Slipway Sounds: High Tide at Barrow Lifeboat Station Public Post

My microphones at the top of the Barrow RNLI lifeboat slipway

Scroll this

I’d normally make a post like this available to my patrons but life’s so noisy and topsy-turvy at the moment, I figured we could all do with some gentle coastal escapism.

So, this 20 minute soundscape (above) is publicly available for everyone to enjoy.

Read on for a little more background behind its creation…


All-weather lifeboat stations like the one at Roa Island in Cumbria, home to the Barrow lifeboat, are incredible places.

I love to stand at the top of their vast metal slipways, pausing for deep breaths of sea air and to absorb the peace and tranquility, sensations very much at odds with the lifesaving emergencies they’re built for.

In 2019, I touched on this in a blog post called The 5000 Mile Artwork. I recalled a visit to Cromer where I stood at the top of a lifeboat slipway for the very first time:

“I was struck by the simplicity and power of this iconic structure. They have to do one job and do it flawlessly.”

Somehow, whilst standing in such a spot, the thinking, calculations and engineering that goes into creating them feels very present. And, just like the lifeboats themselves, there’s such beauty in their utilitarian construction. Everything has a purpose and there’s nothing spare.

It also captivates me that lifeboat stations like Barrow are completely fabricated locations with quite a visual and environmental impact, essentially a small human-made island with a gangway connecting them to the mainland.

Alongside its vital role in saving lives at sea, it also makes for a privileged vantage point, one that thrusts you right into nature.

For example, if you’re standing on a beach and you spot some geese flying above the water, they don’t have to be too far away to feel quite intangible.

However, stand at the top of a lifeboat slipway and you’re right among the wind, the waves and the wildlife — a unique stage from which to look and listen.

Drawing together all these thought-provoking facets makes them very meditative spaces and, over the years, I’ve wanted to enable others to get a sense of that too.

So, before making the journey home from Barrow in April, I had one last thing on my list, something I’ve wanted to do since standing at the top of a slipway for the very first time all the way back in 2015:

I placed my microphones in exactly the same spot where my camera stood when I made the glass plate of the boathouse view, leaving them for about an hour and a half to record a slice of slipway life.


SONIC SPACE

Click play on the recording above, comprised of 22 clips from the original recording, seamlessly mixed together to make this shorter version.

Listen out for sea birds, fishing boats, aeroplanes, roosting pigeons, the clanking of an access gate and the beep of the boathouse door. You might also hear Paul, the station mechanic, moving some barrels around at one point.

It was high tide when I started the recording so you’ll hear the sea sloshing around through the metal gratings too.

I reckon you can even feel the presence (and hear the slight white noise hum) of the 32 tonne lifeboat and cavernous boathouse looming in the background.

I really hope you enjoy it. As always, remember to listen with some good quality headphones if possible because it’ll really take you there, enabling you to fully enjoy the sonic space I experienced during my visit.

See if you can picture the direction and location of all those sounds. Are they moving from left to right or vice versa? Are they high above or down below? Are they in front or behind you? Are they close or far away?

As our eldest son once astutely observed about my glass plates (a sentiment which also neatly applies to this recording):

“There’s not much happening but there’s so much going.”


FURTHER LISTENING

You can also find this recording along with more sonic treats on the Members’ Audio page (there are many previews of them on the public Audio page).

Not a member of The LSP Society? Find out how to join here.

In recent news, I’m proud to have been one of Megan McGurk’s guests in ‘Heroes of the Mersey’, the latest episode of the National Museums Liverpool Podcast.

We covered a lot of topics in a short space of time, including:

Selflessness, courage, community ethos, farewells, things going wrong, beauty in the utilitarian, the environment, the climate crisis, the economic crisis, necessity, kindness and putting others before ourselves.

Have a listen here (Megan introduces me around the 12m05s mark):


IMMORTALISED ON GLASS

Here’s a reminder of two of the 12×10 inch glass plates (wet collodion positives) I made on the slipway the previous day — the boathouse view and a portrait of the lifeboat crew:

The view from Barrow RNLI lifeboat station, 12th April 2022, wet collodion positive on 12×10 inch glass
Barrow RNLI lifeboat crew, 12th April 2022, wet collodion positive on 12×10 inch glass

See more here:

GALLERIES


UPDATE: THE STATION MECHANIC’S REACTION

I sent this blog post to Station Mechanic Paul Heavyside. I loved his reaction, which he’s very happy for me to share with you here:

“That’s really powerful stuff. You don’t realise what’s around you until you sit and listen. It’s my environment every day, and I suppose you don’t realise how interesting it can be. I suppose for me it’s like looking out of the window here at the station, such a wonderful view, but I see it every day and don’t always appreciate it until you analyse exactly the situation.”

I can’t thank Paul enough for hosting me during my visit. It sounds as though he’ll look at his workplace differently from now on, which pleases me immensely.

Paul Heavyside, Barrow Lifeboat Station Mechanic, 12th April 2022, wet collodion positive on 12×10 inch glass

Ways to support the project:

BECOME A SUPPORTERTHE LSP SOCIETY


If

1. If you enjoyed this post, please click the lifeboat orange heart below to say you were here and feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below.

2. If you think this would be of interest to others, please share it using the buttons below.

3. This is a public blog post — there’s much more to see in the Members’ Area of The LSP Society.

4. If you know somebody else who would enjoy being a member of The LSP Society, you can now gift them membership here!

5. If you haven’t perused the website for a while, head to the homepage for a fresh look.

6. Head to The LSP Shop for prints, posters, postcards, the famous With Courage keyring and more.

7. Finally, if you have any questions about my work, please feel free to contact me.

19

7 Comments

  1. I’ve been following your progress over the last few years, and take off my hat to your commitment on such a wonderful project.I live on Anglesey and am a keen kayaker. When I go out paddling I do it in the knowledge that Should I get into trouble there will be someone ready and willing to risk their lives to save mine. Keep up the good work.

    2
    • Thank you very much for your kind words, Paul. Good to know you’re still following along. You may remember that I’m a keen kayaker too…and I have the same thought!

  2. Unfortunately I don’t have headphones, so I had to rely on my computer speakers. I liked to listen to this very much, and while listening I was thinking what’s happening and what’s causing all those sounds. Very calming, too.

    1
    • Wonderful to know you’ve had a listen, Katriina. As long as you enjoy it in the way that you can, that’s all that matters really.

  3. Like you say at the top, life’s so noisy. It’s a wonderful meditation to put on the headphones and listen to these timeless sounds. They feel as if they belong to a forgotten world. Thank you.

    2

Share your thoughts: