Time and Tide

Time and Tide famously wait for no man, but they do create some interesting and dramatic effects on the UK coastline. This is particularly so on the east coast.

A change has been taking place since the Second World War on the east coast of Orkney. Scapa Flow was the main base of the British fleet in both world wars but had a weakness in that there were several channels by which it could be accessed from the east. Block ships were sunk in these channels to prevent access but late in 1939 a German submarine penetrated these defences and sank the Royal Oak. Clearly the defences were inadequate.

Churchill, who at that time was First Lord of the Admiralty, decreed that the channels be permanently blocked and the barriers which bear his name were constructed. 250000 tons of rock formed the base and 66000 concrete blocks were cast and dropped in 4 channels. Italian POW's were used as labour and they also constructed the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm which most tourists on the islands visit to this day. These barriers have roads along the top and thus link the 4 smaller islands to Mainland Orkney.

At Barrier 4, the southernmost one, a significant change has been taking place. The slide show starts with Barrier 1 to give some idea of the barriers and the rest show Barrier 4. The picture in 1979 shows 2 block ships but the nearer is the one to watch over the next 32 years. The mast or crane at an angle can be seen being ever more engulfed by sand until in 2011 it is barely visible. I could only find it because a previous visitor had scraped sand away.

I did not set out to capture this change in 1979, in fact I had no idea it was happening. I just saw an interesting scene and the same was probably true in 1990. The later pictures were made with knowledge of the earlier ones. It is, however, a strong reminder of the power of photography to show us the changes which time makes. In this case the result is down to serendipity, and the all-seeing eye of the camera.