile, and look across at the sheds

Not a seaside resort like Scarborough, and being honest, there isn’t much to keep you there more than a few hours, even with the new Dracula exhibits on the dock side, for the town of Whitby, look up river to the houses on the hills, I know, as I had an uncle who lived here, and was a fisherman for many years

Further up the coast is a more interesting prospect in Saltburn-by-the-sea, the only problem is unless you have a car or go on an organised trip it involves a long train journey, of 2 - 3 hours, but is still worth a visit, unfortunately the towns pirate museum, is long closed now, but the links to history are still strong, as Edward is supposed to have met Lily Langtree here in one of the hotels on the promenade
Saltburn’s history is steeped in piracy, and one of the most famous of her sons, ran the Ship inn on the sea front, a pub which still stands today

Most visitors to this area, take the trip to Bridlington, as it the other end of the Whitby route, and only an hour by bus, well worth the trip
My mind was running possibilities when my thoughts were disturbed by a guest

"Alan, you are in deep thoughts, what is on your mind friend ?"
"Oh just thinking of what to do, as I have a number of things planned, I wish to revisit St. Mary’s church and have a word with the vicar I met last year, visit a grave there as well, also I want to go to the library, as I arranged to see some old maps with a curator."
"Sounds like a full day ahead, what prompted all this activity then ?"
"Last autumn I came for a visit, after losing a close friend in Canada.
For many years now I have been trying to find out why the rocks out by Scalby mills are called Betty Moffet,there are no records to say why, maps going back as early as 1850s have them named, but nobody knows why, also last year I was contacted by the spirit of a lost soul, a little girl who lived a sad life, and even in death could not find peace, she has now, and hers is the grave I will visit today."
"That is a lovely tale to tell, and so moving."
"I have another mission as well as researching the rocks now, last night at the same spot, I saw a ships lantern swinging, and was wondering what I could find out about that."
"All the best in your researches, have to go and get ready for the trip now"
"Thanks, have a nice day"


Two pots of coffee and some more toast later, I finally got up from the table, and went to the room, to think this through, the town centre is only a short walk from the guest house, once you get your bearings, so I decided to go to the library and have a chat with the curator, a lady called Cate, after about an hour we decided, that as helpful as maps could be, this was getting nowhere, as all the maps had the rocks named, but we needed to find out why, Cate said IF I did find something she would be extremely interested in the findings
This was now becoming more of a quest than just trying to find some random bits of information about odd things happening, and this drove me on

Anyone who knows me will tell you, I go through stages from mild curiosity, to great interest right into obsession and I had the feeling this was heading that way, as curiosity was giving way to a driven passion to finding out about these rocks, at the same time though I also had the feeling that I could run into a dead end, as information is so scant for the period, but I was determined to find something out

Looking from the top of the cliffs up to the point, I was wondering what it must have been like to be that captain, and why had he run so close to the shore, surely he would have known the rocks ?

Thinking back to last night and the light, why had I, of all the visitors to the town seen it, and what was its purpose ?
A warning ?
A sign of danger for the future mariners ?
Or a desperate plea for help ?
I was later to find out another reason, one equally as mysterious as it was perplexing

Standing on the footpath looking to the point at the edge of North bay, you can see the rollers and the draft a boat can take, even taking a close line there is plenty of water for a boat or small ship to make it safely to harbour

My journey to St. Mary’s is only a short walk and took but a few minutes, as I stood at the grave of the young girl, I wondered, is she at peace ?
And did she find her family after all this time ?


I was so lost in deep thought I did not see the father come out to greet me "Hello my son, I see you have returned to us, and I hope with a clearer conscience, as you eased that young girl into the great beyond."

"Hello father, sorry I did not see you come out, I was so lost in thought there."
"That is alright my son, I can see that and knowing you from last year, I know how you feel, but also why do I have the feeling that this is only a part of the reason for your journey ?"
"Even though we only met for a short time father, we got to know me well enough to sense my moods, and to know when I am on a mission."
"I know my son, what is puzzling you this time ?"

