I had a birthday recently and went off to the seaside for the day with my sister and brother in law. For some reason I have a passion for being by the sea and on the sea. Clearly some Viking blood trying to emerge. Most of my birthdays growing up involved either going to the cinema or being on a boat, or preferably, both! Anyway, it was a glorious day, blue skies, hot sunshine and the very best of an English summer. We were headed to the East coast, just at the south end of the Humber estuary, so facing onto the North Sea. The sea there is muddy rather than blue or green because of the huge amount of silt coming from both the Humber itself and also washing down southwards from further up the coast. As we came onto the foreshore we noticed the haar, or fret as my brother in law called it, hovering over the sea. In fact it first appeared as swirling wraithes of smoke twirling over the water and the wet sand while we stood in bright, hot sunshine. Then it rolled up the coast to us from the south, getting thicker and thicker. The oddest effect was that people’s feet were vanishing out of view as the haar swirled and eddied and gathered on the water’s surface:the groyne’s appeared to be like lost teeth or castellations sitting in water whereas they were sitting in in mist. The higher patches of sand were clearer. Then the pier itself lost its feet. Both edifices and humans were insubstantially supported. I do wish I was a good enough painter to catch the effect because it was actually rather magical. I have often seen the haar on the East Coast but hitherto it has always been as a complete, solid sea mist often reaching onto the land and sometimes staying for days at a time. But in this instance it was alive, moving and eerie: one could understand the old myths of wraithes and marsh spirits.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“In meteorology, haar is a coastal fog. Haar is typically formed over the sea and is brought to land by wind advection. This commonly occurs when warmer moist air moves over the relatively cooler North Sea causing the moisture in the air to condense, forming haar. Sea breezes and Easterly winds then bring the haar into the East coast of Scotland and North-East England where it can continue for several miles inland. This can be common in Summer when heating of the land creates a sea breeze, bringing haar in from the sea and as a result can significantly reduce temperatures compared to those just a few miles inland. The term haar is used along certain lands bordering the North Sea, primarily eastern Scotland and the North East of England. Variants of the Scots term include har, hare, harl, harr, hoar and the origin may be probably from a Low German or Dutch dialect word akin to Dutch dialect harig damp, misty, Middle Dutch hare sharp wind, piercing cold, Frisian harig misty, Old Norse hārr gray, hoary.”
My brother in law kept using the word ‘fret’ which I had never heard before, just as he had never heard the word ‘haar’. And we were both talking about the same thing! Talk about divided by a common language. I also discovered on the internet that, “In Yorkshire and Northumberland it is commonly referred to as a sea fret”.
On this beach quicksands develop as the tide comes in, and because it is such a shallow incline, one can very suddenly become cut off by rivulets cutting across the beach. A Beach Safety Team patrols every hour along beach when tide is coming in to both warn people and help those in difficulties.
There are notices and flags all along the beach but still I saw people wading out despite the warnings. Several people were stopped by the Patrol but as soon as it had moved on they continued to walk out: this was so irresponsible, especially one man I saw accompanied by two tiny children, walking out to the sea through the thickening mist and incoming tide. By this time the mist had become fairly static and really thick. The foghorns were sounding their plaintive, rather scary moans, and a chill ran up the spine.
By mid afternoon the sun had burned off the haar and we sat on the beach having a picnic at 6.0 pm with good visibility. We could see massive container ships leaving the end of the estuary and heading out to sea through the old forts from World Wars I and II which still guard the entrance.
A lovely day out, with sunshine, good air and lots of interest thrown in.
For those interested:
Humber Forts From Wikipedia.
Bull Sand Fort – not my photo – (
The Humber Forts are two large fortifications in the mouth of the Humber estuary in northern England: Haile Sand Fort and Bull Sand Fort.
The two forts were planned in 1914 to protect the entrance to the estuary. They stand 59 feet (18 m) above the water and have a diameter of 82 feet (25 m). There was accommodation for 200 soldiers. Started in May 1915, they took more than four years to build and construction was not finished until December 1919.
During the Second World War they were reactivated and modernised. The forts were regularly attacked by enemy aircraft. During this time, they installed a netting to prevent enemy submarines from travelling up the estuary to Hull or Grimsby. The forts were finally abandoned by the military in 1956.“