Have Bag, Will Travel
- 1,078,685 hits
Search my Site
Tag Archives: 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.
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 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. They have been miraculously well preserved due to the conditions in the bog which are deprived of oxygen and 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.
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 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.
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 pounds 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.
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.
The morning weather was wonderful, blue sky decorated with billowing clouds like white linen sheets, fresh from the laundry drying in the breeze so we hurried our breakfast and then set off in the direction once more of nearby Aberystwyth.
I drove carefully because last time I was here five years ago I was landed with a grossly unfair speeding ticket and today I found the sneaky camera that got me and I at last understood how I missed it!
We didn’t stop at Aberystwyth but drove straight through along the Vale of Rheidol alongside the narrow gauge railway line until we reached the station at the top at Devil’s Bridge.
Railways in Britain are a national obsession. When the Victorians weren’t building piers they were building railways. And by the time that they were nationalised in 1948 there were simply too many of them to be economical. So in the 1960’s, based on a document called the ‘Beeching Report’, the Government set about a reform programme which resulted in thousands of miles of track being dismantled and hundreds of stations being closed.
Railway enthusiasts everywhere went into collective shock but quickly rallied and almost immediately started organising themselves into preservation societies and very soon they were relaying railway lines almost as quickly as British Rail contractors were tearing them up. Now, every weekend these devotees of track and steam gather together to stoke boilers, grease points and polish name plates and to run engines on restored lines or on narrow gauge railways all over the country. It is almost like an act of shared defiance against the policies of the national government.
The Devil’s Bridge is at a dramatic point in the landscape where the River Mynach tumbles ninety boiling metres in five steps down a steep and narrow ravine before it meets the River Rheidol and is unusual in that there are three separate bridges each one built over the previous as though one by one they have slipped into the gorge.
The most recent is an iron bridge (1901), which was built over a stone bridge (1753), which was built when the original bridge was declared to be unstable.
According to the legend the original bridge was built by the Devil, as it was too difficult for mere mortals to achieve this feat of engineering. Probably because of the weather the Devil had never been to Wales before but sometime around the eleventh century he dropped by. As he wandered about admiring the scenery (no one has satisfactorily explained why he didn’t go somewhere even more scenic, such as Snowdonia for example) he came across an old lady who seemed rather upset.
”What’s the matter?” he asked (or possibly roared).
“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do! My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back”.
“Ah!” said the Devil “What you need my dear, is a bridge, and I am just the man to build you one. Why don’t you go home, and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge!”
“Very Well then” she said “It’s a bargain. I’ll see you in the morning. Nos da, Goodnight”
That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. ‘What a strange request! Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you it is very tempting offer”
The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. “Well well” she couldn’t believe her eyes. In front of her was the best bridge that she had ever seen!
“I told you that I would build you a bridge” said the Devil. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain”.
“I know, you get to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge” and she started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got to the entrance, she stopped, took out a bone from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge. As quick as a flash and before the Devil could stop it, the dog chased after it.
“Aaaaaaagh!!!!!” screeched the Devil. “You stupid old woman, I don’t believe it! Your smelly, hairy farm dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. It’s no good to me” he screamed and then he vanished and I can understand that because I am not what you call a dog lover myself. After this the Devil was never seen in Wales again – some say it was because he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady but I suspect that it more likely had something to do with the weather!
Actually, it turns out that Satan is quite a prolific bridge builder and Wikipedia lists at least a hundred Devil’s Bridges, mostly in Europe.
The gorge and the waterfalls are probably best described by a previous visitor, the poet, William Wordsworth:
How, art thou named? In search of what strange land
From what huge height, descending? Can such force
Of waters issue from a British source,
Or hath not Pindus fed thee, where the band
Of Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand
Desperate as thine? Or come the incessant shocks
From that young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks
Of Viamala? There I seem to stand,
As in life’s morn; permitted to behold,
From the dread chasm, woods climbing above woods,
In pomp that fades not; everlasting snows;
And skies that ne’er relinquish their repose;
Such power possess the fitmily of floods
Over the minds of Poets, young or old!
We stayed a while at the station and watched the stream train arrive and then we returned to Aberystwyth for lunch and had seaside fish and chips and sat in the sun on the promenade to eat them.
Delighted with the results of my early morning sleuthing I returned to the caravan where my pal was ready for the planned trip to nearby Aberystwyth.
The journey took only half an hour or so and I drove first to the car park of the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway and my plan was to take the one hour steam train ride up the mountain to Devil’s Bridge at the top. At the station booking office however all enthusiasm was washed away as though by a tsunami when we horrified to discover that the return fare was just short of £20. I can travel a thousand miles on Ryanair for £20. I would rather swim with sharks, wrestle alligators or jump out of a plane without a parachute than pay £20 to go on a steam train ride.
I had been on this train ride before so it wasn’t a really big issue for me so we left the railway station and drove towards the harbour where we parked the car and strolled along a concrete jetty which gave fine views of the elegant town and lush countryside beyond.
It was rather cloudy and there was a keen wind so we didn’t stay long and instead drove into the town and the Promenade and Constitution Hill where there was some late morning parking difficulties to overcome.
I am not very keen on paying for car parking either so we drove around for a while in a futile attempt to find a free parking space but eventually had to concede defeat and pull into a pay and display Council car park and begrudgingly pay the £2 charge.
We were now at the lower station terminus of the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, which at one hundred and twenty years old is the longest funicular railway in England and Wales. Not Scotland however because they built an even longer one in 2001.
A return trip on the Cliff Railway was a lot cheaper than the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway so we didn’t grumble when we paid the modest charge, took the best spot in the carriage to give us views over Aberystwyth and then waited for the ascent to begin and within just a few minutes we were at the top and enjoying the panorama set out below us.
