Storm Ophelia

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. The stone jetty north of Tanybwlch beach

by The Curious Scribbler

There are few more invigorating spots than Tanybwlch beach during a powerful storm.  There is the rattling cascade of huge pebbles sucked back and hurled again against the shore, the huge grey brown rollers trailing spume, and the explosive crash of the waves against the concrete jetty which protects the harbour from the south.

At high tide yesterday, at 5.30pm Ophelia was at its height, and  the huge waves broke relentlessly along its length, an unbroken sheet of foamy water flowing across the jetty and cascading into relative calm on the other side.  Even more spectacular was the backwash where a huge wave rebounding from the jetty side would travel southward until it collided with the next huge roller coming in.  Then an explosion of disordered water flies high into the grey sky.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Water streams over the stone jetty

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Waves collide as they rebound from the stone jetty

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Another wave rebounds against a new one

Meanwhile high tide held back the outflow of the Ystwyth, ( which is tidal until the corner where Nanny Goats Walk sets off inland) and the water backed up to flood the grass and  lower path along the riverside.  Standing on the Pen-yr-anchor bridge  the gale hit one with ferocious force, coming directly along the overflowing river, rippled to wavelets by the wind.

Storm Ophelia. The Ystwyth river backs up at high tide

Further south along the curving storm beach the waves rush up, loaded with sand and pebbles, and pour over into the Ystwyth river behind it.  Little wonder that the Tanybwlch flats have not been earmarked for further sea defences by the Environment Agency (now NRW).  At the foot of Alltwen the pasture is returning, not for the first time, to salt marsh and standing water.

There were a dozen or more of us, and several dogs on the top of the strand, teetering in the gusts and watching, filming or photographing the scene.  The green and white pillar on the end regularly disappeared from view.  Incautious cars could be seen driving out onto the wooden jetty on the far side of the harbour,  spray suddenly engulfing them, and a small blue and white motor boat, tethered to the jetty listed and slowly sank under the onslaught.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Waves break over the stone jetty

I then went to the main Aberystwyth promenade, where the full force of the south wind was less, but the waves crashed satisfyingly on the sea wall, sending a sheet of sand and water over the prom.  Spectacular explosions of spray engulfed the public shelter on Bath rocks,  which was only recently restored after an even more severe pummeling by Storm Frank  in 2014.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Spray engulfs the Victorian Shelter

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth, water streams over the prom

Further north the waves shot directly skyward in front of Alexandra Hall.  I have seen them burst higher in other storms, but there is a little buttress on the promenade near there which always attracts the dare devils waiting to run back from a soaking from the even more exceptional wave.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Taking selfies in the storm

It was a bit of a party atmosphere all along the prom, as people walked, dodged the overflowing waves and took photos on their phones.   A person in a motility scooter bowled gaily along the prom with a following wind behind it.  I would have been a bit fearful in so light a vehicle with the wind resistance of its hood.  These are the circumstances when buggies and prams readily escape their owners.

If there is one species entirely unimpressed by the 70mph gusts it is the starling.  Autumn is setting in and the big traditional roost is filling up under the Pier.  Without any apparent difficulty the flocks cruised in at dusk, jinking in perfect synchrony to form strands and ovoids in the sky before diving down to roost on the ironwork under the deck.  They came in smaller groups  of one to two hundred birds, and perhaps dived to safety sooner than on a calm evening.  But while few gulls flew in the wild winds, these little birds carried on as if the evening was entirely unremarkable.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Huge waves approach  north beach

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What has become of the Penglais campus?

by the Curious Scribbler

It seems to be a little known fact that the Penglais campus, in conjunction with the adjoining sites of the Llanbadarn campus and the National Library of Wales are listed Grade II* in the Cadw Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales.  This is praise indeed, this grading makes it one of the three most important gardens in Ceredigion, and one of the very few 20th century landscapes deemed of national importance.  The listing was published in 2003.  The inspector summarizes it thus:

The landscaping of the University of Aberystwyth campuses, particularly the earlier Penglais campus is of exceptional historic interest as one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in wales. The sophisticated layout, including the landscaping, is sensitive to the character of the site, and the planting, which is unusually choice and varied both enhances the buildings and helps to integrate the the sites.  Several densely packed pages describe the grounds and their plantings in detail, and the steep bank below the Hugh Owen library gains especial praise.

It was indeed justified, and I have dug out a photo from 2003 which shows the clean lines of the modern building embraced by a swathe of shrubs, hebes, fuchsias and the ground-hugging Cotoneaster microphyllus clothing the steep banks. (The red flowered shrub was Embothrium coccineum, the Chilean Firebush, a connoisseur’s tree, frost hardy and fussy about its soil, cleverly planted by knowledgeable gardeners).

The Hugh Owen building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth with original planting in 2003

All gone now!  Last month contract gardeners with a caterpillar digger were hard at work and today’s view is of turf, bark and a few retained trees, some of them self-seeded ash.

The Hugh Owen Building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth in 2017

There have been maintenance problems at the campus in the last decade, and regular visitors have noted the vigorous incursions of brambles, sycamores and ash trees, self seeded amongst the shrubs.  Back in the 1990s when I sometimes visited head gardener John Corfield in his potting shed I would find up to nine gardeners, who together tended the Penglais campus and the mansion gardens and botanical order beds on the other side of the road.  Today his successor, gardener Paul Evans is responsible for three campuses, Penglais, Llanbadarn and Gogerddan with a team half the size!  Little wonder that the brambles got away..

Bit by bit the character of  Aberystwyth’s distinctive campus is being whittled away, while new 21st century innovations have been introduced with no provision for aftercare.  The new IBERS building next to the Edward Llwyd is a case in point.  Its landscape architect included a green wall, a complicated beech maze and a sedum roof.  The green wall died and has been cleared away, and the maze was never pruned and became an interlocking thicket of beech trees.  The roof gets rare maintenance by contract gardeners, because none of the grounds staff have received training for working of roof tops.

The beech maze beside the new IBERS building on the Penglais campus

And the agenda of Biodiversity and Native Species has led to a tendency to ignore the merits of a garden which brings together beautiful non-native plants from all over the world.  For some odd reason ecologists seem to assume that only native species are agreeable to bees.  How wrong!  Recent research at the National Botanic Garden of Wales analysing the DNA fingerprint of pollen in the pouches of honey bees showed that two of the top six favourites are the despised sycamore and the invasive Himalayan Balsam!

The 1960-1970s planting of the campus was supervised by botanists and involved the trialing of species and hybrids suited to windswept maritime situations from every continent.  Many still survive in gardens around Aberystwyth.  But is the campus on a trajectory to turf, bark and the utility planting of an average supermarket carpark?

And what about the street furniture?  Back in 2003 it seems that students found their way around without notice boards or banners telling them how happy and lucky they were, and motorists kept left and slow without constant reminders.  Certainly the elegance of the first picture is in stark contrast to the tired building in the second, grey with age but  cleaner at the base where the shrubs formerly embraced it.

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