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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Storm Frank

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.

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The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015

Huge waves break on the bath rocks

Huge waves break on the bath rocks

The Aberytswyth seafront on 30 December 2015

The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015

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We also went to the harbour, where great bursts of water shot up into the air, and flooded across the breakwater.

Aberystwyth harbour

Aberystwyth harbour

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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.

Tanybwlch beach pounded by Storm Frank

Tanybwlch beach pounded by Storm Frank

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So unlike the idyllic waves of Christmas Day.

Tanybwlch beach on Christmas day

Tanybwlch beach on Christmas day

 

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Aberystwyth’s Bathrock Shelter resurrected

 

Pristine and restored, the Bathrocks shelter

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.

By January 7th 2014 the Bathrock Shelter was subsiding into the hole below

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 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 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.

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

Necessary shelter on a chilly afternoon. 21 August 2014

 

 

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Tanybwlch Beach undergoes a radical reshape

Tanybwlch beach is one of those beaches which grades its pebbles.  It forms a generous arc south of the concrete jetty which shelters the harbour at the mouth of the Ystwyth and Rheidol rivers. At the north end the foreshore is an ankle-breaking slope of big round stones up to the dimensions of a small loaf,  and even near low tide mark there are pebbles, not sand.  At the middle of the curve, by contrast,  is a beach of dark sand, winnowed by the steep suck of the waves.  Down near the southern end, below craggy Alltwen the sea only deposits a floating load.  Here one finds lobster pots, fishing floats, the occasional dead dolphin, and great quantities of driftwood and uprooted seaweed. Of sand and pebbles there is very little, they move inexorably northward, leaving the rock pools largely free of sediment.

This is my favourite beach.  Not for swimming,  the shore shelves steeply and the undertow is well known, but for its elemental wildness, its dark grey pebbles, and gritty sand jewelled on close inspection by many shades of tiny smooth pebbles, amber and creamy quartz, jasper, granite, mica, all alien travellers brought by the glaciers which carved their way across this land. Niall Griffiths in his debut Aberystwyth novel Grits was so taken by Tanybwlch beach’s dark brooding grandeur that he described it as a volcanic landscape.  But it is not.  Its jagged outcrops are of the prosaically named Aberystwyth Grits – greywackes to the geologist, layers of muddy silt hardened to stone since their accumulation under Silurian seas.

The wild grandeur of Tanybwlch beach

Along the shingle bar which separates the beach from the low lying meadows beside the Ystwyth runs a rough road.  In Victorian times a small railway ran along it bearing stones from the quarry at Alltwen to their destination in the buildings of the town. In the twentieth century it gave access to the length of this deserted beach, a refuge for rod fishermen encamped along the shore, wild campers, insalubrious assignations, and the occasional impromptu party fuelled by the copious driftwood.  In summer brash tattooed men from the Midlands would roll up, with trailers, power boats or jetskis and launch them from the sandy middle of the bay.  That pastime ceased though, when the northern half of the beach was designated a local nature reserve, and a new barrier prevented vehicular access along the  bar. On balance it was a good decision, but not everyone was instantly won over and several years of barrier vandalism followed the change.  In recent years only keyholders such as the adjoining farmer have driven along the bar, and the life of the beach has become pedestrian, though not necessarily sedate.

The recent storms have wrought an elegant transformation.  Approach the car park at the end of Penyranchor and you will find it closed, for it is impassible due to a liberal scattering of those big round beach stones.  Press on beyond the barrier and there is no road to walk along.  Huge wave force has lifted the sloping pebble beach up over its former crest and deposited it on and beyond the road.  Waves surged over the beach barrier throughout its length, taking a slew of stones down the landward side, running briskly through the old shingle where the ancient prostrate dwarf blackthorn grows, the seawater rejoining the tidal Ystwyth river beyond.  And the consequence is the most elegant re formation.  A sculpted bank of round beach stones rises from the beach and descends, less steeply to the grassy slope descending to the river. Harder walking.  Quite undrivable.  But no one needs to drive through a local nature reserve anyway.

The new beach profile has entirely buried the road along the strand.

Farther to the south the encroachment has been of clean gritty beach sand. Here the sea has tended to break through in the past and the road runs on a barrage of concrete, with low walls on either side, a nice spot to sit and look out to the westering sun, or east to the sharp bend which the Ystwyth takes as it meets the strand.  It’s still a nice place to sit, but its road function now looks remote.  Erosive forces have cleaned away the ground where the concrete ends.  It is now a massive step up onto the concrete road at either end.

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The concrete road at the centre of the bay has been excavated at either end by the waves.

As I’ve said, the sea at Tanybwlch removes stuff at the south end of the arc, and moves it, the heavier the further, to the north.  So as one approaches Alltwen there is less sand or pebbles scattered on the foreshore.   Instead the sea has torn away at the turf and the big quarried blocks placed there as sea defences.  Some of these big stones from Hendre quarry have actually been trundled up slope and over onto the former road.

