Wales – The Submerged Forest of Prehistoric Borth

Sunken Forest Borth Wales

After fish and chip lunch at Aberystwyth we returned early to Borth because we knew that this was the right time for low tide and we wanted to see the submerged Bronze Age forest which, thanks to the restlessness of the sea, can only be seen once a day.

There is something primeval and bleak about Borth.  Something essentially Welsh. Fishermen’s cottages alongside Victorian grand houses. None of them used now for their original purpose.  A barren, soulless ribbon of houses and small shops, a community built at the side of a road along a storm beach overlooking a vast bay punctuated by decaying wooden groynes and lapped in Summer by an endless sequence of lazy rollers but in Winter lashed by frantic Atlantic storms.

Sunken Forest Borth Wales

The submerged forest is a prehistoric woodland, an eerie landscape of preserved trunks of hundreds of oak, pine, alder and beech trees that died more than four and a half thousand years ago and which has been revealed by the recent ferocious storms of 2010 which stripped thousands of tons of sand from beaches in Cardigan Bay.

The shin-high stumps were once part of a forest that before rising sea levels stretched for many miles on boggy land between Borth and Ynyslas and covered the whole area before it turned into a peat bog and was eventually overwhelmed by sand and seawater and they have been miraculously well preserved due to the conditions in the bog which are deprived of oxygen and usually have a high alkaline level.

Lucky probably because if people had found these two hundred years ago they would no doubt have chopped them up and burnt them on a fire.

Sunken Forest

This was absolutely wonderful, we walking in a place where our ancestors lived thousands of years ago and here’s a thought,  it doesn’t even make the Tripadvsor list of top things to do in Borth.  Sad that it cannot get an entry on a list which includes the RNLI lifeboat depot and the railway station waiting room.

Things have to be very special to get into my top ten life/travel experiences and this one immediately elbowed  its way in because I considered it a privilege to be able to walk in this ancient primeval forest which is estimated to extend twenty miles out into Cardigan Bay and which some naturalists speculate that it covered an area of land from Anglesea to Cornwall.  What a true sense of history an experience such as this provides.

Actually, my top ten now has about a hundred entries and is bulging at the seams.

Somewhere amongst the stumps (we didn’t see this) archaeologists found a timber walkway made from short lengths of coppiced branches, held in place with upright posts.  It has been dated to between three and four thousand  years old, built as the local people found ways to cope with living in an increasingly waterlogged environment.  Two years ago human and animal footprints were found preserved in the hardened top layer of peat, along with scatterings of burnt stones from ancient hearths and at about the same time some beach walkers discovered a set of four thousand year old red deer antlers, four feet wide!

The skeletal trees, twisted roots and black stumps are said to have given rise to the local legend of a lost kingdom, Cantre’r Gwaelod, drowned beneath the waves.  The Welsh Atlantis.  Also known as the Lowland Hundred, the kingdom was first mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely in Welsh from around the year 1250. In folk-law the kingdom was believed to have been flooded when a forgetful or distracted maiden named Mererid allowed a well in her care to overflow but we know now of course that it was as a result of the end of the last great Ice Age when sea levels rose and consumed the land.

Beach Groynes Grimsby

It may have been exposed because of changes to the sea defences.  When I came on holiday to Borth fifty years ago there were timber groynes extending out to sea but due to the cost of maintenance these have long since been abandoned and allowed to rot away into the sea.  With no defence against the power of the waves the 2010 storms did extensive damage all along this coast.

“In time, the protection afforded to Borth by the shingle bank will disappear, leading to a general collapse of the bank itself, resulting in major economic losses to residential properties, businesses and the tourist industry, as well as the disruption to, if not the loss of the village and transport infrastructure as it currently exists, and as a result, the local community.” – Ceredigion County Council

As a consequence new replacement stone defences have been installed at a cost of seven million ponds and a local archaeologist, sensing our interest, told us that they were now waiting to see if the forest will soon disappear again for another four thousand years.

Borth old groyne stump

It was our final evening in Borth, I prepared evening meal (chicken cooked in red wine and vegetables with Pembrokeshire potatoes) and then I made a last visit to the seafront where I was rewarded with a second magnificent sunset.  So magnificent that I began to question why I insist in travelling to the Greek Islands to see something that is equally as good here in Wales.

It was the day of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom so after a final visit to the camp club house and half an hour of average cabaret I returned to the caravan to watch the television.

I didn’t expect to stay up for very long but soon it became clear that there was going to be an unexpected leave vote so I stayed up into the small hours to watch the drama unfold.  Earlier today on the beach I had experienced ancient history and tonight I was watching modern history being made and I was a part of the moment.

The following morning we planned to leave early but we were so absorbed by the result of the referendum vote we stayed longer than planned and then as we left it started to rain so with only a brief stop for breakfast at Aberystwyth we drove straight home to Grimsby without stopping.

I had enjoyed my week, before we arrived I didn’t expect to I have to say but it was good fun to go back to a place of childhood holidays and I have to confess that my pal, Dai was absolutely right when he predicted that after this I would be a fan forever of caravan holidays.

