Re-appearance of a Rhossili Wreck

Shipwrecked wooden boat on the beach

The shifting of the sands at Rhossili Bay has uncovered a wrecked wooden ship quite high on the shore between Diles Lake and Spaniard Rocks. I last saw this ship’s timbers emerge from the sand about seven years ago. It comes and goes and seems to be a fairly rare sighting. Mostly, the remnants of the keel with its attached ribs lie hidden from view, buried under the sand. However, following the weather events of the winter just past, the sands have moved around to a significant degree and revealed once more this elusive piece of history. I am not even sure of its name.

Of course, Rhossili Beach has seen many ships come to grief. The most famous of all is the Helvetia which features so prominently in all the postcards, pictures, and publicity material for the beach. However, there are many others: the stark rusty metal girders and plate of the Danish ship Vennerne at the base of Rhossili Cliffs; the massive anchor of the Norwegian barque Samuel lying on the Worm’s Head Causeway; and at low spring tides, the engines of the wooden paddle steamer City of Bristol – these are all easy to spot.

My favourite wreck though is this particular one lying near the dunes of Llangennith Burrows. I am delighted when circumstances conspire to enable a view of its old weathered and worn timbers. Wooden pegs form part of its original construction but these were reinforced later with iron nails which have now rusted and stained the woodgrain. Beach pebbles form a drift against the outside of this skeletal hull, and stick between the ribs; while the hollow within makes a transient tide pool.

See the image below for a view of the wreck when I last saw it in 2007.

Remains of wooden ships ribs from a wreck buried in sand

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Lyme Regis Driftwood Patterns

Stormy seas have brought lots of driftwood ashore at Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. I liked this particular tree because of the convolutions of its twisted roots that had incorporated stones during growth. The root bark texture was interesting; and the stripped-down trunk and branches revealed intricate spiralling patterns in the woodgrain. I loved the little survivor of the storms, sitting drenched and bemused among the tangled roots.

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Beech Tree Cut Timber Patterns

There is a lovely avenue of mature beech trees where I live. Sadly, because of the recent high winds and storms, one of these magnificent trees had to be felled as it was unsafe. Once it had been cut up you could see why. The base of the trunk was rotten and the fungal infection had spread throughout, leaving incredible patterns revealed in the cross-sectional slices of timber remaining on the ground. There was abundant beech mast and numerous small beech seedlings on the ground around the tree stump, so I hope that another tree will grow to replace the lost mighty one.

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Weathered Harbourside Timbers 1

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.

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Old Whiteford Boat Wreck

Remains of a small boat wreck in the sand

I revisit things I have found on the beach to see how they change with time.

I hadn’t walked along Whiteford Sands for quite a while. My last visit was a few months ago – in December, I think. I was surprised at how much the seashore had changed when I went there again a couple of weeks ago in mid-March. There have been some very striking large scale changes as a result of the winter storms (and I will talk about what has been uncovered very soon).

I have photographed the remains of the small wrecked boat at Whiteford many times over the past ten years. Despite the major transformations to the Whiteford Point area over winter, the little wooden boat wreck remained untouched. This time the planking of the upturned hull was mostly covered by dry sand. However, part of the keel or mast-housing was still above ground. The timbers a little more weathered and etched – providing a great place for yellow lichen to flourish. The rusting old ironwork staining the adjacent timbers but the rivets still holding all the pieces together. The wreck looked very picturesque against the pristine wind-blown sand and the cold blue sky.

Remains of a small boat wreck in the sand

Yellow lichen on weathered timber with rusty ironwork on the remains of a small boat wreck

Yellow lichen on weathered timber with rusty ironwork on the remains of a small boat wreck

Yellow lichen on weathered timber with rusty ironwork on the remains of a small boat wreck

Remains of a small boat wreck in the sand

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (1) - View looking across to Llanmadoc Hill showing pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break up of an iron-pan associated with a Holocene peat layer.

Vast swathes of pebbles on the beach at Whiteford in Gower are coloured orange – or at least they were the last time I looked. (The beach sediments there are very mobile so it cannot be guaranteed that you will see exactly the same thing on each visit). These coloured pebbles are found in a band stretching from the base of the sand dunes at the eastern end of the beach towards the disused Victorian Whiteford Lighthouse.

The pebbles seem to be coated in rust rather than rusty because of their intrinsic composition. I guess the first couple of times that I noticed the orange pebbles I vaguely thought that they were stained by rust emanating from the decomposing remains of the old iron causeway that linked the lighthouse to the shore. You can often find pieces of the iron framework of the walkway – sometimes supports still in situ and other times single pieces of the structure lying free.

However, lately, I have been discovering more and more about the Quaternary geology of the Gower – a relatively recent geological period dating from about 2.5 million years ago to the present. This includes the Pleistocene with a variety of glacial, peri-glacial and inter-glacial deposits; and the recent Holocene (from 11,800 years ago) with peat and submerged forests, marsh, dune, beach and alluvial deposits. As I read more, I am gradually reaching something of an understanding about some of the natural phenomena that I observe and photograph on Gower beaches. So I now tentatively consider that the rusty pebbles are not related to the dilapidation of the old lighthouse but are the result of a much older natural geological process.

I have already mentioned in Jessica’s Nature Blog the remains of the submerged forest at Broughton Bay which lies to the west and adjacent to Whiteford Sands. These ancient tree trunks are embedded in peat deposits. While I was reading George (2008), I learnt that the peat decomposes to form a hard ferruginous layer called an iron-pan or hardpan. This has led me to wonder if the iron compounds that coat the pebbles at Whiteford are derived from an iron pan layer.

Supporting evidence for this idea comes from the presence of ancient tree trunks emerging from black peat deposits close to the rusty pebbles – similar to those stumps found at Broughton. The old waterlogged wood is also stained with rust – as you will see from the photographs below. Additionally, slightly higher on the beach, closer to the dunes, the shore is strewn with pebbles around which orange-coloured watery ‘tears’ rise to the surface and weep across the surface of the sand – making me think they might originate from a concealed ferruginous hardpan below.

Then again, I suppose the rust could come from buried decomposing munitions as the beach was used for firing practice in the Second World War!

Reference:

George, Gareth T. (2008) The Geology of South Wales – A Field Guide, G.T.George at gareth@geoserve.co.uk , ISBN 978-0-9559371-0-1, p 70.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (2) - View looking across to Llanmadoc Hill showing pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break up of an iron-pan associated with a Holocene peat layer.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (3) - Pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break up of an iron-pan associated with a Holocene peat layer.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (4) - Pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break up of an iron-pan associated with a Holocene peat layer.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (5) - View looking across towards Whiteford Lighthouse showing pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break up of an iron-pan associated with a Holocene peat layer. Ancient waterlogged wood from the submerged forest is also visible.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (6) - Ancient iron-stained log embedded in peat from a submerged post-glacial forest - associated with pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are also covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break-up of an iron-pan associated with the disintegration of the Holocene peat layer.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (7) - Ancient iron-stained log embedded in peat from a submerged post-glacial forest - associated with pebbles on the beach at Whiteford Sands, Gower, South Wales, some of which are also covered with a rusty deposit thought to derive from the break-up of an iron-pan associated with the disintegration of the Holocene peat layer.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (8) - Pebbles scattered on the surface of the sand with 'tears' of rusty water, possibly rising from a buried Holocene iron-pan layer below the sand, weeping across the beach.

Rusty Pebbles at Whiteford (9) - Pebbles scattered on the surface of the sand with 'tears' of rusty water, possibly rising from a buried Holocene iron-pan layer below the sand, weeping across the beach.

COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2013

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