Too many people still risk their lives trying to access the island without understanding the tides in Weston Bay. The way across looks benign at low tide but soon catches up with the unwary.
Although it is derelict and falling into the sea Birnbeck Island and its Pier is a fascinating and charming sight. It is connected to the mainland by the Pier but also, at low tide, by a shingle bank, known locally as the Cassie.
The rocky island and its Pier sit in the Bristol Channel which has the second highest range of tide in the world. The height of the water can range up to 15 meters between low and high tide. In order for this huge amount of water to get in, in the six hours between tides, it has to move very, very fast. Faster than a man can run.
The Pier was built in 1864 and the island used to be a sight of major tourist attractions with some rides and experiences which were in the forefront of entertainment. Due to neglect the Pier became more and more dangerous and the public was banned from using it in the 1970s. Only the RNLI, with its quintessential red doored lifeboat station, continued to use the island. However by 2014 the Pier became so dangerous that even the RNLI had to leave the island and set up a temporary station on Knightstone Piazza.
But the Island is still there. Its rotting Victorian buildings, large concrete aprons and long stilled clock tower can be seen from the land but access across the Pier is completely excluded, for safety concerns, by the Birnbeck Restoration Trust.
But the Cassie remains, uncovered at low tide, ready to catch the foolish and unwary.
Since we left the Island we have had many occasions to emergency launch our lifeboats because people have made their way across the shingle bank thinking to explore the damaged island. Sometimes they have managed to get back to safety before the tide completely overwhelms them but on several occasions they have been plucked from the raging waters just in time. This year has already seen three major callouts because of this problem. On one occasion the man was up to his neck in water by the time we found him. The tides rush through under the columns of the old Pier and no one can stand their force. He had minutes to live.
We always advise keeping well away from the island, even if at the time the water seems still and the way seems peaceful.
Richard Spindler, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Weston said;’ This was our old home but we would prefer not to have to go back there as it means someone is in serious trouble. If you see anyone going across to the island please call the coastguard without delay.’