"I know this is going to sound really weird father, but this is exactly how it happened
Last night as I was walking back to the guest house along the cliff path, for some reason, I stopped and looked out to the rocks, at first I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw a ship’s lantern swinging wildly to and fro, as though being waved by a hand
I say this sounds odd, as it is the same spot we found the head last year father, and as much as I want to believe my eyes, my mind has doubts, as 2 spirits contact ME, at the same point."

"Nothing odd there my son at all, firstly any ship going into the harbour needs to come close to the point, to get the tide right, secondly as you had been contacted from beyond, the spirits know that you like others believe in the after life, and are open to contact.
I have a feeling I know the question you are going to ask my son."
"Yes father I believe you do.
Are there records of sailors buried here, who have unmarked graves or whose bodies were not claimed ? ’
"If you come back tomorrow, I MIGHT be able to help you. No promises though mind ! ’
"I know father, but any tiny bit of information is a great help to me as you know, I thank you for your time."

As I left the churchyard, the talk had settled a few doubts I had, but still some remained, it is true that spirits connect with believers and that once you make the connection there is a great chance of the link opening again, but I was still not totally convinced
Was I the first to see the light ?
Or just the first to wonder about its meaning, as people in the area, often take things for granted, that a visitor would pick up on.

Walking along the same sandy shoreline as previously, what a change it was now, instead of a howling 3 - 4 wind, there is a gentle breeze and no sand in your face
When I got to the sea life centre, I stood for a while, just looking at the mysterious platelets of rock and wondering
Would I ever solve the riddle of how they got named ?

Here in the calm of a lovely spring morning, with the tide gently lapping them, it was hard to think ships could have floundered here, as the tide barely covered them, and they were so easy to see
As the father had said, a ship going into the harbour had to come close here, that was plain to see as I looked back to the headland from here, to get the bearings, too far away, and you ran the risk of missing altogether or having to heave to, and hope you could make it, too close, and the tide would drive you into north bay, and the sharp edged rocks therein, here in the bay, the rocks would tear the timbers from any ship if you took a chance and missed the current, so there is a fine line twixt making it safe, and the watery depths below
Could this have been the reason for the mysterious light I saw ?

The captain of a lost ship, signalling from the grave to warn other sailors, if this was on the south coast, I might have considered the other possibility, the light was designed to draw ships onto the rocks, as the coast around Devon & Cornwall is known to be the haunts of wreckers
Men who would move the warning beacons along the coast, so ship’s captains thinking they had safe channel would sail and find their boats wrecked

Hence the story to the Poem- Pook of Pook’s hill

But here in the north, even though the area is a smuggling haven, the sea is so open, there is no way a ship could be drawn close in, unless she was coming to port anyway
Was the light left from the grave as a warning to sailors ?

If so why had I seen it on a calm night from the land ?
As the day was young, and inquisitiveness running high, I decided to try and find the Maritime records office, to see if any records of the light had been reported before, as the Maritime Heritage centre here, deals with the sea history of Scarborough

Knowing the area from childhood and with days ahead, I decided I might try to widen the search area this week, maybe she was from Whitby or further up the coast ?

As the day went on,my thoughts wandered to the meanings,did the date have a link perhaps ?
This was something I would have to delve into later, for now my thoughts were more on the ship’s history and route, there was no record here, so maybe she had come down from further up, maybe she was homeward bound. There is no way of telling without a good deal of researching into local history

The shipping museums in the area had scant records, only major disasters were recorded in print, and most of them were the result of storms at sea
The only other places were graveyards in the church, and poor souls lost to the sea, rarely had a grave, as they were claimed by her, and until she decided to return them to us, they would be lost forever

The time was right for lunch, so I left the maritime centre and had a walk along the beach, my mind trying to find a reason why I had seen the light


As I walked past the harbour, I stopped to view the many boats and all the different types, some where fishing trips, some for pleasure cruises, it all seemed so distant from the rocks, with the boats gently bobbing and bells ringing sweetly
It seemed hard to think that less then a mile away, you could be so close to safe harbour, and yet lose your life in a swirl, being able to see the lighthouse

Sitting on the sea front, eating lobster tails for my lunch, I was mulling over idea of when to go to Whitby, it is only an hour by bus from here, and I had the afternoon ahead of me, the weather was favourable

‘ That is it !’ I said to myself ‘I will catch the 1 30 to Whitby, and see if I can get some information up there !’

