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DSCF7928-001My annual ‘blow away the cobwebs’ retreat takes me to the Gower Peninsula in South Wales for a couple of days. A chance to walk the cliffs and waters edge and see what the the winter has thrown onto the shore.

DSCF7916Not just about the coastline, though you are never far from it, Gower is criss-crossed by old ways running between little fields, ruined castles and standing stones on open moorland. As the sun rises higher through March it starts to creep into sunken paths it’s not seen since last Autumn. The wild garlic starts to grow, soon you’ll smell it.

DSCF7991I like to be there before it becomes crowded as it will be in the height of the summer. In March I have the beaches almost to myself – except for Oystercatchers, Gulls and the odd Shag in the water. ( In case you are not familiar with UK coastline I’d better point out that a Shag is a seabird very similar to a Cormorant. )

DSCF7963Then there are the cliffs. Scenery for which Gower is rightly famous. The stretch from Port Eynon to Rhossili is my favourite walk,  littered by headlands, narrow ledges, rocky inlets and caves – like  Goat’s Hole at Paviland – where the skeleton of the ‘Red Lady’ was discovered in the 19th century. Subsequently discovered to have been neither a lady nor red and 33,000 years old, you can easily leave the 21st Century behind as you walk towards the dragon like shape of the Worm’s Head at Rhossili.

 DSCF8045That’s helped by all the signs left from human habitation over centuries – drystone walls and limekilns lie mixed with the curved earth banks and ditches of prehistoric forts.

DSCF7947The mark of the 20th Century is not quite so well suited to the landscape. Unlike the drystone walls, limekilns, earth banks and ‘red ladies’  the mountains of plastic on the shore are not made from local materials and don’t blend into the landscape over the decades. Bio-degrading is a misnomer – they simply breakup into millions of small bits and pieces which are even harder to clean up and once small enough can enter the food chain. Somebody got here before me!  What used to be beachcombing has become beach-cleaning and every spring teams of volunteers work hard to remove as much as possible – good work! But it would be so much easier if we didn’t make and throw away so much unnecessary plastic in the first place.

DSCF8086Amonths of endless gales I managed to catch a couple of calmer spring days and as I write this blog I can hear the birds singing outside. Amazing how quickly you start to forget the wind, rain and floods once the sun comes out. The stonechat likes to sit right on top of the gorse scrub and ‘chat’ as I walk along – a very welcome reminder that Spring is on the way.

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Blowing the cobwebs away

I’ve had a quiet few days. I find walking along the coast helps to blow away the cobwebs in my mind and recharge my batteries ready for the coming season of polelathe turning, greenwood working and these days also plenty of mowing with a scythe. The Gower Peninsula just beyond Swansea in South Wales has plenty of good walking  and nowhere more spectacular than the section between Port Eynon and Rhossili where the folds in the rock beds have produced amazing shapes in the cliffs interspersed with long sandy beaches.

As well as the cliff top walks for the more adventurous there are also tracks around the bottom of the cliffs which on a good day are stunning. This series of rocky headlands stretches towards the cave at Paviland, known for the discovery of the remains of the  ‘Red Lady’ but which turned out to be a 33,000 year old fossilised skeleton of young man. Not red and not a lady, but the name has stuck fast and it’s still one of the oldest skeletons to be found in western europe which does show just how long people have been walking on these cliffs to blow away the cobwebs.

Some of the less tracks do go right to the edge and in places right off the edge as erosion gradually changes the shape of the coastline.

It’s all limestone cliffs here.

and even on the edge of the cliffs, sometime over the edge of the cliffs there are the remains of old industries, here lime kilns used to bake the limestone and produce quicklime.

These days the industry has all gone and aside from farm works picking cauliflowers in the fields and the ever present seabirds the sheep are likely to be your only companions on a quiet weekday.

Well refreshed from my walking it’s time to get busy with plenty of greenwood working and the odd landrover to repair as usual.

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I’ve been away on my annual beachcombing retreat on the Gower Peninsula. Not much in the way of internet connection, which may be a good thing, but it’s one excuse for not being able to post recently. Another is that at this time of year many of the tasks are not terribly photogenic – there are only so many photos of firewood, logs and birch trees that I can post. As soon as I am back and sorted out I will start to catch up on some posts that I really should have written before now. Yes, that’s a threat and not a promise!

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Odd title if you’re too young (or old) to remember the Stranglers song “Peaches”, but the walk from Oxwich to Port Eynon along the Gower coastline is great for “Strolling along, minding your own business” and of course it’s a beachcombers paradise. But on this walk it’s low tide and there is little if any ‘wreck’ for the beachcomber to salvage so come with me, if you care, on a tour of the natural flotsam.

