2007-8 part 1: Storm Odyssey - Pembrokeshire!
- the giant seas of December 1st-2nd
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The long uneventful Autumn continued
through November but December arrived in spectacular
fashion with the first weekend providing me with one of
the most enjoyable photo-shoots I have been on in a long
time! The results are below and it's fair to say I was
mightily pleased with them - one of those days where
careful preparation paid off in no uncertain terms. Quick
fishy interlude first....
Not a shot from last Summer, but in mid-November,
at our hallowed ground we call Cardiac Hill, on
the end of the Lleyn Peninsula. My regular
fishing-buddies Alun and Gary in the background.
On this late Autumn day we were all sweating by
the time we had yomped to the rock-ledges and
then proceeded to catch mackerel - in
Warming seas, settled weather, either way it's
quite something, but then this year has seen its
fair share of interesting catches in Welsh waters
- Amberjacks off Milford Haven for instance, and
tuna were observed attacking a mackerel shoal off
Aberdyfi in October. About three feet long, they
were probably Albacore, which have been caught
regularly off SW Ireland for a few years now.
Climate change certainly brings its fair share of
Now to December.
For a number of days, an unusually large
ground-swell had been forecast. Ground-swells are
quite different from wind-driven waves. They are,
if you like, large ripples that cross the ocean -
like those that radiate out across a pond if you
throw a stone in. In the case of the Atlantic,
the "stone" is typically a large area
of storm-force or stronger winds, hundreds of
miles away mid-ocean, working in one direction
over large distances of water over a long time.
As a result, an awful lot of energy is
transferred into the water. Large waves, whose
energy can extend to a considerable depth below
surface, move one after another across the sea,
travelling great distances whilst hanging on to a
lot of their power. When they reach the shallows,
they build up like small tsunamis. This may be
observed at times on the UK coast, where for
example the weather may be calm but big rollers
are pounding the shore to the delight of surfers.
This differs from the more "messy" chop
produced by onshore winds, which beach fishermen
There are, unsurprisingly given the popularity of
surfing, a number of websites where wave and
swell forecasts may be obtained. I use Magic
Seaweed - just Google it to find the site. For
some days leading up to December 1st, the big
swell was evident in the forecast. Althought it
was a neap tide that weekend, making coastal
flooding a low risk, some good opportunities for
photos looked possible if I could find a rocky
section of coastline with deep water close-in.
Furthermore, the convective outlook for squally,
thundery showers on the 1st suggested that light
conditions, in between the squalls, would be good
When a big Atlantic low generates a major
ground-swell, Ireland acts as a breakwater,
sheltering the Welsh coast from the worst of the
waves - except for SW Pembrokeshire. That, then,
became the target area.
Leaving the dark and almost deserted streets of
Machynlleth, I headed down the coast road past
Aberystwyth and Aberaeron. As dawn broke the
first of many cumulonimbus thunderheads became
This one, lit up by the rising sun, was just past
Pressing on, for high tide was in mid-morning, I
passed through Cardigan and, turning off the
Fishguard road just past Eglwyswrw, headed up
over the Prescelli hills towards the target area.
On the highest part of the road, where there is
an excellent view south and west, I pointed the
300mm lens at this mass of shower-clouds
overhanging the silhouetted clear-fell. Forestry
plantations are usually regarded as ugly scars on
the landscape: not so here, I mused....
...continuing the drive, I happened to pass Carew
Castle just as a chink opened up in the clouds. I
was getting remarkable bits of luck so far
regarding the light! Would it last?
Skirting past Pembroke itself, I headed on
through Stackpole towards the first target -
Stack Rocks. This whole area lies within a
military firing range, but it was open to
walkers, as I found out by checking in advance,
not having been here before....
I was not disappointed! Here is one of the
sea-stacks, with an enormous breaking roller
The squally showers that had lashed me all the
way from Carew Castle had now pushed on eastwards
and the light was amazing! After about half an
hour here, I headed for my next stop, St Govans'
...once again arriving in the aftermath of a
heavy (and not so photogenic) squall....
The monster swell is clearly evident in this
Approaching the headland...
...and smashing against its 30-40m cliffs.
It was a case of finding somewhere out of the
chilly wind and settling down with the telephoto
lens. Timing is everything: I took a lot knowing
that there would be some good ones amongst
...not a day for swimming!
Eventually a large cloudbank drifted up and I
lost the best light. I was cold too, so I decided
to head for the third target, Strumble Head, in
time for sunset. It was on the way home, too,
...so having driven via Newgale (and an excellent
cafe-stop) and Mathry, I got there in time. Plan
A was still working!
The wind was by now a fair bit stronger, but
there is a viewing-spot at Strumble, with a wall
to rest the camera on. Shooting straight into a
strong low-angle sun is tricky, but I was pleased
with this one, especially with the gulls adding a
bit of scale.
Cloud once again rolled up from the west and the
light and temperature both fell sharply. That put
an end to any more photography. I set off and
after 80 miles of oncoming headlights and
encountering further squalls that rocked the
vehicle, I was back home, at the fireside of the
White Lion, just twelve hours after setting out
on this odyssey, this voyage with the forces of
the planet, its slow but unstoppable heartbeat of
tides, weather and seasons. Such things are
humbling, they develop a sense of perspective,
and ought to be made compulsory!
The following day, keen to use the remaining
shots up on the films, I headed for Aberystwyth
at high tide. That's the next part!
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