WINTER 2006-7- part 2: Elan Valley in full spate & where's Borth Beach gone?


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Well it's been a while since I updated the site, having been very busy with the usual work plus a major new project, about which I will say an awful lot more in a couple of months!

It's now early March and apart from about 4 days in early February when a decent snowfall was had (more about that very soon), winter has been unexceptional in terms of "traditional" winter weather. However, in terms of rough and wet weather it has been quite something: flooding has been a frequent feature and the severe gales of January 18th resulted in several fatalities across the UK, sadly. The gales caused some serious and spectacular beach erosion at Borth - images further down the page.

By January 19th, the winds had eased off a lot and I decided to take a valuable day off and head off to the Elan Valley, having seen some excellent images of the area taken the day before by a fellow weather-photographer. Threw the chain-saw into the back of my jeep in case any roads were still blocked and headed south.

As a kid I often enjoyed going to this part of Mid-Wales - "The Dams" as we called it. Built between 1893 and 1904 to supply Birmingham with fresh drinking water, 100 people were displaced from their homes, these being demolished, and only landowners got compensation payments. Not exactly "best practise", in other words...

A second valley, Claerwen, was dammed after the Second World War, but I concentrated on the three Elan dams - Caban Coch, Pen-y-garreg and Craig Goch. These are approached via Rhayader; within a mile of Caban Coch the spray could be seen billowing up.....

A stone bridge croses the river below Caban Coch, so I set out to its middle and took a series of shots, drying the UV filter with loo-roll between each one. The spray was drenching!

Here's a zoom-in of the top......

...and one of the base!

Moving on, I stopped at the Caban Quarry car-park to get some shots from a different perspective i.e. looking down instead of up! The noise was teriffic!

Looking straight down...

Pen-y-garreg's base is reached via a short walk from a car-park. Unlike Caban Coch, this one has a central tower.... forming the LHS of the image.

Craig Goch is the one you can drive across. This gives a certain advantage.... you can photograph it looking straight down from the road. Top to bottom here is 36 metres. I was really pleased with this image!

Heading back over the mountains to Aberystwyth there were signs of wind-damage in several places, but only in softwood plantations. Our hardwood trees are tough!

So to Borth. People familiar with the beautiful beach will be aware of the "fossil forest" as it's called. Typically, this consists of areas in which a number of tree-stumps are poking up through the sand, as in this image taken at low water on one of the big Spring tides in February.

The forest isn't fossilised as such and is geologically young at only 6500 years before present. At the time when the forest flourished, sea levels were a bit lower than those of today and the storm-beach is estimated to have been a kilometre further out seawards. The trees are mainly pines and their stumps and fallen trunks lie in a bed of peat, overlying a soft grey estuarine clay with bivalve shells, that represents a period prior to the forest forming when sea levels were a little higher. Maybe this clay was deposited in an intertidal lagoon behind the shingle bar, a bit like that one behind Chesil Beach.

In 1929 an Aurochs skeleton was discovered in the peat, and in more recent years deer antlers have been found.

The storms this winter have transformed the southernmost section of the beach. Up to 2m of sand have gone from the part in front of Borth village, exposing vast areas of peat and clay. The main area begins where there are buildings on either side of the high street and runs south to the lifeboat station.

I was staggered by the amount of erosion, having never personally seen so much of this exposed. In places the clay and peat formed great skeers pointing out to sea. A big new sandbar has been thrown up about 100m below the normal low-tide mark, and shorewards of it is a deep gully running the length of the beach...

Here is one such peat-capped skeer, with eroded clay below. In the mild airstream, advection-fog was forming as it came in over the cool shallows. Borth Head is in the background....

Another shot looking towards land, with the deeply-gullied eroding clay. It will be interesting to see what happens to this area. Now (March) there appears to be some replenishment of sand although since the longshore drift direction is northwards and there is a rocky reef to the south, this may be a slow process.

I'll finish off this page with the only decent shot I got of Comet McNaught in the second week of January. This was a twilight comet, visible for only a short time at dusk before it set into the west. During the week that it was visible, there was only one clear evening here and even then there was fine high cloud in the way: luckily it shone through this OK! Taking the shot (at the northern end of Borth beach) involved a long exposure of several seconds with the camera, complete with 200mm lens, on its tripod. I was pleased to get one decent image: gusts of wind wobbled things enough to blur the others!


This wideangle shot was taken just before the above image as the comet was coming into view.. There was literally a window of maybe 20 minutes between it being dark enough for the comet to be visible and it disappearing below the horizon.

Hoping to get the site right back up-to-date soon with some images of the early February snow - just a 15cm dumping in the valley but up on the tops a full blizzard raged providing no end of excuses for photography and silliness!



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