The route takes you past Scalby Mills and out onto the moors for a while, always a delight to see and now with the heathers and gorse bushes starting to show, it was a complete change from the browns of the autumn, today the plants were yellows and greens
As we set off from the bay, so named because legend has it that Robin Hood landed here, I took a glance to see if it was worth a visit one day, although it is a lovely village, and well known for winkling on the coastal region, I decided that I would not make the trip

We arrived in Whitby bus station, which is but a few hundred yards from the train station at about 2 40, after a brief walk to the docks, I decided my best chance was the new maritime museum on the dock side
Up on entering I was greeted by a shopping area filled with all sorts of things from toys for the child in you, to history books

I was looking at a book on local shipwrecks, when I heard a voice from behind me

"Afternoon sir, can I help you ?"

As I turned I saw a man in his late 30s, with brown hair and a welcoming smile

"Just doing some research and was wondering, if there is any record of a shipwreck off the Betty Moffet rocks in Scarborough, I have been trying to find something on why they have the name, and came up with a lot of dead ends
Then a couple of nights ago, I was walking back to the guest house, when I saw a ship’s lantern swinging wildly out past the rocks, and have been trying to find something about that now."

"About the rocks, I am afraid there is nothing anywhere, as far as anyone has been able to find yet, but for the lantern, I can help you a little."

"Any information you can give will be greatly appreciated." I said with excitement racing in my voice

"My father like many Whitby men, was a sailor, and for many years there was a story about the lantern, it went around the Whitby inns and pubs, the dockland and all seamen knew of it
It was in the winter of 1871, a trawler passed through here on her way south, with a cargo of whiskey barrels, the day she set out was fine, and the wind fair to moderate heading south-west."
"You said passed through here, so she wasn’t from here !"

"That is right sir, some said she was from Saltburn, but none really knew, and that is the first of the mysteries to do with her sailing
To this day, we don’t know what exactly happened that night, as she set out towards Scarborough, as she sailed out of the harbour to a calm sea, hardly a sail rippled and all seemed well, with a gentle wind blowing, and a short trip ahead, we had no reason to suspect anything, but after 3 hours and with sighting of the ship at Scarborough, things seemed ill at ease
No flares were sent to indicate distress, and the lighthouse keeper saw nothing until he spotted the lantern through the fog, swinging gently with the wind, then it got quicker and quicker, the keeper at first tried to work out the message, but realised this wasn’t a message, just a warning sign"

"You said winter of 1871."
"Aye that is right sir, WHY ?"
"Wasn’t that the time of the Bridlington disaster that claimed the lives of 60 seamen"
"Yes sir, you have done your researching then."
"Yes, I came across it on the Scarborough maritime history site, that was a terrible night, and for the winds to change that suddenly as well."
"The keeper alerted the lifeboat men, and as he saw them launch the boat, something weird happened, as the boat entered the water, the lantern started to swing violently to and fro, waves were so big, the boat was making no headway, and took so much water in, she almost sank twice before the coxswain had to give up"
"I have seen the area, and there is a small channel you have to use to get between the rocks and shore, if you want to make the harbour safe, from where I saw the light waving, she was in the clear, so why the signal ?"

"That we can only think on, but many have put ideas forward, and all have the ring of possibility, from missing the channel in the mist, pilot error, fighting in the crew to plain winds forcing her on to the rocks."
"I have one, you have probably heard it before, but fit’s the story like a glove."
"Please go on sir."
"The story says she came through here, nobody knows from where, but some say Saltburn, my thinking is she did come from Saltburn, and the skipper was heading to Scarborough with his whiskey cargo
As he left here, all was well and going fine until he got to Robin Hoods Bay, and then he noticed she was listing, with the winds heading her down the coast and taking on water, time is against him, so he heads for port
Knowing the safe harbour ahead he tried to make Scarborough, but with the list he is being driven closer and closer inland until there is no sea left, in the mist and raging tides he gets rammed on the rocks, ripping the hull, and soaking the timbers with the whiskey
What the keeper saw, was at first a distress signal, but as the skipper realised the lifeboat was coming, he knew the whiskey could explode at any moment, so waved frantically to keep them away"
"But what about the weird tide when the boat entered ?"
"That shall we say was either pure luck, chance or maybe the Lord just moving in a mysterious way. For that was just before the storm hit Bridlington, WAS it chance ?"
"As you say it would fit all the facts, and that is not one we heard before sir."

