Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Battleships.... (F86)

Back to Iceland for the next two posts....

I'm lying down on damp grass next to a shallow lagoon. Behind the lagoon is a dense marsh that leads to a some flatter ground that eventually slopes upwards to snow capped craggy mountains in the distance. Behind me is a gravel road that runs along a bank that falls away to a sandy, seaweed strewn beach. It is low tide and the sand soon gives way to grey sloppy mud. Here a few Black-tailed Godwits are probing the gloop for food.

The air is still chilly even though it is July and smells of rain. My left knee is starting to ache from the cold earth but I can't move.

I'm thinking of HMS Campbeltown (F86), a Batch 3 Type 22 frigate of the British Royal Navy. It was built in my hometown of Birkenhead way back in the mid eighties and launched in late 1987. I know this because I was there when the champers smashed and it rolled down chute into the Mersey. I was 10 years old.

I was there because some schools close to the Cammell Laird shipyard were invited along for the launch, and I even made it into the local press. A photographer from the local paper was on the scaffold that overlooked dignitaries and us schoolkids (all frantically waving the plastic Union Jacks we'd been given at the gates) and captured the moment the ship gracefull entered the water. My face a tiny dot in the throng, but I could recognise it.

I was struck by the plain grey hull, how sleek it was, but the thing I remember best about it was the red paint that the keel was painted with ( I was told that it was "red lead", a treatment to prevent rust). A line of red on a body of grey.

I'm looking at another combination of red and grey bobbing about on the water just a few feet in front of me. 2 Red-throated Divers are asleep on the lagoon.


They drift slowly, like twin battleships swinging at anchor. Shades of grey with a splash of red.

The clouds drift apart and some weak sunshine illuminates the pool. The Divers perk up with the coming out of the sun and start to swim about. I take in the fantastic birds before me. They paddle about together, circling each other.


They drift away from the stony edge of the lagoon and onto the water proper. The breeze that has pulled the clouds apart is rippling the pool, breaking the mirror calm. The divers drift closer, I hunch down lower. I feel so lucky to be so close to these birds, the lens is inches from the surface of the water as one drifts past...


The pair come together again and 4 more birds drop in from pools hidden in the marsh. I can't believe that I'm looking at 6 Red-throats, 3 pairs. But that is Iceland, it exceeds expectations.

The origional pair come together again, paddling serenely in my direction, totally in synch like a real partnership.


They move in unison across the lagoon. I'm mesmirised. The sun shines on their red throats, they blaze like fire, even the plainest grey on their heads looks like velvet.


I realise I'm not feeling the cold any longer.

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