In the early part of 2014, after the storms and the landslip at Rhossili, and after the sand was rearranged on the beaches of Gower, several people wrote to me to ask about the isolated wooden posts that were stuck in the sand at the south end of Rhossili beach. At the time I had no idea, and neither did the National Trust representative that I called, although people had apparently been speculating. It was not until I visited Rhossili in October later that year that I actually got to see what everyone was talking about. It was puzzling.
Visitors to Rhossili are accustomed to seeing shipwrecks protruding from the sand but this was definitely not the timbers of a ship. Low on the beach, sticking up from the sand were at least 26 wooden posts seemingly arranged at random. Each post had the same roughly circular cross-section measuring approximately 10 centimetres in diameter. The posts were widely but semi-regularly spaced apart at distances in the region of around 10 metres or less. Walking systematically around the site to gauge the relationship of one post to another, I discovered that some of the posts appeared to be line up in a row parallel to the water’s edge; others were lined up at right angle to that. Additionally, there were two places where the posts were arranged in a sub-rectangular fashion with a post in each corner – but still part of the linear sequence of posts.
It was difficult to discern from ground level what was going on – what sort of structure these posts might represent. Half way up the footpath to the village gave a better viewpoint of the wooden post feature. From up there, looking down on the low-tide beach, I could see that it was a vaguely T-shaped layout with two smaller enclosed but attached areas.
Back down on the sand, I tried to photograph each post, the general layout, and the position in relation to fixed surrounding features of the landscape. Most posts were covered with a white layer of encrusting acorn barnacles and green gutweed algae. An examination of individual posts made it clear that these were in fact man-made, each post was embedded deeply in the sand, all of the posts had been cut off parallel to the surface of the sand, they had been subject to varying degrees of natural wear and erosion on the cut surface, the height of each post also varied in relation to the sand dependent on the wear experienced, and also on the degree of scouring of sediment around the base. Exposed heights did not exceed 30 cm and were usually less.
Some of the posts had a hardened and rusty outer layer which made me wonder if at some stage the post had been clad with metal such as iron. Some posts seemed to have one or more iron rods driven down lengthwise through the post. At least one had a sharp irregular piece of iron embedded in the outer surface. This gave me my first clue as to the possible purpose of the structure. At a lower level of the beach, but quite near to the wooden posts, lies the rusting remains of what I assume to be a mine, a floating explosive device dating from the Second World War. Could the jagged metal piece in the post be shrapnel? I wonder if a possible explanation for the posts is that they were originally much taller and were used to suspend some kind of netting, maybe metal chain link or wire netting, to catch mines and prevent them from washing up and becoming stranded right up against the cliff, immediately below the village of Rhossili. It’s just an idea. Could the posts have been part of a coastal defence structure?
After the war, when the structure was no longer needed, the putative netting could have been taken down, and the posts cut level with the beach rather than being completely uplifted. The shifting sand on Rhossili beach buried the remains of the wooden posts where they have remained hidden until they were exposed by last winter’s storms – extreme weather events that created such a disturbance and rearrangement of sand and pebbles on Gower shores and elsewhere around the British coastline.
Is anyone else seriously investigating this feature? I have a lot more images documenting the wooden post feature which might be useful to a historian or archaeologist.