"Of course there wont be a record of a boat leaving here, as she just stopped here, this was neither departure nor destination, to get more details, I will have to visit Saltburn this week."

After taking my leave from the shop, I walked to the old harbour walls, and looking out to the wide open sea, could imagine the wonder as the skipper set sail for Scarborough, thinking that in a few hours they would be safe in the inn, celebrating a good haul
Only to end the night, fighting for his life, with an ailing, listing boat, raging tides and rocks on the shoreline

The next day I went to visit the Father again, to tell him of my Whitby visit, and what I had learned, the walk to the pleasant little parish church, only a few minutes from the guest house, always reminding me of the towns vivid history, so full of little alleyways

"Hello my son, I was wondering if you would return today as you said ? ‘
"Father, I always intended to come back, your records are a vital possible link in the mystery, and I love to chat to you anyway, I could spend hours here."
"As you asked, I checked the records, and found that in 1871, there were 5 bodies buried in unmarked graves, they were found washed up the day after the storm, nobody knew who they were, or where they are from ?"
"I have an idea, yesterday I was in Whitby, talking to a man in the new shop on the harbour front, he told me his father had heard a story of our light, and of a boat that left Whitby, bound for here, but grounded on the rocks
That part we know is true, the rest is just my version of things, that fit the story, the story is she set sail with a cargo of whiskey on a calm night, and with a fair wind would have made harbour safely, but out by Robin Hoods Bay, either she hit a rock, or something went awry below deck, as he noticed a list
Taking in water, and racing the wind, he knew time was against him, and he had to make port quickly or risk losing everything, he had no choices left, as he sailed on to here
The lighthouse saw the lantern as she rounded the North bay, and then things started to go wrong so fast for him, with the listing and the driving winds, he came closer in to the point than he reckoned, and grounded on the rocks
The lifeboat records show that the keeper recalled seeing the lantern swinging violently, my theory is this was the captain warning the boat not to come out, as the barrels had leaked, and were at risk of blowing up
But this is were it gets really odd Father, as the boat entered the water, twice was driven back by the waves, until the coxswain had no choice but to given in
Was it just look that she never got launched, as that morning was the big storm at Bridlington, or was if the Lord’s way of saving the boat, because the big waves started as the boat touched the water."

"That my son, is something we will never know, as the Lord moves in mysterious ways, and it is not for mortal man to try to understand.. But your story would fit the facts, better than most."
"As there is no record of her here, nor in Whitby, I am going to see if I can get some more information in Saltburn this week"

Getting there is a journey and a half in itself, as you have to go via York & Middlesborough, as railways are not allowed on the dales, as they are a national park
So it would be a three hour trip each way, and a long day ahead.

As I walked back into the guest house, I was met by Nicki, one of the proprietors

"Hi Alan, what are you thinking ?"
"Hi Nicki, just thinking of the trip I planned, as I will be going to Saltburn, and it’s a three hour trip each way, so going to be early start and late return."
"Why are you going Alan, as it is such a long trip.It must be important."
"More just to try and tie a few loose ends up of the mystery of the lantern, and see if I can get some more information to add to my theory of why the boat ran aground."
"All the best Alan, I will be out tomorrow myself with mam, doing some shopping, so will not see you until late, or even until breakfast."
Thanks Nicki, these trips up here, have really got me thinking about things you know."
"Yes, we noticed the determined look on your face the last few days, as you delved deeper into this latest mystery, well this coast has lots to offer a man with an inquisitive mind like yours."

