I picked up a copy of EGO today, and it’s nice to see that they have now resumed an albeit thinner paper copy after three years of covid hardship banished it to an online presence only. However the article by Priya Nicholas caught my attention for its inappropriate sentiments. The writer complains about the unpredictability of summer weather and the need for layers and an umbrella. This demonstrated the problems of writing copy for a future deadline and seems a little inappropriate when we haven’t seen a serious cloud for the better part of a month!
My walk along the promenade however raised a new topic to complain about. The sky was blue, the sea was calm with only the tiniest of lapping waves upon the shingle, but the sea was murky and downright brown. From pier to the bar there was no respite, the pebbles barely visible in the shallows. Few people were in the water, – I’ve seem more wild swimmers in the middle of winter.
So in the afternoon I went to Tanybwlch, where during the fine hot spell last August I remember the sea like the Mediterranean, so clear the pebbles and patches of sand gleamed clearly under water.
10 August 2022 the sea was clear at Tanybwlch
Today it was just brown.
Brown sea water at Aberystwyth
As I walked out on the jetty the river water in the harbour was clean and clear while at the end of the jettty the colour contrast was dramatic where greenish-brown sea water met the clear fresh water in the harbour mouth.
Below the jetty on the harbour side the sea and river water meet
Presumably this May – June warm spell has caused an algal bloom which is creating the murk right along the coast and out to sea. Why the same thing didn’t also happen during last summer’s August warm spell is not clear to me.
Yesterday’s balmy sunshine illuminated a scene of great activity on the promenade, as diggers and scrapers collected up huge piles of sea sand and returned them to the beach. This was not like the pebbles and rubble aftermath of a heavy storm such as we have see so many winters. Instead the beach seems to have gently migrated up and over the sloping paving of the prom. From time to time over the winter a path has been swept through it for the benefit of walkers and buggies but the highest tides have repeatedly augmented and redistributed the sandy covering.
March 27th was the big clean up on the promenade
When I was there, the area north of the Prom Diner had yet to be tackled, the sandy foreshore dimpled by a thousand footfalls reached right up to the planters full of cheerful daffodils.
I do not know whether there are local measurements for sea level here, but the global estimate is that it has risen by 3 inches, (8cms) since the year 2000. As global warming advances and more and more ice melts it will surely rise further. It looks as if regular high tides rather than severe storms are playing the greatest part in the migration of the beach onto our promenade. Sweeping sand off the prom may become an increasing task in the coming years.
I’ve written about at least seven storms in the lifetime of this blog, but here we go again! Storm Barra has devastated the prom, and perhaps most evocative has been a video posted on Facebook by Clare Jonsson. Viewed from an upstairs window overlooking the area in front of the Marine Hotel we see huge waves breaking over the parked cars which bleat plaintively at each blow, their alarm lights flashing as they are inexorably shunted across the road and deposited at the inland side. One shudders for the owners, who presumably overlooked the weather forecasts on Tuesday afternoon.
Cars scattered by the sea, photographed on Wednesday morning. Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll
Many people’s thoughts turned to the homeless man who customarily sleeps on the landward side of the Victorian shelter on the prom. Apparently a kindly neighbour Kash Smith took him into her flat and rescued some, but not all of his possessions. Other items including his mattress could be seen on the bench in a turmoil of backwash while daylight shows that the southern end of the shelter has been broken through, its long bench stranded on the paving.
Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll
The shelter, which is a Cadw listed structure, was meticulously restored in 2014 after the January storm ripped it apart and a huge hole, remnant of the earlier bathhouse on the site, opened up beneath it. It survived Storm Frank in 2015 and Storm Ophelia in 2017 , Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis in 2020 and the many lesser storms which brought loads of sand up onto the prom. But last night’s damage is far more reminiscent of the storm of 3 January 2014. Big sill stones at the edge of the prom have been lifted up and slid across the paving, and large tracts of smaller slabs behind them have been lifted away. Flower beds have been demolished. Once again a big clear up will be needed.
Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll
Photo by Anthony Elvy
Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll
I have yet to visit my other favourite haunt, Tanybwlch Beach, to see what changes have been wrought by Storm Barra. The huge retaining wall on the river side of the car park has been dangling dangerously since Storm Ciara hit on 9 February 2020, creating a great void behind it which has been roughly covered with fencing material, but growing larger ever since.