Wales Borth Sunset

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31 responses to “Wales – The Submerged Forest of Prehistoric Borth

  1. Seeing that petrified woodland must have given you shivers up the spine!

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  2. That forest is amazing. I didn’t know about it but if it was only revealed six years ago, I suppose I wouldn’t. Do you always cook chicken? Does Dai cook?

    Your comments about Wales remind me of our Islands (Western Isles) holiday which was one of the best I’ve had. Fabulous scenery, history, and glorious weather. Beaches to die for.

    I grew up holidaying in a caravan, parked in a field next to the pub. I slept on one of the sofas. We had a cooker and a heater, so I didn’t find anything wrong with it. We used the pub toilet though which was a hop and a skip down the field in some outhouse or other.

    I watched the referendum votes come in too. Gib first, then Newcastle from memory. Both in returns. And then Sunderland voted out. I’ve never liked Sunderland, it’s a miserable depressed place which may well explain the vote. I liked Sunderland that night though. I began to have the faintest glimmer of hope. And then as more results came in Leave seemed to be holding it’s slight lead and I was amazed. As no doubt was Cameron.

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    • If that forest doesn’t get submerged again soon then my guess is that it will be gone forever. I assume there is more of it further out to sea however.
      Chicken is so versatile and difficult to get wrong I find – a safe bet. Dai doesn’t cook which is probably just as well. I like to be in control of the kitchen and especially the cleaning!
      When that Sunderland result came through I sensed something historic, so stayed up until about 3 and then got up again at 6 just as BBC were predicting the leave victory.

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  3. Years ago we went to Holme in north Norfolk to see the oak tree that had been unearthed. It had been inserted upside down into the ground by the inhabitants so that they could put their relatives’ corpses on it for the birds and animals to eat, thereby ensuring a rapid start to reincarnation. That wonderful object was soon sawn up and taken away by some government body so enjoy the Forest of Borth while you can.

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  4. this is so incredibly cool

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  5. Lovely blog: descriptive with great photos. Loved it. Very interesting.

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  6. Four and 1/2 thousand years. I can’t even think of it – especially the evidence of a pathway. Amazing. Nice tale 🙂

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    • When I went to University to study history some people asked me why? What was the point? Well, things like this are the point, every so often some thing shows up which rewrites the past or adds to our knowledge. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Andrew this is so remarkable! Add that one to my list of must sees as well. A hundred and bursting at the seams. Yes always seems to be the case no matter how much we travel there is that much more ahead.

    Also on another point sincere thanks about letting me know about my posts not showing up in WordPress Reader. I investigated a bit further and I do have a technical issue happening on my end. The delay often is normal, but for the past bit they actually haven’t been showing up at all in Reader. I appreciate you looking out for me!

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  8. Love the look and sound of this – never heard of it before but it has leaped onto my list. I’ll probably give the railway station waiting room a miss.

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  9. This reminds me of the time we paddled the kayaks in an amazingly clear lake. It was extremely spooky to look down into the depths and see the remains of an ancient forest that had drowned and was now petrified in the mountain cool water. A better description from Wikipedia: Submerged 100 feet (30 m) deep in the lake is a stand of upright trees that were killed approximately 3,000 years ago when volcanic activity created the lake. The trees are remarkably preserved due to the cold year-round water temperatures of between 35–43 °F

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  10. An extraordinary thing, Andrew! 🙂 We’ve had new sea defenses put in too so I won’t go tumbling off the prom any time soon.

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  11. I love your writing, Andrew. I was reading another blogging friend of mine today who had just visited the Bristle Cone pine tree forest in the White Mountains of California, somewhere I have wandered through several times myself. The trees are among the oldest living things in the world, with some over 4500 years. They could share some interesting stories with you ghost forest. –Curt

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    • Thanks Curt, I appreciate that.
      One of the things that I especially like about this blogging world is that I learn something new every day. I never knew until now about the Bristle Cone Pine Trees and it made me look for information. The oldest tree in UK is a Yew tree in a churchyard somewhere in Scotland, maybe 3,000 years old!
      Oldest living tree that I have ever been to see is the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, a thousand years old and said to be the hideout of Robin Hood.

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      • I live close to the coastal redwoods of Northern California and Southern Oregon, Andrew: old and very big. Visiting is like going in the greatest cathedral ever built.
        As a kid, I loved Robin Hood and the thought of Sherwood Forest. My fantasies bounced between Robin Hood, Tarzan, and the gunfighters of Zane Grey. –Curt

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      • That is a wonderful description Curt!
        I always liked Robin Hood stories but my absolute favourite was always Zorro especially the 1940 film with Tyrone Power. By coincidence (you will know this of course) the evil protagonist swordsman in both films was the Shakespearean actor Basil Rathbone.

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      • I haven’t seen the Tyrone Power version, Andrew. At least that I remember. I’ll have to check it out. –Curt

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  12. That is an extraordinary landscape. One more reason to go to Wales? ☺

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