'Twas a dark and stormy night in the winter of 1873... so goes the beginning of a long-winded, repetitive tale I used to recite with friends back in the 1970s. In our cups, naturally.
In real life it was a night of gale-force snow and sleet in March 1897.
The SS Nornen was a barque, that is, a type of three-masted sailing ship laden with sails - a small mast with triangular sails at the rear, and forward of that main and fore masts with big rectangular sails. There would also have been additional triangular sails attached to the front bowsprit as well. I am not attempting to use the precise terms, nor indicate where or how the sails were attached. If you are interested, this website page gives a most useful run-down of the various types of sailing ship and how they were rigged, and makes it all very clear: https://wrecksite.eu/docBrowser.aspx?3598?3?18.
Suffice it to say that the Nornen had a lot of sails, and the crew had much to do.
She was built in France in 1876, and was therefore twenty-one years old when wrecked. Her owners at the time were Norwegian - as was her captain, by name of Olsen. There was a crew of ten (which to me hardly seems enough). The cargo was resin and turpentine, presumably in barrels.
The ship was caught in a ferocious storm in the Bristol Channel. The captain would have sent the hands aloft to tightly furl the ship's sails, let out the anchors, and then attempt to ride out the storm. In this case, to no avail. The gale that blew that March night was much too powerful. The Nornen's anchors dragged, and she was forced inexorably towards Berrow on the Somerset coast. The Burnham-on-Sea lifeboat arrived just in time to take the crew off before the ship ran aground on the Berrow sands, to be relentlessly pounded by the sea and eventually broken. She was declared a wreck, and left there.
And she is still stuck in the sands at Berrow.
I'd got to hear about the Nornen during a visit to Burnham-on-Sea, in conversation with a man out with his family on the beach. He urged me to go and see the wreck. So I did so, on 25th October.
I'd driven through Berrow before, but never stopped, and had never seen the beach there. So I was very inclined to take that man's advice, merely to see a new section of the Somerset coast. As it happens, Berrow was currently in the news in connection with a local murder the previous February, and the court case was going on at the time of my visit. But that had nothing to do with my going there. I wanted to see what was left of the Nornen.
Parking Fiona at the church, I set off across the golf course and then through the dunes, coming out onto a seemingly vast expanse of sandy beach.