Following the line of the limestone cliffs towards Kitchen Corner as the tide receded, the tide pools and beach were littered with dozens of living Rayed Trough Shells (Mactra stultorum Linnaeus) as they popped up to the surface of the sand. I don’t quite know why they chose to do this but it afforded an opportunity to see the living animal as opposed to the dead ones and empty shells that wash up more frequently on Rhossili Beach.
Two pale fleshy tubes joined together were extended between the two hinged shell valves. One inhalent siphon for sucking water with suspended nutrients inwards, and one exhalent siphon for dispelling de-oxygenated water with bodily waste products. I was afraid that these bivalved molluscs would die while gaping and exposed to the air, so I picked up a few and put them in the water of the pools but they were not very lively and did not re-bury themselves. I was surprised that no-one else seemed to notice them. Even the dog that I saw appeared more interested in splashing in the pools than snacking on the free harvest.
You don’t exactly have to keep your nose to the ground to see them but you do have to be a keen observer to notice all the different tracks and trails left on the soft wet sediments of the beach at low tide. Larger marks left by people and vehicles are the first ones you see. Bird footprints are every where. The birds are feeding on all sorts of invertebrate seashore creatures like worms, small crustacea and molluscs – all of which leave holes, burrows and furrows as they move in and out of the sand and across the surface. Some of the pictures shown here simply aim to give the general context for the area of Whiteford Sands that I was walking across. If you look closely the other images, you will see not only the ripples in the sand but also the intricate network of traces left by the virtually invisible organisms that inhabit this ecosystem. The larger furrows in photos 1, 12 and 13 are made by the common winkle (Littorina littorea Linnaeus). I cannot name each animal that is responsible for each of the other types of trace. However, I am sure that there will be some specialists out there who could, especially those researchers concerned with the interpretation of trace fossils (the ichnologists).
At low tide many thousands of common winkles or periwinkles (Littorina littorea Linnaeus) seek shelter from dessication and predation by clustering together in the few hiding places available on the beach. At Whiteford Sands these niches include the overhung bases of larger stones, crevices in ancient timbers from the rapidly emerging submerged forest, and nooks and crannies in the recently exposed ancient peat. Alternating layers of peat and clay, overlain by rocks from glacial till, provide algae-covered surfaces on which gastropods can feed, and islands of low tide refuge in the vast expanses of sand on this sea shore.
The heavy rains of the past few weeks have stopped for the moment but the River Cerne is still swollen and the water table raised so that fields are boggy and covered with pools. The stretch of this small chalk river between the villages of Charlton Down and Charminster in Dorset, England, is shown in the images here. Most of the shots are taken from the east side of the valley following the Cerne Valley Trail (14 January 2016). At one point the engorged river channels itself under a narrow footbridge of re-used railway sleepers and gushes out downstream with waves and foam. In another place, a bank-side tree has lost the footing for its roots and leans right over the water. Ripple-strewn and reflecting shallow ponds have accumulated in the sheep pastures, while the area by the ford has over spilled into Mill Lane making it look like a canal and tow path.
1. Looking at the tidal island of Worm’s Head from the cliff top of the Rhossili Headland on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales.
I had often enjoyed exploring the rocks, gullies, and pools of the wave cut platform which forms a causeway between the Rhossili Headland and the tidal island of Worm’s Head. It was not until last year, on a glorious April day with a particularly low spring tide, that I actually ventured onto the island itself for the first time. The Worm’s Head is divided into several sections. The largest and probably the highest of which is the Inner Head. A section known as The Long Neck connects this to the Middle Head with its famous Devil’s Bridge on the way to the Outer Head.
The island is composed of Carboniferous Limestone but the rock layers become younger from east to west, passing from Black Rock Limestone Group, to Gully Oolite, and then High Tor Limestone. I decided to walk along the shore on the westerly side of the island. To see what I saw, look at the pictures in the gallery below. If you click on any picture in the gallery you can view the photographs in slideshow format with their captions.
I walked along the beach as far as the Long Neck, which is a narrow stretch of jagged rocks formed by steeply sloping strata that connects the Inner Head to the Middle Head. It looked quite difficult to negotiate the crossing although many people were having fun trying to do it. However, fearing that I might not have enough time to reach the Outer Head before the tide returned and covered the causeway again, I then turned round and followed the footpath at the base of Inner Head. The west flank of the hill was covered with bright yellow gorse flowers and patches of wild violets. It was a beautiful walk and I hope it won’t be long before I visit again to explore the rest of the island.
12. West shore of Inner Head at Worms’s Head
14. Close-up detail of Gully Oolite on the west shore of Inner Head at Worms’s Head tidal island
24. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
27. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
32. Natural fracture patterns in Carboniferous Limestone (Gully Oolite) on the western shore of the Inner Head at Worm’s Head tidal island.
