More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Submerged forest of Borth

I've got a real soft spot for Borth - it's the place where I was living when my first child was born. We lived in one of the old stone cottages on the main street, and at the bottom of our garden there was a weathered wooden ladder leading straight down the back wall onto the stony beach. This then gave way to a huge expanse of sand where I'd walk Dinah, our much-loved Heinz 57, every day. We were there for an academic year so it was mostly winter, and I recall the dramatic storms with the wind lashing the tiny cottages and the wild spring tides rearranging the pebbles almost daily, leaving flotsam and jetsam for avid beachcombers like me. You find all sorts of strange things washed up on beaches - cans of food, old turnips, ships' ropes, fishermen's nets, as well as the mangled iron, smooth and bleached planks and stones that I'd get a huge thrill out of reclaiming to adorn our home. I've walked up and down this particular stretch of Cardigan Bay many many times, so I know it well and always feel at home there. 
Borth beach
People would often talk about an ancient submerged forest and how some of it was occasionally exposed in stormy winters and I can remember looking for it, but can't ever recall being sure I'd found it.  Yes, there were always bits of peat and pieces of wood, sculpted and worn smooth by the sea, but I can never remember seeing anything you could actually call a submerged forest
Not sure how old this is, looks as if the sea's been given a helping hand
at some point in its history
However, this year's ferocious storms played havoc with the beaches in Cardigan Bay, removing thousands of tons of sand and stripping away layers of peat to reveal the 4500-6000 year old forest of oak, alder, yew and birch trees.
Ancient gnarled roots now abound
This ancient forest once stretched for miles out to sea from the boggy land between Borth and Ynyslas, before rising sea levels eventually buried it under peat, sand and saltwater.
Beautiful patterns and colours emerging from the sand 
Legend has it that the skeletal trees could be part of the lost kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod (the Lowland Hundred), which was supposedly a Welsh Atlantis drowned beneath the waves out in Cardigan Bay between Ramsey and Bardsey Islands. 
Archeologists working on the forests uncovered an old timber walkway, dated between 3100 and 4000 years old, presumably built to help people to cope with an increasingly waterlogged environment. Sadly our walk was curtailed by the incoming tide splashing over the tops of our wellies well before we got as far as the walkway.
The trapped stones in the contorted wood make wonderful sculptures
A couple of years ago human and animal remains were found preserved in the hardened top layer of peat, together with burnt stones from ancient hearths.
I can only stand and marvel at the resilience and strength
in the natural world
Can't help thinking what a privilege it is to be able to walk amongst the trees and ancient stones here, just as good if not better than any museum, prehistory generously offering its secrets for free.
The colours of the wet stones were luminous even in the dull grey light of a rainy day. Our intention was to see the forest, so we checked beforehand when low tide was. We arrived bang on time, and not a moment too soon...
This stump is already engulfed by the rising tide
... as before long the tide had turned, starting to cover the forest again.

Before our wet and windy walk, my expectations were very low and I certainly didn't feel very excited when I saw the first small stumps in the shingle which could have been just old groynes. However, as we walked along into the fierce wind that always seems to be blowing on Borth beach, I had the feeling we were walking back in time and left feeling amazingly fortunate to be given a glimpse of this incredible piece of prehistory.

2 comments:

  1. Jean, your text and photographs in this post are remarkable. They do combine to give the rest of us a fine idea of what it was to take that shoreline walk back into time.

    How interesting to actually see those ancient trees and to ponder all that has passed over their roots. The trees are very, very beautiful.

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience with your readers. This is a perfect example of how wonderful blogging can be. xo

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  2. Thank you Frances. I'm delighted if I've managed to convey a little of the power and beauty of this impressive natural phenomenon. And I totally agree with you when you say 'to ponder all that has passed over their roots', - just mind-boggling and it certainly puts our own place in time into perspective. Always good to hear from you x

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