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.

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.

Driftwood at Whiteford Point 1

Aspect of a piece of driftwood on a sandy beach with pebbles

What makes this piece of driftwood special is the probability that it is a remnant of a submerged ancient forest that once stood where this beach now lies, and could date back 10,000 years.

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Winkles living on Whiteford wood and rocks

Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), grazing on ancient wood at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (1) 

On the beach at Whiteford, near Llanmadoc in Gower, there is one place where many boulders and occasional water-logged timbers outcrop on the sands. The rocks could well have been deposited by an ice-sheet, while the wood may well be the remains of a forest that was submerged ten thousand years ago.

At low tide, hundreds of thousands of common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), emerge from hiding places under stones and sand.  You can see trails in the sand showing how they travel to exposed hard surfaces on rocks and wood to feed. These surfaces may be covered with acorn barnacles but the winkles are vegetarians and are not interested in eating these. The winkles are after the thin encrusting film of microscopic green algae which coats every surface. Winkles have a sort of rough tongue called a toothed radula which they use to scrape this deposit off the surfaces.

Huge numbers of empty winkle shells can occur on the strandline at Whiteford. Many of the empty winkle shells found there, on the sandy spit beyond the point, have started life on the stones and boulders around the old Whiteford lighthouse. 

In common with these drifts of empty winkle shells on the strandline, the shells of these living specimens of gastropod mollusc are also thick and rough with a dull and worn surface. In close-up the shells also appear pitted; pitting can be caused by a lichen living in the matrix of the shell. 

In other locations in Britain – like the seashore along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset – the shells of the living common winkles are not dull and rough like the Whiteford shells: they look very different. You can see some photographs of these, for example, in the post called Holdfast habitat at Ringstead Bay.

Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), grazing on ancient wood at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (2) 

Here is an ancient piece of wood projecting from the sand. At its base you can see the trails in the sand left by winkles as they move towards this hard surface. The winkles congregate at the base of the timber and climb upwards along the worn grooves to graze the algae.

Winkles on wood at Whiteford Sands: Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), grazing on ancient wood at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (3)  

Here is a close-up view of the winkles grazing on the eroded surface of a piece of old water-logged wood.

Living winkles on pebbles: Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), grazing on alga-covered pebbles at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (4)  

A scattering of  living winkles are also found feeding amongst the smaller, smoother, algae-coated stones.

Living winkles on rock: Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), eating algae from boulders on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (5)  

On larger boulders the winkles are tightly clustered together and may entirely cover the surfaces. In the picture below you can see how dull and worn the shells are. Some of them have grains of sand sticking to them and a few even have barnacles attached.

Winkles at Whiteford Sands: Common winkles, Littorina littorea (Linnaeus), scraping microscopic algae from boulders on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, UK (5)  

Revision of a post first published 24 September 2009

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Petrified Wood – digital art

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Fossilised or petrified wood can be found in Jurassic Lias Limestone boulders on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis in Dorset, UK on the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. In the images of this slideshow, close-up photgraphs of the naturally-occurring patterns and textures in this ancient preserved wood have been digitally colourised to emphasis the natural abstract art in the stone. 

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Fossil wood at Lyme Regis

Fossil wood exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (1a)

As you walk along Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis in Dorset, hopping from one boulder to the next, you might see strange brown markings on some of the larger stones. Although not as spectacular as some of the finds recorded from this beach, a closer look will reveal that, in some cases,  these are the fossilised remains of pieces of wood. Their presence demonstrates that the rock was formed in seas that were not too far from land. Some pieces have been discovered with the fossilised remains of marine invertebrate animals still attached to the undersurface – showing that the wood was free floating for a while before settling in the sediments.

In this post, three such boulders of blue-grey Lias limestone containing this dark brown textured petrified wood (or lignite) are shown – together with close-up images of the peculiar texture and pattern of the preserved timber.

For more information about the other incredible types of fossils that have been found on this beach, see Ian West’s website at http://www.soton.ac.uk/~imw/liasfos.htm.

Detail of fossil wood exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (1b)

Close-up of fossil wood texture exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (1c)

Fossil wood exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (2a)

Close-up of fossil wood texture exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (2b)

Close-up of fossil wood texture exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (2c)

Fossil wood exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (3a)

Close-up of fossil wood texture exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (3b)

Close-up of fossil wood texture exposed on the outer surface of a boulder of Lias limestone on Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK on the Jurassic Coast (3c)

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