The hole which opened up during Storm Ciara and has been growing ever since
And each year recently the sea has managed to breach over the shingle bank towards the southern end and flood the low lying fields below the mansion. As sea levels rise this area of farmland, former site of the Aberystwyth Show and once the prospective Aberystwyth Airport is likely to revert to permanent marshland.
The sea poured over the Tanybwlch shingle strand during Storm Dennis
Storm Dennis flooded the Tanybwlch flats 16 February 2020
It is sad to see the removal of the curlicued streetlights which are such a characteristic of our lovely promenade.
Out with the Old
SWALEC are out in force today, with crane and cherry picker removing the tops of the street lights on the prom, lowering them gently to the ground and chopping them up with an angle grinder to be carried away. The poles are then capped with a new fitting.
In with the New
Of course I can understand the reason for doing so. The new LED technology will illuminate the town for a fraction of the electricity cost and the planet will benefit from the reduced emissions. But was it really impossible to find a design of lamp head more fitting for our Victorian town? The new plate-like fitments are an undignified truncation upon the old poles. And the vista of white globes leading towards Constitution Hill will soon be a distant memory.
Old lighting on the Aberystwyth promenade
Shorter stemmed bifurcating globes of a less elaborate but similar style also flank the sea from the Pier to the Castle, and are an important part of a vista which so many people enjoy. They may not be all that old, the metal plate on the lamp bases reads NJG 2001 but they do need a lick of paint.
The shorter lights on the south promenade
I do so hope that for these, at least, a less radical solution will be found, and modern bulbs could somehow be inserted in the old globes, or a new but ornamental form of lamp be obtained. With the renovations of the Old College, an apotheosis of Victoriana, soon to become a gleaming public attraction it would be very sad to find the entire South Prom adorned with such utilitarian little slabs of lighting. In our heyday these lights used to support hanging baskets of flowers in the summer season. As the post-covid world wakes up the delights of holidaying at home, perhaps these ornamental posts should be cherished and fully adorned once more.
The lamps used to also suspend hanging flower baskets
Rain last night has further swollen the rivers, and now we have wind! Exhilarating buffeting winds from the west, gusting almost hard enough to knock you over! 60 miles an hour or so I’m told. So my place of choice is Tanybwlch, where the Ystwyth debouches into the sea. It is murky and brown with fresh run off, and further swollen in the tidal reach because the tide is obstructing its outward flow.
High seas back up the Ystwyth river
Mist from the breakers hangs over the Tanycastell fields and the riverside path is flooded in parts.
The concrete jetty largely protects the harbour mouth, though the swell still forms regular brown rollers creeping along its leeward side.
The stone jetty protects the harbour from the south westerlies but some waves roll in
But to position yourself on the windward side on the top of the shore provides an endless spectacle, as waves break in curious explosive shapes over the green and white harbour marker, sometimes obscuring it from view, and the backwash forms swirling wave patterns in the angle between the beach and the shore. It is easy to see how the huge stones at this end of the beach get their smooth contours. The sea acts like a giant pebble-polishing device.
Waves breaking over the stone jetty
The town is a little tamer than Tanybwlch, but still dramatic. At 4pm the clouds were so dark that the streetlights on the prom were glimmering into light.
The Promenade takes a battering
Unwary promenaders could get splashed by the waves curling up against the sea wall and showering spray and small pieces of gravel. As the waves pull back the perfect profile of the sandy beach is briefly exposed.
Sand is smoothed out as the big waves flow back into the sea
The full force of the open sea is greatest at Alexandra Hall but this was a summer storm, not one of the ferocious winter ones which sometimes hurl stones at the windows of that forbidding building. The door was open and without barricades. Students will soon be moving in again. There were a few walkers kicking the bar, and beyond it the small piece of sandy beach below Constitution Hill was white with blown sea foam.
The north end of the beach
I came home to wash the sea salt out of my hair, much invigorated by the wind and waves.
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
In November I wrote about the Old College, Aberystwyth, and an early photograph showing the construction of the main hotel entrance on King Street in 1864. Now further researches in the archive of the Clarkes of Llandaff by Mike Statham have brought a further early picture to light, and this one, I think, may be less well known.
