A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye.
Courtesy of the Kirkcudbright Historical Society. Situated near the Solway Firth up the narrow winding River Dee - the one in the Scottish Borders not the Aberdeen or Cheshire one. It made me come over all nostalgic for those days when tankfarms proliferated wherever a small single skin often war built ‘Empire’ tanker could wend her way upriver on the tide, laden to her marks with her highly flammable freight.
Regular readers will recall my much missed late contributor Tom Graham Galloway who had skippered shell-BP tankers on that truly taxing course up the Dee, often after loading just across the Solway Firth and Morecambe Bay at the now long defunct and almost forgotten Heysham Oil Refinery. Seeing some of these images of the tankers (that Tom would have loved to see), swinging in the narrow River Dee almost in the town centre manoeuvring just with anchors, wire and ropes in the days before bow thrusters, brings back memories of those burgeoning times of oil company expansion.
The different multi-national petrol brands, some competing some co-operating, were planting shiny new storage tanks wherever the ships could reach - when health and safety legislation was also in its infancy. I should think Tom himself was aboard some of the ships seen here and it was in his beloved Dublin he talked of delivering freights here, memorably scattering cattle as he did so as his bow wave at high tide spilled over adjoining fields before he secured to deliver his oil cargo into the fuel depot.
I grew up on the other side (some would say the wrong side) of the Solway Firth from Kirkcudbright, and for those struggling with the pronunciation, try saying – ‘Kurkoobree!’, (it can take a lifetime to learn that.) The same ships and crews were at work serving fuel depots on both the Scottish and English sides of the Solway, at Maryport (Esso if memory serves) and Shell-BP at Workington with cargoes from the Heysham refi nery and from Stanlow on the Manchester Ship Canal. At Kirkcudbright, the petrol storage tanks were not far out of the town, but on the English side of the Firth, the depots were alongside the docks. The Maryport depot was shortlived, the Workington one long since sold off by the fuel companies and now managed commercially for West Cumbria’s various bulk liquid storage needs.
I recall the tankers I saw when the days were always calm with blue skies (sign of approaching dementia?) the Galloway hills looking imposing and beautifully green over the Firth, the steam tankers like BP Distributor 797,’44 ex Empire Trotwood totally silent, diesel tankers’ old fashioned motors ‘popping’ as they rounded the breakwater and lined up for the dock entrance. Sometimes they could offload and depart on the same tide, more often returning next day to Heysham for the next freight which could be for Kirkcudbright or elsewhere round the Irish Sea.
Kirkcudbright’s seaborn oil trade ceased in 1982. Meanwhile, the war built, by Grangemouth Dockyard, BP Distributor had met her end at a Belgian breakers in ’65.