At high tide it’s a mass of jagged rocks which makes it a rock hopping adventure from one end to the other and you never quite know what will be around the next corner.

As the tide recedes it uncovers a host of rock pools. Other than the high tideline, always the most fascinating part of a beach for me.

Then there are the wide expanses of sandy beach which appear at low tide. This is Slade beach, normally a favourite with surfers, and of which there is no sign at high tide.

Today’s tide is 10 metres, thats around 33 feet from high to low. The Bristol Channel has one of the highest tidal ranges and as it’s around the autumn equinox it’s one of the highest spring tides to boot. Though why the low tide is still 3.7m above mean sea level according to the tide table is something I can’t quite work out?Perhaps someone can explain this quirk to me?

The good news is that the beach is extremely clean, bereft of the usual host of bottles, broken containers and odds and sods, much of which has actually been carelessly thrown away by rivers, estuaries and beaches rather than being actual flotsam or jetsam lost overboard from ships. The bad news is of course, that the beach is extremely clean so on this occasion there was little for me to scavange  though there is still plenty of natural flotsam and jetsam to examine. Even seaweed has its uses, particularly as a fertiliser, as finings in your beer (yes really!) and even in your icecream.

With the help of the Shell Book of Beachcombing (every good wrecker should have a copy, available on a forgotten shelf of your local secondhand book emporium) by Tony Soper (remember him ? You will need to remember back as far as the Stranglers for this) you should be able to find plenty to keep you distracted even without the rubbish on the tideline.

The picture on the cover of the book was probably taken in the Scilly Isles in the 1970’s and staged as well. Noticeable how the wooden crates, metal and glass containers have all been replaced with plastic today which unfortunately lasts much longer without being naturally recycled. A low tide line is always much sparser and Todays walk across the beach at Port Eynon yielded almost no plastic for a rare change with fresh cuttlefish bones alongside tiny sea shells on a perfect backdrop of golden sand. Just right to take off your boots and have a natural foot massage as you stroll along.

But watch out for the jellyfish. They can range in size from a large coin, this one was only a few inches across, upto giants a couple of feet in diameter.

This one is a little weird, and I’m not sure that we recognised it. Perhaps someone can help us out with a name?

And there is always the odd crab to nip your feet if you’re not looking where you are going.

I have a feeling, which may prove to be entirely unfounded, that there is more erosion on this beach than there used to be a couple of decades ago. Sand has gone uncovering rocks, and recently a petrified forest which in turn has been quickly eroded and vanished. Perhaps this is an entirely natural cycle, but you can’t help thinking that the massive sand dredging operations taking millions of tonnes from the banks just offshore are something to do with it. Ironic that I am told much of it ends up in concrete on the Dutch coast helping to keep the sea at bay, whilst nearer to home the sand is vanishing from the beaches.

All to quickly the sea returns and covers the sand with a fresh tide so the return trip is made along the coastpath rather than along the rockpools and sand of the beach. But Who knows what the new tide will bring? It’s this addiction to looking that has made me a beachcomber from a very early age. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will bring more Treasure!


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For those who are unacquainted with it, the Gower Peninsula is a little world of its own jutting out into the Bristol Channel from the South Wales coastline. With it’s sun (and rain) drenched sandy beaches and it’s rocky headlands it’s a perfect place for beachcombing and birdwatching. Unfortunately I was a little late for combing this wreck on the beach at Whiteford Burrows. The sands are shifting every year as I don’t remember seeing this even earlier this spring.

 

At the end of the point the wind pushes the dunes into eerie shapes which could be a world away from South Wales, expecially with the old iron lighthouse in the channel…..

 

…..and then there are the waders. Great flocks of Oyster Catchers on the beach today with their unearthly whistles and shrieks.

But all was not lost, on the beach towards Three Cliffs Bay I spotted a fish crate in good condition and I have use for it already – more of this later.  We will be in the Gower for a few more days, so posts will be a little sporadic depending upon the links from this world to the real one – or is that the other way around – and the time I spend on the shore beachcombing?

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I can’t resist a few photos from my recent walks on the coast of the Gower Peninsula. It’s a spring cleaning of the mind as the wind and sun blow away the dark of the old winter to make way for the coming season.

These waders are Oyster Catchers and a fixture on the long sandy beach of Oxwich Bay with the rocky headlands of Three Cliffs and Oxwich Point at either end. They are often to be found having a quick snooze on one leg with their head tucked tucked in at the water’s edge.