Old College under construction 1864-5. Copyright William Michael Clarke
The view is from the shore and shows the sea wall still under construction and topped by builders’ sheds. Wooden scaffolds cover the entire facade, and the progress of the build seems to have been from south to north. Immediately beside the old Nash dwelling Castle House, (just visible at the right of this picture) we see the oval front of Seddon’s large seaward facing bar, which is now known as the Seddon Room. Above it on the first floor, and approached, by gentlemen only, up a separate stair, were the smoking room which overlooked Laura Place and the billiard room overlooking the sea. In this picture, the billiard room construction looks almost compete, its roof pierced by three small dormers, and topped by a glazed rectangular ceiling light looking very much like a huge wardian case. These details are true to Savin and Seddon’s original ambitious design for the hotel. The Billiard room was 48 feet by 24 feet and was to accommodate three full sized billiard tables and many spectators.
Further north the build looks confusing. Two gables have been competed in line with Seddon’s original plans, but the third, taller gable appears partly constructed, and the distinctive ornamental hexagonal chimney beside it seems not yet to have been built. There seems instead to be a hole in the roof where it will later stand.
To the north end, the first floor of the building has only reached the tops of its gothic arched windows, and so it seems to have remained for many years. It was incomplete at the time of the bankruptcy of the hotel and remained so during the first phase of Seddon’s alterations to the building for College use.
The fire in the Chemistry lab, on 9 July 1885 which extended to gut the whole of the north wing, is recorded in a photograph after the disaster. The grand billiard room roof is gone, as are the three gables of roof adjoining it. On the left we see that the build at the north end has still, after 20 years, not progressed above the first floor, and remains a shell, just as it appeared in 1865.
Old College after the fire of 1885. Reproduced in The Old College, by Elgan Philip Davies, Gomer, 2011
The repairs and rebuilding of the College after the fire were directed by Seddon but saw many economies and alterations in the roofscape. In 1894 a different architect Charles J Ferguson, with far less gothic leanings, was employed by the college, and was responsible for the much plainer central block, and for the solid and very slightly Queen Anne-style Alexandra Hall at the far end of the promenade. The resulting apppearance of the Old College in the early 20th century is seen below, in an illustration in one of the many volumes of Photographic Albums of Aberystwyth and District which were produced annually by The Cambrian News, to meet tourist demand.
Old College in early 20th century. Cambrian News Album 60 Photographs of Aberystwyth & District
Not a lot of time for blogging during a family Christmas, but I managed to get almost all the guests out of the house at high tide this morning to enjoy the spectacle of Storm Frank. Not as destructive as the un-named storm which devastated the prom two years ago, but impressive none the less.
The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015
Huge waves break on the bath rocks
The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015
We also went to the harbour, where great bursts of water shot up into the air, and flooded across the breakwater.
Lastly to my favourite haunt, Tanybwlch beach, where the suction of the huge waves grinds and stacks up the dark cobbles on the strand. Water broke over the whole length of the jetty and streaming in an unbroken sheet over its surface.
I mentioned in my last blog the cutting-edge luxury of the former Queen’s Hotel on the northern end of the promenade. Opened on the newly extended promenade in 1866 its grand bedrooms offered hot and cold running water, – both fresh and salt – allowing the guests to enjoy the advantages of sea immersion in the comfort and privacy of their rooms. It was an extravagantly fashionable building, blending the traditional grey local stone with imported sandstone window dressings, and topped off with a frenchified mansard roof pierced by attic dormers. The building rises from a basement to four storeys, even a fifth storey at the corner tower, and the observant passerby can find ornamental assemblages of minerals set in panels in the stonework beneath the ground floor windows on three sides of the building. It was designed by the London architects C.F. Hayward and H.D. Davies.
