Pendeen Watch on the rugged coast of Cornwall is a notorious graveyard for ships. For instance in the decade between 1890 and 1900 seven steamers were lost,one of them being the nearly new steamer, Busby, three stranded and twenty six poor sailors died. As a result of all this death and destruction Trinity House decided to build a lighthouse on the Pendeen headland and its light finally shone out in 1900. It was to be another decade before ships once again started to pile up on the rocks below Pendeen Watch, ships like the William Cory full of pit props which struck the Enys Rock spewing her pit props into the sea beating back the boats coming to rescue them.
Fog of course was the main reason for ships to come to grief at Pendeen, but during the First World War it was the German U-boats sinking vessels as they rounded Cape Cornwall or steered for the Longships. After the two Wars wrecks still continued to pile up, but the ship we are interested in is the Liberian tramp streamer Liberty, ex War Camel, Ex Cairndhu Ex Styrmion. She had the dubious distinction of being the first wreck at Pendeen Watch, since the St.Ives Lugger, Twin Boys struck the delightfully named Three Stone Oar in March 1924.
Launched by Palmers of Hebburn-on-Tyne in December 1918 as the War Camel she became the Cairndhu for the Cairns Line of Dundee. Her main beat was between St.Lawence, Leith, and Tyne with cargos of canned goods and wheat, returning often with china clay in ballast. In August 1927 she was laid up sold to a Greek line and renamed as the Styrmion. After the Second World War she was placed on the French North Africa run, and then transferred to Hoogli, Chittagong and Kararchi trade until 1951, when finally as the Liberty she gravitated to the Baltic, hauling iron ore. She had one or two mishaps along the way like stranding near Stockholm, but on the evening of 16 January 1952 the Liberty was leaving Newport in ballast for La Goulette. By the next evening she was off Pendeen Watch in the teeth of a north westerly gale pushing her bows through the violent snow squalls. As her elderly engines raced to keep her on track the steam pressure started to fall alarmingly, so Captain Filinos radioed for a tug and the lifeboat, but is was to be too late for the Liberty. As the tug Merchantman searched in vain for the stricken ship, the Liberty was dangerously wallowing broadside too, near Portheras Cove, right under the cliffs of Pendeen Watch.
The mate and the bosun escaped down a rope ladder and twenty others, including the Captain, were rescued by breeches buoy. Thirteen of the crew were so overwhelmed by the disaster that they hid on board the sinking ship until the evening, only coming out on deck, after they were furiously harangued by Captain Filinos with a mixture of Arabic and Greek. By now the LSA had turned up and they rescued these poor souls amidst much shouting and gesticulation from the Captain, other crew and the LSA.
The Walk Pendeen Light is well signposted from St Just and on arrival you can either stop at the top car park, or turn to your right to go down to the lower car. The grassy slope in front of the car park is where the L.S.A. (rocket brigade) launched the breeches buoy to rescue some of the crew, and it is here that you will find a track that will lead you down onto the rocks by most of the wreckage. Its not very steep, but since you want to be there at a spring low tide to see most of he wreckage, bear in mind that the tide will come back in quite quickly. Easily identifiable are the crankshaft, engine block and some of the larger pieces of the ships framing. On the sand of the cove is a half buried anchor and a bollard set amidst other iron work half buried in the sand. Right out in front of you is the wonderfully named Three Stone Oar reef and with a stiff onshore breeze, which we had, you can immediately see why so many ships have piled up around these rocks.
The Lighthouse is quite standard for this part of Cornwall and is unmanned, so not open to the public. Usually the gates are locked shut, but you can walk from the top car park along the enclosure wall down to where it all juts out over the cliff. There is a platform there that allows you very good views of the front of the lighthouse. One of its nice features is the huge pair of bats ear fog horns. Don’t be near these when they go off, as they are likely to give you a heart attack. They are beyond loud. Over to the right of the lighthouse you will see lots of mine chimneys dotted around the cliffs. If you are interested, there are plenty of tourist tours in the area, the closest being the Levant mine, with its working beam engine.
There are a few pubs near the Pendeen Light,but we decided to go back to St Just. Four pubs in the square, and a great pasty shop. All the pubs serve good food and we chose the Kings Arms at random. It sells ‘Tribute’ and ‘Proper Job’ amongst its beers and loads of good sandwiches and other food. If you want a complete alternative there is a ‘Fair trade’ cafe just up from the square. What’s not to like
Google Map showing The Lighthouse to the left of the cove where the wreckage is.