Category Archives: Seaside

Vintage postcards #3 – Penhelig Beach

Not quite as vintage as postcard #1 and postcard #2, which were dated to 1910 and 1903 respectively, this view of Penhelig Beach has an Aberdovey Merioneth postmark dated 19th August 1962 and features two Queen Elizabeth II stamps (a blue 1 penny and a green 1 1/2 penny).  Elizabeth had been on the throne for 10 years when this postcard was sent to Harborne in southwest Birmingham.  The big carpark on the sea front and the modern developments at the top of Copper Hill Street, along Mynydd Isaf and Maes Newydd and related roads had not yet been built and the village must have had a very different character.

A view of Penhelig today taken from a very similar viewpoint:

Unlike the 1903 and 1910 postcards, this is immediately recognizable and familiar, and apart from the boats, which immediately indicate that this is not a modern photograph (I particularly like the one furthest from the camera), it looks much the same as it does today.  Penhelig Terrace, immediately behind the beach, was built on the spoil-heap from the tunneling works for the railway in 1864,  which was routed round the back of the village to prevent it impinging on tourism and ship-building activities.

A picture hanging in Aberdovey’s Literary Institute shows the same scene in 1837 before either the railway or Penhelig Terrace were built, with the Penhelig Arms visible at the far left. In this view the low and long Penhelig Lodge (about which I have posted) dominates the scene and looks out over the beach.  It was probably still fishermen’s cottages at this time, although it had various roles afterwards, including a stint as an exlusive school for young ladies.  Penhelig Lodge is now a row of three cottages on a busy bend where the railway crosses the road, hidden behind Penhelig Terrace and the railway, on the edge of Nantiesin car park and overlooked by Penhelig Station, but as a building it has lost none of its charm.

Aberdovey 1837. Source: Photograph of picture hanging in the Literary Institute.

A photograph from Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, A Glimpse of the Past, below, shows Penhelig as it was just after the railway was established and just before the terrace was built in the mid-1860s, with a large vessel moored on a high tide in the days when the beach was a shipyard, with Penhelig Arms just behind it.  In the above postcard Penhelig Arms is out of sight, a few houses to the left and across the road.

Penhelig shortly after the railway was laid, and before Penhelig Terrace was built, showing the railway tunnel and the shipyard just in front of the Penhelig Arms. It is clear that at least two houses were taken down to route the railway round the back of Aberdovey.  Penhelig Station was added in 1833 Penhelig Station was added in 1933, by which time the railway was operated by the Great Western Railway, which absorbed Cambrian Railways in 1922, and was equipped with a single platform and an attractive little wooden shelter that remain today.  Source: Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, A Glimpse of the Past

The row of houses behind the memorial park to the right of Penhelig Terrace on the main road through Aberdovey has changed dramatically since the 1860s photo in Hugh M. Lewis’s book, but not much since the 1962 postcard.

The row of houses behind the memorial park to the right of Penhelig Terrace on the A493.

Penhelig Terrace today, seen from the memorial park

The postcard producer, Valentine’s (J. Valentine and Co.), opened in 1866 in Dundee, at first specializing in photographs of Scotland, and continued to make postcards for a century.  According to the Jisc Archives Hub, “much of the collection contains views associated with the leisure market, subjects such as fishing were regarded as attractive, agriculture less so, and industry was rarely portrayed. The main features are stately homes, historic ruins, great open spaces, beaches, the grandeur and curiosity of nature and great engineering feats.”  The company stopped producing postcards in 1967 because they failed to make the switch to colour printing for postcards soon enough to be competitive, and they had found that greeting cards were more lucrative anyway.

Walking from Aberdovey towards Tywyn along the beach

Yesterday’s walk along the beach was extraordinary.  I had intended to park by the cemetery, but by accident parked opposite the row of houses at the foot of the road from the Trefeddian Hotel, crossed the golf course and emerged from the dunes at the Second World War pillbox.   The sun was hazy and incredibly pale, but at the same time reflected off the wet sand, creating some beautiful colour and light combinations.  I walked for far longer than intended, and it nearly became a case of walking into Tywyn and getting a bus or taxi back to my car!  Instead I retraced my steps, and because of the light it was like doing an entirely different walk.  It was lovely to see a pair of oyster catchers, obstinately refusing to do anything other than stand, preening in the sun!  They are in the video at the end of this post.

 

 

New strandline discoveries

Monday’s walk along the beach produced some more interesting strandline finds to add to those found on my previous strandline expeditions.  The sea was nearly at high tide, so the strandline was shifting all the time, wet weed and shells changing position as the waves pushed forward and retreated.  Sunday had been an endless day of really strong gales, complete with Met Office weather warnings, and although I expected this to have stirred things up a lot, I was not expecting to find much at high tide, so it was interesting to see what there was.

