Nearing the end of my walk now from Hill End to Spaniard Rocks and back again. The damp sand for hours exposed to air revealed in the oblique light intricate traceries of trails where small invertebrates had travelled around unseen on the surface to hunt for food. The tide had turned and was fast washing the shore clean again. First the light particles of wood and coal dust floated away and gradually all the other organic debris and flotsam were removed in order of weight. Just a few items left to go. Incredibly, a soggy soft pink toy starfish found itself marooned with a real starfish. I photographed it exactly as I found it. The red mooring buoy seen high and dry earlier in the day was now licked by the waves, along with paired prickly cockle shells, living whelks, a dead dogfish, and a wellington boot.
The sun was bright and the sea was dark blue and scintillating. Rows of sand ripples reflected the blue sky like a natural abstract painting. Such a view of the sea and sand in Rhossili Bay is one of the most uplifting I know.
I reluctantly left the water’s edge to negotiate the makeshift bridge across Diles Lake once more. This time I photographed the unattractive brown periphyton attached to the underwater rocks as well as the beautiful sunlit surface ripple patterns of the flow. While it was time for me to leave, others were just arriving with surf boards, impatient to immerse in the iridescent sea – now that must be some high on such an afternoon. I can’t wait to go back.
Walking back from Spaniard Rocks now, I took a route closer to the dunes where the character of the shore is quite different from the wet sand and strandlines between high and low tide levels. Here there are pebbles. Rhossili’s pebbles intrigue me. I love scrambling over the banks of stones at the very top of the beach. The colours are lovely pastel shades with pinks and blues and overall reminding me of sugared almonds. A total delight. Many rock types are represented. Some have interesting patterns.
I like the way that the numbers of beach stones seem to increase or decrease depending on how they are pushed around the shore between one visit and the next, and how the sand changes its level and distribution throughout the year and the transition from season to season. This time the wooden ribs and keel of the shipwrecked ketch Anne were only just visible above the sand and pebbles. I like the way that pebbles are arranged partly buried in the damp sand that quickly dries to a different hue and texture. The pebbles underlie the tall sand dunes of the Llangennith Burrows. The dunes have been scooped out by stormy seas and footsteps in many places to demonstrate that even wind-blown sand is stratified; and marram grass roots exposed to air show how deep they penetrate the soft fine sediments to bind them together and stabilise the dunes.
The next stage of the walk from Hill End to Spaniard rocks saw an even greater reduction in the numbers of washed up starfish, and correspondingly greater concentrations of seashells in the strandlines, mostly empty shells of the bivalve Pharus legumen. The fine black detritus arranged itself in elaborate patterns mostly to do with the drainage of water back down the beach.
The sample of the fine dark particles that I took at the time, turns out to have a very interesting composition now I have had a chance to examine it under magnification back home. There is a fair proportion of small dark decaying wood fragments but most of the black material is composed of minute shiny hard particles of coal (what you might call coal dust). The coal is not difficult to account for since coal mining and its export from nearby docks was a major industry in the past. There are many ways the coal could have been accidentally deposited in the sea. Together with the coal dust there are various seeds that I am not able to identify and, most surprisingly of all, what seem to be myriads of delicate fish bones. In fact, so many small threadlike rib bones that the dried sample seemed to have a fibrous texture. Amazing.
As I walked further along the beach from Hill End to Spaniard Rocks, I realised that there were maybe four or five strandlines lying parallel to each other and to the water line. Each line of mainly organic debris was slightly different in its constituents. Similarly, there were changes in the make up and proportions of the animal and plant debris in the strandlines in a linear way as I walked from south to north along the shore. The starfish became less numerous and the numbers of bivalve molluscs and their shells increased,
Most noticeable was the way in which the darker particle component of the strandlines became separated out on the up-shore side of the lines, and formed patterns contrasting with the yellow sand on which it lay. Sometimes there were branching lines of clear spaces, like rivulets running through the black stuff. Sometimes, the black pieces followed and echoed the shallow ripple marks in the sand – either as parallel lines or cross-hatching designs full of beautiful natural abstract compositions. In other places, small obstacles such as seashells had formed little dams to impede the flow of lighter, darker, material as the water that carried it swashed and backwashed over the beach, and this had created distinctive patterns as the water flowed around the barriers.
I was curious about what made up the fine black material responsible for the patterns. I took some samples to look at under the microscope when I got home.
The sky became bluer and the vast expanse of low tide sand seemed superficially at least to be featureless – but peering into the distance, towards Burry Holms, there was an unexpected dark line. Viewed through the zoom, it turned out to be something interesting on which dozens of young gulls and a few crows were having a great feast.
During the early hours of the morning the sea had brought in a sad harvest of seashore creatures now lying dead or dying on a bed of broken plant stems and fragments of blackened driftwood. Most of the animals were common starfishes (Asterias rubens) but rayed trough shells (Mactra stultorum), the elongated Pharus legumen, common whelks (Buccinum undatum), and the occasional masked crab (Corystes cassivelaunus) were also present. What had caused this mass stranding event I do not know but it happens every now and again. I have photographed similar multiple deaths on this beach before.
You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format
Diles Lake is really a stream that drains the Llangennith marshes lying behind the dunes at Rhossili in Gower. The water is frequently dammed back to resemble a lake by banks of pebbles pushed upshore by strong tides – but the water always works its way through the pebbles and sand to flow across the beach, spreading out into myriads of shallow channels as it approaches the sea. Underwater, the many colours of the pebbles are clear to see, contrasting with the dry stones stacked to the side often showing a black coating caused by earlier burial at deeper anaerobic levels of the beach.
It can be quite tricky to cross the stream but on this occasion someone had conveniently made ‘stepping stones’ from an old pallet and driftwood. I noticed that the stream exiting the dunes had long trailing clumps of unpleasant-looking brown filamentous algae of a type resembling something more typical of polluted water – but I must have been mistaken because the water sampling point for Rhossili is nearby and it has only recently been declared of excellent bathing quality.
The heaped pebbles once over the stream had brightly coloured pieces of knotted rope from fishing activities and a scrunched up newspaper (perhaps it had held bait). My eye was also caught almost immediately by a much larger piece of vivid flotsam washed up and stranded at mid shore level. It was about 1 metre in diameter and hip high and made quite a sculptural addition to the beachscape. Faint embossed lettering provided the clue I needed to do an internet search and discover it was a wrecked rigid mooring buoy style MB350 made by the Norfloat company in Exeter.
You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format
This is the first part of a walk I took along the beach on April 7th, 2017. It shows the images in chronological order, step-by-step as I progressed along the shore. Starting at the Hill End car park on the tip of the Gower Peninsula, I took the short path through the dunes to Rhossili beach and turned right (north) towards the Spaniard Rocks which lie near the tidal island of Burry Holms. The tide was out and the beach had been scooped into hollows by the retreating waves. The sand was covered with fine black coal particles, plants stems, and wood fragments with many seashells and dead starfish making patterns on the shore. Young gulls and crows were feasting on the strandline debris.
You can click on any picture to see the whole gallery in enlarged format.