The walk from Oxwich through to Worms Head is a succession of rocky headlands and small coves. A prehistoric landscape with the remains of old banks, ditches and forts on the tops of almost every point. This is the view from Paviland (above the famous cave) towards Worms head, the serpent like headland in the distance. I had lunch watching the fulmars flying over the cliffs but they were too far away and too quick to photograph well.

Beachcombing is in my blood. I have to check the tideline to see what has arrived. It’s a personal cargo cult! Not much rope this year.  But a stunning reminder of just how wasteful and profligate our society has become, the tide of plastic consumer packaging just thrown into the sea always amazes me.

I know that industry tells us that it’s more environmental to produce these plastic bottles than to wash glass ones – but they do tend to ignore what people do with them. We don’t need this stuff, please, please, please bring back reuseable glass bottles with a return on them. I could be rich then!

Another harvest from the tideline, seaweed. I’m sure that everyone on the beach at Oxwich thought me mad. One person even asked me whether I was going to eat it? I said no, but the answer is probably yes, just not directly. Last year we used seaweed based organic fertiliser on the allotment and this year as I had room for a bag full we decided to cut out the middleman and try digging in some seaweed ourselves. It’s a practice that’s centuries old in the southwest.

 

The gorse flowers are vibrant at this time of year and they must be one of the few sources of nectar for the first bees and butterflies starting to venture out.

 

Behind the beach at Oxwich is a system of dunes and behind that a wide marsh full of fresh water lakes and reedbeds. This variety of habitats makes the national nature reserve as Oxwich rich in diversity.  A new hide has just been put in, it’s a lovely view and I have no doubt that it will be popular.

 

I’d like to say that I spotted this reed warbler but actually it was a very helpful man in the hide who pointed it out and identified it for me, leaving me just to take this photo.

Having back for a few days I’m now deeply immersed in the pile of tasks I hadn’t quite finished before I left so it’s back to normal service on the woody front now.

 

 

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Time for a quick photo tour of Gower. If you haven’t been there it’s a small peninsula on the south coast of Wales to the west of Swansea. Known as Gower rather than ‘The Gower’ it was the first area to be awarded AONB status in the UK and supports a very wide range of bio-diversity and habitats, though it long sandy beaches and surf waves are amongst it’s biggest attractions.  Once known as Little England beyond Swansea, Gower remained isolated from tourist development and the industrial developments to the east in South Wales. It is still Wales though so it does rain, but with more sunshine as well so you see a lot of rainbows here.

In the summer season the beaches are packed and tiny roads very busy so we like to come down out of season. When I am here I spend a lot of time walking the cliff paths and blowing away the cobwebs – a great way to wind down from, or to prepare for a busy summer greenwood season. I never know what I will find around the next corner, a pile of driftwood or useful items of flotsam and jetsam. It’s been a bit sparse this year, not much to report with the exception of a fine bottle crate that will take a dozen cider bottles.

Looking from the cliffs the everychanging sea and sky present great views looking over towards the Devon coast and I am a great fan of the silver seas.

Lundy Island, in the middle of the Bristol Channel, is visible on a very good day and visibility has been excellent for most of the week – which means you can see the rain coming.

 

We watched a kestrel hovering over the cliffs at Rhossili for what seemed like ages before it pounced on it prey.

 


Worms Head, at the end of Rhossili is one of the best known landmarks, cut off by the tide for much of the day, it can be reached at low tide by a long clamber over the rocks and earns it’s name as it resembles a giant sea serpent snaking out to sea.

Rhossili also boasts a two mile sandy beach with plenty of surf.

Behind Oxwich bay, which has another fabulous two mile stretch of sandy beach, is a network of sand dunes and salt marshes which supports endless numbers of birds of all types from Buzzards to waders and tiny pippits and martins. Always something to watch, here looking along towards Three Cliffs Bay.

 


Nice to see plenty of birch scrub growing here as well. The contrast of the brown regrowth from the stools with the silver maiden stems behind was particularly marked – I thought it might be brown or downy birch (Betula Pubescens) rather than Silver birch (Betula Pendula),but could find no sign of downy hairs on the twigs though I’ve heard that there are hybrids of the two. Although the young stems are always brown to start off, in my experience they start to show signs of turning silver before getting above twelve feet or so – but there are always exceptions to proove the rule.


We have seen plenty of rainbows this week. Back to normal (whatever that may be) next week.

 

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