The Queen’s Hotel, forlorn and for sale
The Queen’s Hotel and former Council Offices, Aberystwyth
The business was not very successful and sold by its proprietor in 1877. However it continued as a hotel and in 1910 an advertising pamphlet emphasized the ‘package deals’ of train fare and accommodation, which could be purchased from Great Western Railway stations in low season. The particulars of a Contents Sales in 1914 show that it was then richly furnished with lots of high Victorian mahogany furniture, jardinieres and bronze marble-topped tables. It remained in service as a hotel with 100 bedrooms and a dining room seating 180 until requisitioned in World War II. In 1950 a five day sale disposed of the entire contents of the hotel and nearby stabling. The empty building was acquired for ‘Swyddfa’r Sir’ the County Offices, and in the past decades it has housed many departments including the Police Station, the Registry Office, and the Ceredigion County Archive. One by one these functions have moved away, the first two to purpose-built palaces on St Brieuc Avenue, the County Archive to a restored and renewed Town Hall. Empty and forlorn for the last couple of years, the Queen’s had a brief starring role as a location for the TV drama Hinterland. A case of art imitating life: the old building was cast as the Police Station!
After 18 months on the market for £1 million the building has attracted no buyers, and will be auctioned in London by Allsop’s on 18 September. Startlingly at a time when £275,000 is the price for a one-roomed house with bed shelf in Islington, a mere £250,000 is the guide price for this gigantic Victorian hulk on our seafront! The stately old building is Lot 171 amongst a national assortment of 285 frankly rather ordinary houses and flats. It is, at least, expected to raise more money than Lot 236, a bankrupt guest house in Rhyl. Aberystwyth waits anxiously to learn who the next owner will be.
Pristine and restored, the Bathrock shelter on a chilly afternoon, 21 August 2014
Back in its rightful place, after the terrible drubbing during the storm of 3-6 January, is the neo-Georgian shelter on the Aberystwyth Promenade. It was publicly reopened last Saturday with the mayor, the Chairman of the County Council, the MP and other dignitaries in attendance. It is salutory to remember that the Cadw listing recently bestowed on the building probably saved its life. There were until three years ago two such shelters on the promenade, the smaller of which was demolished and removed in January 2011. The surviving Bathrock Shelter was listed Grade II shortly afterwards.
The name of the shelter ‘Bathrock’ alludes to a former building in this position: Dr Rice William’s Marine Baths which were built in 1810. At the time they were the most northerly feature on the sea front, a two storey building providing Aberystwyth’s visitors with the curative benefits of sea water served in a variety of ways in a situation of complete privacy. Each private room provided a bath ‘six feet long and two and a half wide, lined with Dutch tile, which being much less porous than marble, is more effectually cleansed from all impurities to which they are liable’. Baths could be taken cold or hot, and in the form of a plunge bath, a vapour bath or a shower. Boilers heated the water, and the visitors could be further assured that the water was drawn along cast iron pipes reaching far out into the bay. The spectre of inshore pollution from other bathers, or the donkeys pulling bathing huts, could thereby be avoided.
The baths eventually closed in 1892. Bathing was still in vogue but by this time for those requiring an indoor experience, there was a new bath house on Bath Street, which instead boasted the Chalybeate waters of a nearby spring, while at the Queen’s Hotel on the promenade the guests enjoyed taps dispensing, hot water, cold water and sea water into their baths. The promenade was being extended in a northerly direction, and the remains of the old marine baths were incorporated into it, roughly filled, it seems, with rubble from the demolition. In 1924 a new shelter, glazed down its spine and providing seating facing in each direction, was erected on the curved prominence above bath rocks.
The remains of the old bath house was unexpectedly revealed to view when the winter storm tore away the stone facing of the promenade. The sea soon excavated a hole through which the rubble fill was sucked away exposing a sea cave beneath the shelter. It was a man-made cave, with walls, partitions and even a fireplace. As the concrete pad on which the shelter stands collapsed into the void, the building flexed, twisted and subsided into the hole. Police stood by to prevent incautious exploration, and in the following weeks the damaged structure was dismantled and stored pending restoration.
On January 7th 2014 the Bathrock Shelter was subsiding into the hole below
The Hole which opened under the Bathrock Shelter on 4 January 2014
The partitions of the rooms of the old bathhouse could be clearly seen.
The shelter is the last item in a programme of repair of the promenade which was in the main completed before the season began at Easter. In the blazing days of July, when temperatures often exceeded those in Spain, and the sea temperature reached a balmy 17C the old timbers of the restored and replaced shelter was await their first coat of paint.
On 6 July 2014 the shelter was back, but yet to be painted.
Now the weather has turned grey and cold, and in the coming winter it will be particularly appreciated as a windbreak on the bracing seafront.
Necessary shelter on a chilly afternoon. 21 August 2014