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.
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.
Cross-sectional views of weathered wooden posts on the harbourside, showing remnants of green paint that highlight the wood texture, and also with patterns of radial and concentric splits appearing along the wood grain as the wood dries out and begins to rot.
These wonderful textures, swirls, whorls, and grooves – sometimes dotted or patched with black or white – are natural abstract patterns of woodgrain (growth layers) decorated with encrusting lichen – photographed on a single large heavily-weathered and etched driftwood tree trunk washed up on a basalt-covered beach of the Oregon coast.
You get massive tree trunks washed up at Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis,Dorset. I discovered these patterns on the waterlogged timber of just such a huge piece of driftwood. The prolonged immersion in seawater had waterlogged the wood and the natural colours were enhanced by the wetness, The bark was mostly peeled away. The texture of the underlying wood was smooth. The combination of pores, grain, and black lines caused by the spalting fungal infection, made the trunk and branches look like weirdly stiffened limbs covered with abstract tatoos.
Revision of a post first published 11 October 2009
Whether it’s on cut timber, wooden posts, fences, or driftwood that has washed ashore, I always look at the patterns, colours and textures in the exposed woodgrain. These natural designs, showing growth rings and other internal tree structures, are often accentuated by etching and weathering of the elements; and enhanced by the colonisation and colouration of different types of lichens. I particularly like the combination of woodgrain textures with the subtle and delicate grey-green hues of the encrusting lichens on the fence posts illustrated here.
The photographs in this post show a small piece of water-logged driftwood about 30 cm long and riddled with holes and tunnels caused by two different types of wood-boring sea creatures. The larger borings are about 1 cm in diameter and many are lined with a smooth calcareous material that has become stained through burial in the beach sediments. These larger borings may be familiar to beachcombers as being made by Shipworms, Teredo navalis Linnaeus. I have talked about these worms – which are not really worms but bivalved molluscs – elsewhere in the blog.
Less familiar, are the much smaller holes and burrows in this piece of soft wood. These have been made by Gribbles, Limnoria lignorum (Rathke). Gribbles are very small marine isopod crustaceans. Crustacea is the major grouping that includes the crabs, prawns, and sandhopper types of animal. Isopods are a bit like the terrestrial woodlice that you see in gardens – they have an ‘armoured’ body with lots of limbs and joints; and their body is flattened from top to bottom – compared with amphipods such as sandhoppers in which the body is flattened from side to side. Gribbles are very small and their length rarely exceeds 3.5mm.
Shipworms can burrow into hard wood but Gribbles prefer wet, cool and soft wood, like the bases of exposed pilings on piers and jetties. The pictures here show the infestation damage caused by both Gribbles and Shipworms that leads to the destruction and disintegration of the timber.
Some more pictures of the decaying ancient timbers of the shipwreck that appears and disappears on a sandy Gower seashore.
These pictures were originally posted on 28th February 2010 and are republished now because the ship’s timbers on which the wood textures were photographed have made a re-appearance after years of burial – and are the subject of a new post dated 16th May 2014.
This sodden and weathered wood is from the keel and ribs of a shipwreck that lies hidden beneath the sand for most of the time. Just occasionally, when strong seas shift vast quantities of sediment and redistribute it across the shore, do you get a glimpse of these fantastic timbers. In some places, the wood is slowly rotting and separating down the grain into thin leaves or layers. In other parts, the edges have been broken down to stumps and the surfaces smoothed by the abrasive action of the sand and the pebbles that grind against them.
When wet, the colours of the timbers are rich oranges and browns. These hues are enhanced by staining from rusty nails that are corroding where they were hammered in. The more exposed pieces of wood dry to grey and show signs of shrinkage so that wooden pegs, that once joined major elements of the structure, can now lie loose in their sockets.
I fear for the wreck’s survival each time it is revealed. People kick against the wood and even cut off pieces. Much as I love to rediscover it each time it puts in a rare appearance, I am relieved when is slips from view under the sand once more.
This post was originally published on 16th February 2010 and is republished now because the wreck timbers that it features have re- appeared again after years of burial and are the subject of a new post dated 16th May 2014.