Mystery of the Wooden Posts on Rhossili Beach

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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.

 

18 Replies to “Mystery of the Wooden Posts on Rhossili Beach”

  1. Jessica, if they are from the war, might there be someone around with a memory of them? I’m sure there will be good archival information somewhere, if they are manmade. Intriguing stuff!

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  2. I am sure you are right, both local memories and documentation. However, the National Trust who actually own the site do not seem to know the origin of the posts nor do any of the local people I have spoken to. There may be some sort of military documentation but not readily accessible. If the structure dates back to the war, it’s purpose could possibly have not been public knowledge. There are the remains of a WW2 radar station out of sight high among the crags on Rhossili Down. I am hoping that an historian will get in touch and fill me in on the explanation for the posts as so far many people have puzzled over them without finding an answer.

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  3. How fascinating! I agree with your theory, which sounds very likely, as I cannot immediately see any other purpose for them. But it’s strange that no one remembers. Maybe there are no local people left in that area, to remember? I hope you get to the bottom of it! Great photos.

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  4. Barbed wire and bracken Unknown 1951
    by J. Mansel Thomas (Author) A play about the way the military closed off Rhossili during the war. Going back a long way, I think Mansel Thomas lived in Ty Dwr visible from the Middleton area. There’s another thing.Transport was by boat in the past. Coal would be offloaded at little piers around the coast. I wonder if this was one?

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  5. Thank you, dodgysurfer. A local has written to tell me that the wooden posts are not a mystery at all to those who know! Apparently they are part of structures built at the beginning of WW2 to stop German planes and gliders from landing on the beach but they were a monumental failure and collapsed after the first storms.

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  6. You would think that something so recent would have been remembered by someone or recorded somewhere, and I’m pleased you found the answers. Keep up with the interesting photos and writing!

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  7. Thank you for the information, Robert. I’ve just heard from another local that the wooden posts were in fact part of a structure erected in early WW2 to prevent German planes and gliders from landing on the beach. They were soon destroyed by storms and never fulfilled their purpose. I can’t help wondering what the structure would have looked like, and whether there were more of them along the beach.

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  8. Indeed! That poses many questions!
    Are they interested in your work? Strikes me that such an authoritative organisation that has a responsibility to its funders ought to embrace and record it.

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  9. I shouldn’t think they are interested specifically in anything I might do. With all the environmental management work they have to do, and no doubt with budget cuts and staff shortages, as with most public bodies these days. Also in mitigation, it is entirely possible with such a large organisation that I just spoke to the wrong person on the phone – that the information is there but not all the staff are aware of it.

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  10. How interesting, Jessica. I know we were expecting a Nazi invasion in Gower. The Loughor estuary was one possible landing area, I believe, and defences were put in place. I knew the chap who organised the local defence force. I was about to ask whether the posts belonged to an old Gower fish weir when the anti glider function was mentioned.

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