That morning at breakfast I had the kippers I ordered a few days before, washed down with a good supply of coffee, best way to start my day
Then taking the walk to the train station, I paid my £24 for the return to Saltburn, and got to thinking, where could I start, as the museum was now closed, the train pulled into York, and I got off and went across the tracks to get the train to Middlesborough, for the next part of my three stage trip, at Middlesborough I changed to a local train for Saltburn, this train passed through Redcar, a place where many years ago I had relatives, now the old ICI works had shut down, and the chimneys laid to rest, the town looked even more desolate than ever, Redcar known to many who watch television mainly for the horse track, that my late uncles house once looked over


The only other sports interest being the Bears, a speedway team, that once rode at Middlesborough, before moving to Halifax in the early 1970s, and has been here since the late 1980s
Last year I was going to do the trip here, but could not afford it, looking back, I think it was just as well now
We arrived in Saltburn, and I took the short stroll to the sea front, a wide expanse of sand, overlooked by a high bank of hills, at the bottom of which stands the Ship Inn, once the property of Saltburn’s pirate king, now a pub with few people with nice comments about it.
I ordered my pint and was sitting musing my next action when I heard a kindly voice

"Penny for your thoughts skipper."

Turning around a saw the grizzled but very friendly face of an ex-seaman, full of character and love

"Just thinking on a puzzle I was trying to solve, and how to get some information about a boat, I believe left here headed for Scarborough."
"Would that have something to do with the lantern seen at North bay, kind sir ?"
"That is right, do you know of the story then ?"
"Around here sir, all us sailors do, young man, it has been passed down the years and become a tale of greed that led to the sea claiming the lives of those men.If you would be kind enough to get an old sea-dog a pint, I shall tell you the story’

As we sat outside, in the sun that late spring afternoon, my new friend relayed the story to me that had been passed down over the years.
"T’was the winter of 1871, and the skipper of the Caroline Grey was loading the cargo of whiskey into the hold, being a business minded chap, and always ready to make a bit on the side, he could not pass over the chance to make a few quid extra on this trip
So, he when he was offered £10 to take 10 kegs extra down to Scarborough, he jumped at the chance of it, he was seen loading them onto the ship, and as he did, she went low in the water, everyone told him about this and the risk he knew, but greed was his master now, and a terrible master greed is, he drives normally sane men to do wicked things
As the Caroline left harbour, the men all shook their heads, as they could see, that she was slow to respond, and riding very low in the water

Captain Martin, usually a good skipper, was taking a big risk, and he knew the rewards would be great, but as she left the estuary, the Caroline started to slow and was not responding, she barely cleared the headland before a squall struck and with all hands lashing barrels down, he had to man the wheel by himself
Having barely survived that, they expected him to turn around and comeback but he pushed on, his cargo and the lure of the money driving him onward

He stopped at Whitby to get some planking nailed down, the squall had left her taking in some water, it was here that things went from bad to disastrous for the captain
They left Whitby heading down the coast, and sailors of many years noticed she was already listing, nobody knew at Whitby why she was so low in the water, as the holds were tight shut, but sailors knew that meant an illegal haul, and so kept quiet-- The code of the sea--

The last leg of the trip, should have been a quick run but just out from Robin Hoods bay, the planking splintered with the rolling weight in the hold, and she took in wateA ship that was slow to respond, had now become a ship with a mind of its own, and no matter what he did Martin was losing control, as the barrels rolled from side to side, a gentle swell throwing them into the walls of the hold, and smashing them, leaking whiskey

As he got to North Bay, a gust hit the side of the ship, and flung him from the wheel for only a few seconds, that was all that she needed the Caroline lurched violently to shore, and from then on
There was nothing he could do, the ship laid low in the water, with a narrow channel between the rocks, normally an easy course to plot, but this was a wicked ship, and she did not wish to land

The captain first flashed the lantern for assistance, then realising the truth of the matter, waved frantically to warn boats away, and she sank without trace, all hands claimed by the sea."
"So, if he had not taken on the extra barrels, he would have had the clearance to make the safe harbour ?"
"Possibly young sir, but as I told you, the Caroline’s last voyage should have not been taken on, the warnings were here from the start, and he ignored them."
"Right I agree there, but what about the lifeboat getting turned back, by the huge waves as she entered the water, that hasn’t been explained away ?"
"Us sea-goers are religious people sir, and we believe it was the Lord’s way of saving the lives of brave men."

"And the following day was the Bridlington storm, chance that the wind was that strong, or just freakish weather conditions."
"That sir, is something nobody can say for sure, as we had not seen such high seas before, and did not for another 50 years."

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