2. Walking down the zig-zag path from the Coastguard Lookout on the Rhossili Headland to approach the Worm’s Head Causeway at the tip of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales
3. View of the east side of the Worm’s Head from the foot of the Rhossili Headland in Gower, South Wales, waiting for the tide to recede from the rocky causeway to walk over to the island.
37. View looking towards, Low Neck, Middle Head, and Outer Head from Inner Head at Worm’s Head island, showing raised beach deposits.
10. Close-up of Gully Oolite bioclastic limestone with coral fossils on the Worms Head, Gower.
50. Information signs on the tidal island of Worm’s Head, Gower, South Wales.
31. Natural fracture patterns in Carboniferous Limestone (Gully Oolite) on the western shore of the Inner Head at Worm’s Head tidal island.
7. The wave-cut rock platform of the Worm’s Head Causeway in Gower, South Wales
25. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
44. Kelp beds fringing the west-side wave-cut platform exposed by a very low tide at Worm’s Head, Gower.
4. Walking across the rocky wave-cut platform of the causeway towards the tidal island of Worm’s Head, looking at it from the west. It looks very different from each direction.
9. Close-up of Gully Oolite bioclastic limestone with fossils
20. Red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
45. Kelp beds fringing the west-side wave-cut platform exposed by a very low tide at Worm’s Head, Gower.
46. Foot path at the base of Inner Head, west side, looking south, on Worm’s Head, Gower.
38. Fossil-filled Gully Oolite Carboniferous limestone outcrop on Worms Head
23. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
39. Fossil-filled Gully Oolite Carboniferous limestone outcrop on Worms Head
8. Gully Oolite limestone on the west shore of the Inner Head of the Worm’s Head tidal island.
43. People clambering over the steeply inclined sharp rock strata of the Low Neck connecting Inner and Middle Head on Worm’s Head Island
49. Looking up to the summit of Inner Head from the footpath that runs around the base of its west slope, Worm’s Head, Gower, South Wales.
13. Gully Oolite on the west shore of Inner Head at Worms’s Head tidal island
21. Red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
18. Red haematite in Carboniferous limestone at Worm’s Head
15. Western shore of Inner Head at Worm’s Head showing red haematite amongst the Carboniferous Limestone.
29. White lacey pattern of bleached seaweed on rocks at Worm’s Head
42. Fossil-filled Gully Oolite Carboniferous limestone outcrop with crinoid stems on Worms Head
22. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
5. Closer view of the Inner Head of the Worm’s Head from the rocky shore on the west side.
28. Natural fracture patterns in Carboniferous limestone on the west shore of Worm’s Head
47. Wild violets growing in profusion on the grassy west slope of Inner Head on Worm’s Head Island in Gower.
33. Wave-cut platform of Carboniferous Gully Oolite shore-wards, and High Tor Limestone seawards, on Worm’s Head Island
40. Fossil-filled Gully Oolite Carboniferous limestone outcrop on Worms Head
41. Fossil-filled Gully Oolite Carboniferous limestone outcrop on Worms Head
17. Red haematite in Carboniferous limestone at Worm’s Head
35. View looking north across a wave-cut platform towards the Outer Head and Middle Head with the Devil’s Bridge, seen from the west side of the Inner Head on Worm’s Head Island, Gower, South Wales.
34. View of the wave cut rock platform between Inner Head and Outer Head on the Worm’s Head tidal island
6. The top of the Inner Head showing steeply inclined Carboniferous Limestone strata.
11. Cross-sectional fossil coral in Gully Oolite on the western shore of the Worms Head
16. Red haematite in Carboniferous limestone at Worm’s Head
36. The Devil’s Bridge rock formation on Middle Head at Worm’s Head in Gower
48. Gorse flowers that cloak the lower west slope of Inner Head, Worm’s Head, in April.
19. Red haematite in Carboniferous limestone at Worm’s Head
26. Pattern and texture of red haematite in Carboniferous Limestone at Worm’s Head
30. White lace-like pattern of bleached seaweed on rocks at Worm’s Head
A walk in very mixed January weather along muddy lanes, through arable countryside with freshly ploughed and green planted fields divided by clipped hedges. Rain and hail from dark clouded skies, and occasional shafts of sunlight, slant over low rolling hills trimmed by bare-branched trees. The local river full to the brim and flowing fast with turbulent waters, escaping into channels that once fed the old mill and water meadows. White fleeced sheep with pink noses feed near the old derelict barn.
Crisp and cold, bright and sunny, just right for blowing away the cobwebs with a walk along the strand at Whiteford Sands. On this particular winter’s day the tide had brought ashore lots of flotsam – fishing nets, buoys, floats, and crates, shoes, hard hats, and miscellaneous plastic rubbish that rested on a driftline of sand, pebbles or shells. Here are some of the things that caught my eye as I strolled the high water mark from Cwm Ivy Tor to the spit beyond Whiteford Point on Boxing Day 2013. Click on any of the images in the gallery below to view in a larger format and slideshow.