Saturday, 14 December 2013

Terschelling: A Windswept Island

Windswept beaches and dunes

It is with some alarm when, being unfamiliar with a seafaring community, that people describe the weather in terms of wind. It brings about sudden and terrifying visions, I must say. In the village here on the island of Terschelling one might often hear the word, windkracht, which literally means "wind strength."

What they are referring to is a scale that was devised in the early 1800s - the Beaufort scale. Apparently, it came about because one sailor's take on the breeze can be quite different from another's. It is a subjective thing, I would agree. So, Francis Beaufort devised his scale to make a standardized way of recording the weather out at sea. The scale ranges from 1 - 12: 3 being a 'gentle breeze', 6 being a 'strong breeze', 9 being 'strong gale', and 12 being 'hurricane force'. In my last post, The Power of the Sea, I shared photos of from the storm that hit in the first week of December. That storm was categorised as windkracht 9. Here was the weather report for that particular storm - Terschelling is to the right of the number 10 in the top of the coast. As you can see from this map, most of the North Sea was 9 or 10 - 'strong gale' and 'whole gale'.

(I can't help but think of a man saying in a posh accent, "Yes, the wind is rather strong today.")

Drenkelingen Huis (Drowned Man's House)
Anyway, the point is, on a coastal island, the wind is always blowing. It is a rare day when the wind is still. This week, I had the luck to be driven out onto the beaches to the far end of Terschelling. Islanders call it "the hook". Once past the high dunes there is an area called "The Bosplaats". It is a nature reserve of salt marsh, dunes, and beach. Without the protection of higher sand dunes, it is a desolate, weather-beaten place. Especially in wintertime.

Centuries of wind and water have shaped the coastline of the island, and it is constantly changing. Here too, inland streams form with the rising tide, changing the interior of "The Bosplaats" daily. Huge communities of birds live in this area, nesting and feeding on fish from the sea. Seal colonies can be seen resting on sand bars in lower tides. It is almost like another world on this end of the island. (Which, considering Terschelling is only about 34 km (21 miles) long, is impressive).

The "Hook" at the end of the island
 Centuries of storms have also left the island surrounded by shipwrecks (jolly exciting!), and sometimes bits and pieces wash up on shore. Near the Drenkelingen Huis (Drowned man's house) we saw the stump of a tree that was hundred's of years old - that part of the beach had once been forest, and that single stump was all that remained. It was black and smooth, like petrified wood; slowly, it is being reclaimed by the sand and sea.

What I found so thrilling about the end of the island was that it seemed so empty and barren, like a wasteland, and yet it was brimming with life. We saw more birds there than anywhere else along the coast line. There were also tracks, further in the dune, of wild cats - "Dune Cats". They were, appropriately, following the tracks of rabbits...

Heading homewards along the beach
As ever, I respect the weather so much - even more so on an island stuck out in the middle of the North Sea. Out here, there is no getting away from the power of both wind and wave. The combined force of these two over the years has created a new landscape: one that is rugged, austere, and exposed.

It is also incredibly beautiful...