Shipwrecks of the South Hams by Kendall McDonald
Shipwrecks of the South Hams by Kendall McDonald

wreckwalkers guide Now thats a different slant on the British divers favourite subject. But Kendall McDonalds Shipwrecks of The South Hams: The Wreckwalkers Guide to the Coast Path from Erme to Dart is not as misdirected for divers as one might at first think.
It will not appeal to the diver whose primary instinct on being confronted by a languishing hulk at 25m is to prepare his crowbar and lumphammer for a work-out. But for the diver who, conscious of his privileged position as a witness of history, approaches wreck dives with considered reverence, it is a useful work. For the uninformed, the South Hams, the name given to the arresting 40-mile stretch of coast between the rivers Erme and Dart in Devon, has been a disaster area for shipping since the Bronze Age. Kendall McDonald covers the wreckings of more than 70 ill-fated vessels in this volume.
The popular historians task is both to inform and entertain. McDonald has achieved both these ends with some success. His vivid and comprehensive accounts of these events and their consequences offer insights into the social conditions of the periods.
Never one to underplay the dramatic potential of any maritime disaster, he does not stint on his narrative. The stories move quickly and, as sailors struggle to save themselves, we read of self-sacrifice, heroism, cowardice and cruelty. Some of the tales really rip!
And what of the wreckwalking It seems to stem from local villagers curiosity in shipwrecks potential for salvageable booty. In the 17th century it was, apparently, not unusual for 10,000 pairs of feet to carve a path along these cliffs to strip holds of cargo and bodies of valuables. Perhaps this work will start a movement of modern-day wreckwalkers! I can see few reasons why not: this stunning stretch of coast is a Heritage Coast Path. So read the book, take an OS map and use your imagination. And dont fall off the cliff!
Jonty Summers

Shipwrecks of the South Hams by Kendall McDonald, Wreckwalker Books, Cradles Cottage, Thurlestone, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 3NE. Softback £9.95 (£1.05p&p).