Tanybwlch Beach. Turf and sea defence stones rolled back by the force of the sea

It is here, near the south end that the beach last breached, in a big storm of 1964.  It hasn’t happened yet, but there are no national plans to defend this piece of seashore, and it doubtless will.  The consequence will be most picturesque.  With this (and during many lesser storms) the fields below Plas Tanybwlch become a shallow brackish lake, visited by appreciative gulls and waders.  The strangely rounded hill fort of Pendinas looks well with the blue winter sky reflected at its foot.  The dark bulk of Alltwen also rears elegantly above the foaming rollers to the one side and a still wide pool on the other.

The tranquil winter sunshine falls on a large salty flood below Plas Tanybwlch

Pendinas stands above the new brackish lake on the Tanybwlch flats

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Devastating storm hits Aberystwyth Promenade

When I wrote on 4 November of the ferocious storm which tore up pavings on the promenade it seemed an exceptional occurence.  But the combined high winds and spring tides of Friday 3 January have demoted that earlier storm to the merest footnote. Yesterday it seemed the whole of Aberystwyth was out upon the promenade, viewing the devastation.

Devastation on Aberystwyth Promenade

The telescope, still attached to its huge coping stone, stands awry amongst the displaced paviours and sand

As with the last storm the most violent damage was wreaked in the area opposite the Marine Hotel with great areas of ornamental paving and setts tossed like lego bricks amongst the invading beach sand.  Impressively the sprouting spring bulbs in the seaside planters hung bravely on by the roots, their pale green leaf shoots suddenly exposed by the seceding waves.  Long stretches of the familiar white railings however, were gone. A little further south the Victorian timber shelter seemed, at first glance to have escaped lightly, with just some splintering to its pitch pine frame.  It stands on a man made drum shaped piece of sea wall, which perhaps deflected the waves upwards.  But closer inspection revealed a sinister hole in the paving between it and the sea. Viewed from the beach, it became clear that the sea had excavated a cave into the void beneath the shelter.  A group of police assembled as the tide receded, to prevent risky exploration beneath the hole in the roof.  I am told this promentory was once the site of tha Aberystwyth gallows. Another bystander said there had formerly been changing rooms accessible from the sands below the shelter.

A sea cave excavated beneath the public shelter

Further towards the pier, the railings of the paddling pool had been felled as a single entity, and deep beach sand extended right across the road.

Beach sand covers the promenade

The paddling pool

Even where the land level rises at the south end of the promenade the suction of the waves had neatly removed individual or small areas of the ornamental setts with which the prom was refurbished some years ago.

Paving lifted by the force of the sea

This surely will be remembered as the great Aberystwyth storm, – depending on the next one, which they say will be along tomorrow….

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Storm on the promenade

The much anticipated storm of 27th October passed Aberystwyth with scarcely a  ruffling.  It had been vaunted as the greatest since 1987 and Michael Fish’s famous pronouncement that some woman was entirely deluded in her belief that a hurricane was on its way.  In the event, the storm took a more southerly course and while trees were blown down and four lives lost elsewhere its impact on Aber was non-existent.

Not so last Saturday evening when the still leafy apple trees behind my house creaked and roared with the gale and the last bramleys thundered unceremoniously to the ground. I was relieved to find no trees uprooted the following morning.

The direction of the wind drove great seas across the bay at Aberystwyth, focussing their force especially at the northern end on the promenade.  An occasional but exhilarating sight is the explosive force of great waves sending a sheet of spray right over the terraces houses from the Marine Hotel to Alexandra Hall.  Some years ago I photographed such a scene on a sunny wintery morning.  This time the height of the storm and tide came after dark.

But daylight revealed considerable damage to the promenade opposite the Marine Hotel with the white iron railings uprooted, still attached to their huge anchoring stones  and twisted in the air.  Where the edge stones of the promenade were displaced the sea made short work decorative sets and small paving slabs with which the prom has been refurbished in recent years.  As the waves deposited a slew of gravel across the road they sucked back to the beach, taking the pointing, and whatever substrate secured these small paviors with them.

Sets and paving slabs lifted by the waves where the edge of the prom has been washed away

Cleanup commenced on Monday morning with the combined efforts of men with barrows and road sweepers large and small successively clearing a passage for cars.  The handsome dragon seats all remained firmly anchored in place, but several appear to stand now not on paving but on a shingle beach, pockmarked by the tread of passers-by.

Several inches of shingle covered the promenade and road

Road sweeper outside the Marine Hotel

 

The smaller sweeper whisks away the remaining pebbles

The Victorian blue and white timber and glass shelter is the most northerly building on the promenade, rashly placed, it would seem, on a projecting semicircular drum of masonry above the beach.  But it has passed through the tempest unscathed.  It seems that it is the lower parts of the prom which have failed to break the waves’ force and have proved the most vulnerable in this storm.

Passers-by survey the damage south of the timber shelter, which escaped unscathed

 

 

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