Death by Flood
Tides and the intertidal areas they expose are, obviously, things to be very cautious of when living or walking by the coast, and on the foreshore at low tide.
There are, sadly, many stories of people being drowned by in-coming tides. I will just mention a few. And there are other, darker, stories of tides and death.
Throughout Britain’s history there have been catastrophic episodes of coastal flooding where high tides, exaggerated by storm surges, have overtopped sea defences and caused huge floods. In 1607 this happened along the shores of the Bristol Channel and Seven Estuary when as many as two thousand people drowned. This was recorded in a famous pamphlet written soon after the event, which have woodcut illustrations. To this day flood level marks can be seen cut into the stone of the church of the estuary’s lowlands. See here for a fuller account. https://www.aforgottenlandscape.org.uk/projects/1607-the-great-severn-estuary-flood/
In 1953 a devastating flood affected Eastern England drowning as many as 300 people on the coasts of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Area of Holland on the east coast of the North Sea wee also badly affected, and many died there too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953
Drowned by Incoming Tides
Floods which over top sea defences aside, sadly, many people have perished when they have ventured beyond the seawall and into the intertidal zone for either curiosity, leisure, or work. Perhaps most notoriously, in the UK, as many as twenty-one Chinese illegal immigrant labourers were drowned by an incoming tide while picking cockles off the Lancashire coast on Morecambe Bay. Now called the Morecambe Bay Cockling Disaster, this occurred on the evening of 5 February 2004, when those drowned were taken unawares by the speed of the incoming tide. Much more information is here on Wikipedia The famous Irish folk Singer Christie Moore wrote folk song about the disaster. The lyrics contain the line ‘the tide is the very devil….’
A very sad example, local to me, and the Severn Estuary, is the tragic case of two young cousins who were playing whilst exploring the intertidal areas of Beachley Point near Chepstow. One of the boys, Chepstow schoolboy Jamie-Lee Wilson Cartwright, eight, drowned when they got in trouble because of the incoming tide. His cousin Kyle, then nine, survived thanks to the quick-thinking of a bird-watcher who heard their shouts for help and the work of members of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA). Jamie-Lee lived in Beachley, and floral and other tributes are still placed on the shore close to where he tragically drowned.
A third and very horrible tale is of a father and son who were drowned by an incoming tide at Ulverston Bay, Cumbria, 06 01 2002. On a fishing trip, they were walking on the intertidal area of Morecambe Bay, when dense fog came down and they could not see which direction to head, as a high spring tide was coming in. The father had a mobile phone and was in touch with the police in a series of increasingly desperate calls. He ended up wading in the deepening water, carrying his son on his shoulders as they tried to find a way to shore, but they tragically failed to do so. Their bodies were found in the following day. Source here (Guardian).
But I suppose tides will always result in such tragic accidents on occasions. Here I now focus on other intertidal death stories of stranger, and more macabre natures.
Murder by Tide
The story, a Tragedy of the Tides, in the collection Earth’s Enigmas; a Volume of Stories, by Charles G D Roberts, published in 1896, tells how a young colonial couple were kidnapped by native American Indians in what is now Canada. They were taken on a long forced walk, and by canoe, for two day before being executed. The were so by being staked out, standing, in a muddy creek at low tide and drowned as the tide came in. The man was positioned lower in the intertidal zone so that the woman would witness his death before drowning herself. The couple were reported as missing from city of Halifax on the afternoon of September 18th, 1749. The story reports that the Indians were waiting by the creek to watch the tide rise, but were disturbed by other colonists and made off. Attempts were made to save the couple by freeing them – but to no avail. The creek in the story is named as the Tantramar, which is near Halifax, Nova Scotia. The full text of the story is on line at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20231/20231-h/20231-h.htm#A_Tragedy_of_the_Tides
Unholy Burial by Tides
In the period of terrible witch trials in Scotland, in 1704 at Torryburn on the south west Fife coast, a woman Lilias Adie confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil after a long period of incarcerations and interrogation. But she died, probably as suicide, in prison before she could be finally tried, sentenced and burned. The disposal of her body was a problem to the church and authorities given her probable suicide and her supposed crime of witchcraft. So she was buried in the muddy intertidal area of Torryburn Bay, and a large flat sandstone slab lain over her resting place, in the hope this would stop the devil bringing her back from the dead. A series of folk songs by Heal & Harrow, harpist Rachel Newton and the fiddler Lauren MacColl, have now been created about the Scottish witch trials, including one about Lilias Adie.
The Duplicitous Royalist Ferryman!
Another Severn Estuary tale is of a ferryman loyal to King Charles I in the English Civil War who carried a group of Royalist soldiers across the estuary near Aust. He was then forced ‘at sword point’ to also ferry a group of pursuing rebel soldiers across the water. At low tide the estuary does look like it is possible to walk across many of the sand banks and rocky areas to and from the shore. So he landed the soldiers on an area called ‘The English Stones’, assuring them that they could from there walk the rest of the way, but this was not in fact true, as even at the lowest tides the Stones are cut off from the bank by a deep channel with fast currents called The English Lake. The soldiers were all drowned by the rising tide. The English Stones now support part of the Second Severn Road Crossing.