Aberystwyth is a fine looking town from above. The town is situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol and is built into the folds and undulations of the hills and valleys that surround it and the really good thing is that the Promenade and sea front cannot really be extended and spoiled because the geographical limitations north and south prevent any further development.
I visited Aberystwyth with my parents in 1966 and I recall that I didn’t like it very much (don’t ask me why, I don’t remember), I applied for a University place here in 1972 and they turned me down and I resented that and in 2011 I drove through and was caught on a sneaky Powys Police speed camera and I raged about that but I liked it today as I looked out over the attractive town nestled gently into the topography of the natural landscape just as a protective mother might hold a child in her arms.
Half an hour or so at the top of the funicular was long enough so before we blew up with excitement we took the train back to the seafront, picked up the car and drove to the Promenade for a fish and chip lunch. Actually, after a large breakfast I wasn’t especially hungry so I strolled for a while along the seafront back towards the harbour and past the ruins of the castle and the original University buildings, now fallen into shameful disrepair.
We were done with Aberystwyth so we drove back to the caravan park at Borth and prepared for a home cooked meal of chicken stuffed with goat’s cheese wrapped in Parma ham (a speciality of mine) and an evening of important football on the television because tonight Wales were playing Russia in the European Championships.
We made different predictions and gripped in a wrestling hold of extreme pessimism my companion was certain that they would lose but I was a lot more confident of success and after Wales had won the match 3-0 I went for a final walk to the beach while he calmed himself down and rediscovered his composure.
There was a bit of a sunset but nothing to get carried away by so once the last strip of red sky had finally been extinguished and I was confident nothing more dramatic was going to happen I returned to the camp but instead of going directly back to the caravan I went to the clubhouse bar where there was entertainment and singing and dancing.
I enjoyed it, it was good fun and as later as I made my way back to the accommodation I looked up into a moonlit sky and thought that maybe I could finally get the hang of this caravan holiday business!
I always say that I will never go to Wales ever again. It always rains in Wales. I always say that I will never go to Wales ever again.
In 1975 I went to University in Wales and over a period of three years spent 90% of my student grant on raincoats, wellington boots and umbrellas.
In 1986 I went to Wales for a holiday to the Hoseason’s Holiday Village in Carnarvon in North Wales and it was so cold and so wet that we gave up on the fourth day, abandoned the holiday and drove all the way back home. I said that I would never go to Wales ever again.
After staying away for a quarter of a century I went to Wales in 2011 and it rained (and I got a disputed speeding ticket in Aberystwyth). I said that I wouldn’t go ever again. In 2015 I went again and it rained and I said that I would never go again.
In March this year a good friend phoned me and invited me to go to Wales with him for a week in a caravan in Wales and I agreed. I had clearly forgotten about the rain.
I might not have agreed to go except for the fact that this was at the mid-Wales beach resort of Borth and I remembered going there on a family holiday when I was about ten years old and even though I knew that it was almost certain that it would rain I was interested in returning and the prospect of seeing what it looked like fifty years or so later!
My pal was already in Wales, he had spent the weekend there with another friend and the plan was to meet him in Llandudno on the north coast where we would exchange him like a secret agent on the Bridge of Spies so on the appointed day I set off from my home town of Grimsby and drove through drizzle towards the almost certain prospect of rain in Wales. If I was a betting man I would have gone to ‘Betfreds’ and put a £ on it!
It was a truly horrendous journey. It rained continuously. It rained relentlessly. Over the Pennines creeping clouds dragged drizzle like a plough over the morose moors. Even the soggy sheep were looking for shelter. On the motorways around murky Manchester visibility was about two inches, possibly less. Progress was slow. Then something strange happened and around about Liverpool I left the black clouds behind and by the time I got to Chester the sun was beginning to show its face.
This sort of meteorological phenomenon occurs only about once in a thousand years because normally you drive to Wales in good weather and it rains when you get there, never the other way around.
This was not what I was expecting at all and my spirits soared as I drove to the place of appointed exchange and took possession of my travelling companion and his luggage in a McDonalds car park, an appropriately shifty sort of place to do business.
My travelling companion lives close by to me in Grimsby which is just about as far away from Wales that it is possible to get in the United Kingdom but he remains a true Dragon fire breathing patriot and on the drive south to our caravan accommodation he was keen to take me to the village of Llanystumdwy near Criccieth because there is the grave of the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
He grew up here as a young boy and this is where he chose to be laid to rest. A magnificent spot in a shady glen and overlooking an excitable river with wild water tumbling down over rocks from the soggy mountains inland. A great boulder marks his grave but there is no inscription. A monument designed by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis surrounds the grave and there is a simple plaque to inform visitors who may not realise who is buried here.
David Lloyd George is the only Welsh man to ever hold the office of Prime Minister, but wait, hold on a minute, although he had Welsh parents he was actually born in Manchester which must surely make him part English? 50% English I would say. This is like the Wales football team at the European Championships. They did ever so well but a third of the squad were born in England including the three goal scorers in their famous victory over Belgium. That is why that despite the fact that in Wales (including the 30% English squad) they shamefully cheer when England lose we (the English) by contrast always celebrate a Wales victory!
We left and drove around the west of Snowdonia and Cader Idris and then through the towns of Dolgellau and Machynlleth, where we stopped for groceries and then continued directly to Borth which I was pleased to see hadn’t really changed a great deal at all in the last fifty years since I had been there.
It is not an especially exciting place it has to be said. Tripadvisor lists only lists only six things to do, a list which includes the RNLI lifeboat depot the railway station waiting room, the golf course restaurant and an unlikely zoo.
We checked in, found our caravan accommodation, moved in and settled down for the evening, later I walked to the beach to enjoy the unexpected but most welcome end of day sunshine.