Barrel Jellyfish, Aberdovey shoreline

The most anomalous find was a dead barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), a common enough sight in warm summer months, but the first I have ever seen in winter.  The barrel jellyfish is distinguished by a thick rubbery bell and “arms” rather than tentacles, which have a distinctive frill along their edges. This is a  small one, but they can reach up to 1m in diameter and are the largest of jellyfish to be found in UK waters.  They have a mild sting.   The Marine Conservation Society collects sightings of jellyfish (and turtles, crawfish and basking sharks) throughout the year, so if you see one it is worth going to the MCS’s sightings page and filling in their online form.  There’s a good jellyfish identification guide on the IWS website, from which the following is taken:

Barrel jellyfish details

I also found two new eggcases.  If you are new to eggcases, have a look at my post on the subject, where I go into some detail.  These were very unlike the nursehound case that I found on the beach that day, but very distinctive.  Using the Shark Trust’s identification guide, it was possible to narrow them down to a Thornback Ray (Raja clavata) and a Spotted Ray (Raja montagui).  My photos of the two cases are below, together with the Thornback Ray  relevant page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide.

A page from the Shark Trust’s identification guide, accompanied by photos of the two eggcases found today.

Common piddock (Pholas dactylus)

The bivalve shell I picked up and kept is neither unusual nor relevant to any conservation programmes, but it is simply very attractive, with a wonderful textured surface, and I had never seen one before.  It’s a common piddock (Pholas dactylus), one of four species of piddock found mainly in the south and wet of Britain, all white. They are specialist borers, using the ridges for drilling into hard substrates to create burrows.  They have feeding siphons which reach out from the burrow into the sea to collect nutrients, and in the case of the common piddock the siphons are bioluminescent and glow green in the dark.  Shells can be up to 12cm long, and this one is exactly 12cm long.

I picked up a piece of seaweed that was a deep pink when I found it, and it turned black when I left it to dry out.  It’s a new one on me so I looked it up:  clawed fork weed (Furcellaria lumbricalis).  It only has the pods at the ends, which are its reproductive structures, in winter.  It tolerates low saline conditions, so will grow even in estuary waters.

 

Snow on the hills on the Ceredigion side of the Dyfi estuary

Snapshots today, walking down Balkan Hill for some odds and ends in the village.  Not very sharp, because I was using the tiny camera I keep in my handbag.  I didn’t dare take my good kit because I knew if I had it with me I’d end up walking along the beach for a couple of hours, and I didn’t have time today!  The very short video at the end is just the view over the estuary and Cardigan Bay beyond from my window as the sun went down, with pink smoke!  The days are getting noticeably a little longer, although it seems like a very long haul to get from the shortest day on 21st December to the end of March.

 

 

 

 

 

Gales and bleak skies yesterday, sunshine today, a mad but wonderful contrast

Yesterday morning my first job was to go and retrieve the blue bins that had cascaded down the hill when their trolley fell over during the night.  I was awake much of the night listening to it.  Today was an amazing contrast.  Things started off a little grey, with sunshine filtering through the clouds, but by the afternoon the sun dominated, and although there were still clouds, they were an attractive gradient from pure white to dark purple and charcoal, the perfect foil for the brilliant cerulean blue.  I had only walked down to go to the Post Office, but somehow found myself cutting through the dunes and striding along the incoming tide on the beach. So happy.

Oystercatchers on the foreshore at Aberdovey this afternoon

I was so lucky this afternoon to see two wonderful oystercatchers on the foreshore.  I was on the members’ terrace of the Literary Institute (I promise that I am a member and wasn’t trespassing!) and heard a high-pitched peeping noise coming from below.  And there they were.  Squinting into the sun, I suddenly saw two absolutely perfect little waders rushing around on their spindly pink legs picking up mussels from amongst the seaweed and bashing them with their long, strong orange beaks against the stones.  You can hear the peeping and bashing noises on the video below.  The camcorder did a remarkably good job, given that I was shooting straight into the sun.   Oystercatchers also target cockles, limpets, small crabs and shrimps, all of which are available in the area.  Although oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are common on coasts, and I have seen them at the mouth of the Dysynni, I have never seen one at Aberdovey before.  I was utterly charmed.  Wonderful to watch and to listen to them.  When they took off, startled by some people walking along the foreshore, the lovely white streaks against the black of their wings were clearly visible.