Woodgrain on Old Church Cliff Breakwaters

Curvilinear woodgrain patterns in old wooden breakwaters

The amazing thing about the weathered timbers in the old breakwater constructions at Church Cliff in Lyme Regis was the woodgrain. Sinuous curves of ridges and grooves in the water-etched wood seemed to mimic the waves themselves, sometimes gentle, and sometimes with crashing surf. Tiny pale barnacles living in the grooves resembled sunny day sparkle spots on the waves, and were keeping company with small marine snails and black lichen taking advantage of the relative security offered by the wooden hollows.

Old Sea Defences at Church Cliff Part 1

Rusting ironwork on a wooden breakwater

These pictures were taken in 2010. None of them are edited or altered. They show details from breakwaters at Church Cliff in Lyme Regis, Dorset, that jutted out at right angles to the old sea wall. In combination, the structures were designed as coastal defences to protect the base of the soft crumbling cliffs from erosion by the sea. It was clear that the breakwaters, or groynes, had seen better days and were in need of repair. The iron that was supporting and holding the timbers together was very rusty. A lot of the woodwork was missing. In fact, they were very dilapidated but full of interesting colours and textures. The images in this post focus mainly on the corroding ironwork and include context shots to set the scene. Much has changed since these photographs were taken.

Knotted Wood

Maybe it was something to do with the way that the planks were drying out, or something to do with the type of timber that had been used, but the cracked knot holes were really distinct in both shape and colour on this wooden pier, and looked like some crazy kind of deliberate decoration.

Whitstable Woodgrain

Whitstable Woodgrain 1 – 9: Rust-stained woodgrain in old railway sleepers recycled as fencing at Whitstable Harbour, Kent, England.

Information boards in the harbour area at Whitstable say that in the late 1820’s a company was set up to build a railway line linking Canterbury and Whitstable and to construct a new harbour there. The railway opened in 1830 and was the first to carry passengers in trains drawn by steam power. At that time, on the hilly sections of the route, the trains were pulled on ropes reeled in by stationary steam-driven winding machines. Stephenson’s Invicta locomotive hauled trains along the flatter section of the line near Whitstable. Because of its seaside connections the railway was popularly known as the Crab and Winkle Line. The harbour was built two years later in 1832.

Eventually trade declined in the harbour and the railway closed in 1952. It is interesting to speculate whether the old timbers shown in these photographs with all their wear, rust stains, and drilled holes are the actual wooden sleepers from that old Crab and Winkle Line.

Ancient Wood in Peat

Close-up of the intricate pattern of woodgrain in ancient wood preserved by peat.

Some of the ancient wood that has long been buried in peat and clay deposited after the last ice age has wonderful textures and woodgrain patterns. Whole recumbent tree trunks have been emerging from the peat as a result of recent beach erosion at Whiteford on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. This wood is not fossilised but is preserved in its original state by the anaerobic conditions in which it was buried – in the same way that the bodies of the so-called Bog People were preserved.

Groynes on Rosslare Strand

On Rosslare Strand in Ireland, a series of groynes transects the beach to prevent loss of sediments from the shore. Most of these sea defence groynes are constructed as a row of wooden posts embedded deep in the sand. Over time, the posts have been weathered and whittled down to varying degrees, dependent on their position and exposure to wave action. Some rows still stand knee-high, festooned with seaweed and fishing lines, but others have been worn down to mere stumps. The eroding posts reveal intricate wood-grain patterns, and have sometimes become narrow and tapered with wear, thus opening up gaps in the line that become traps for wave-driven pebbles.