When A Ferocious Storm Swept across Wales, The Sand Shifted To Expose Evidence Of A Lost Kingdom

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It’s May 2019, and the dramatic Storm Hannah has recently subsided from Britain and Ireland. In its wake, Wayne Lewis decides to take a stroll along the coast of the small Welsh village of Borth. On this walk, he sees something unusual – strange shapes are jutting from the sand. Could this finally be solid evidence of the existence of an ancient kingdom posited by local folklore?

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Wales was particularly affected by Storm Hannah and the harsh conditions it brought. In fact, winds peaking at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour saw parts of the country experience blackouts. Thousands of homes were forced to temporarily do without electricity, as broken tree trunks and branches hindered public transportation.

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Storm Hannah was undoubtedly a challenging event for the people of Wales. However, it resulted in an unexpectedly positive outcome for history buffs. You see, whether the objects in the sands of Borth actually related to a mythological kingdom or not, they unequivocally painted a more factual picture of the region for historians to consider.

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The beachside village of Borth is located in the middle of Wales. With only a small number of inhabitants – a little under 1,400, according to statistics for 2011 – the area is also a tourist spot. The sea and sand attracts people to stay in camping facilities and hostels based around the community.

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The beach at Borth spans a distance of more than two miles. During the spring, ospreys – otherwise known as sea hawks – can be spotted in the skies above the coastline, eventually coming to rest along the area’s craggy lands and shores. It’s a stunning place to be, perfect for visiting tourists.

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In recent years, the village was among the major spots used for shooting the BBC TV series Hinterland. This detective show ran for three seasons between 2013 and 2016, and was known for being broadcast originally in Welsh. A number of specific areas of Borth appeared in the series.

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It’s also been rumored that Borth was the inspiration behind a major hit single. Reportedly, the Morrissey track “Everyday Is Like Sunday” was penned after the singer visited the area. While the song never made it to number one, it’s still extremely well-known, having appeared on the album Viva Hate.

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Beyond its beauty and brushes with showbiz, however, Borth also bears an interesting secret. However, it seems that this is only revealed in the wake of extreme weather or specific tidal conditions. Such circumstances, in fact, have occurred several times before Storm Hannah first hit the area towards the end of April 2019.

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In February 2015, for instance, reports emerged from Borth about something being revealed along the coast. And before that, similar accounts were detailed in 2010. In these years – as well as in 2019 – it seems that stormy conditions whipped away at the sands of the beach, exposing what appeared to be the remnants of trees along the seabed.

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These trees are all that remains of an ancient woodland which once thrived in the area and is now under the water. Among the various species which have been reported here are oak, birch, pine and alder. They’re thought to date back some 4,500 years, to a time when the region was quite different.

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At the start of 2014 a large section of this woodland was uncovered by extreme weather. And in January of that year, two archaeologists named Deanna Groom and Ross Cook noted something else, too. Laying in the sand, they could see, was what appeared to be a manmade wooden pathway.

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This pathway had been constructed using branches which appeared to have been artificially managed. Scientists later estimated that it may have been made up to 4,000 years ago. It’s thought that the structure may have served to help ancient people who lived in the area to deal with intensifying floods.

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This coastal area has also been home to other discoveries in recent years. In 2012, for instance, footprints belonging to humans and other creatures were discovered. They had been protected by a tough coating of peat. Additionally, stones which appeared to once have been used in fireplaces were also unearthed.

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The discoveries revealed by the winds along the coast of Borth could all be interpreted as evidence of the validity of a regional myth. You see, folklore has it that an ancient kingdom once stood to the west of the contemporary Welsh mainland. This was a place known as Cantre’r Gwaelod.

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Apparently, Cantre’r Gwaelod was situated in a space which is today below water level. This is Cardigan Bay, which is a part of the Irish Sea which separates Great Britain from Ireland. Local lore has it that Cantre’r Gwaelod might once have stretched out as far as 20 miles from where the land ends today.

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However, there are discrepancies in the tale of Cantre’r Gwaelod, with numerous variations having been told. In one, for example, the lands of the kingdom were left sunken after a female figure called Meredid failed to keep a well from spilling over. This consequently resulted in the kingdom becoming submerged.

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This particular variation of the myth of Cantre’r Gwaelod can be traced back to a text known as The Black Book of Carmarthen. This is thought to have been penned in the middle of the 1200s. As such, it’s considered to be the oldest known Welsh-language book which has endured to the present day.

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However, the myth surrounding Cantre’r Gwaelod which is most widely known today originated much later than the 13th century. At some point during the 1600s, a different tale emerged. This detailed the kingdom as a place protected from the oceans by an embankment known as Sarn Badrig. If ever this protective barrier failed and the land flooded, the people of the realm would protect themselves using sluice gates.

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A sluice gate is a type of obstruction which can be positioned at a body of water’s edges. It can be made from either wood or metal, and is used to help manage water levels. The amount of water flowing through the gate is controlled by how much it is opened.

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In the case of Cantre’r Gwaelod, mythology tells us that a sluice gate wasn’t appropriately managed and the kingdom was lost. A prince named Seithenyn was meant to be in charge of the mechanism, but he was a boozer. His drunken lethargy led him to leave the sluice gate open, resulting in the lands being flooded.

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However, in terms of actual proof for Cantre’r Gwaelod’s existence, there’s not all that much to go on. But having said that, every now and then a discovery is made which might well point towards the kingdom’s past. Indeed, people have been noting things beneath the seas near Borth for hundreds of years.

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We can go as far back as 1770, in fact, to find a record of a supposed sighting related to Cantre’r Gwaelod. That year, a Welshman named William Owen Pughe claimed to have spotted something unusual underwater. Apparently, he’d seen what looked like manmade constructions in the ocean, about four miles from the Welsh coastline.

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Later, in the mid-19th century, a book called The Topographical Dictionary of Wales referenced the lost kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod. In this text, the author Samuel Lewis detailed his observations of human structures which lay underwater. He claimed to have seen these things in Cardigan Bay, not too far from the surface.

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In Lewis’ own words, “In the sea, about seven miles west of Aberystwyth in Cardiganshire, is a collection of loose stones, termed Caer Wyddno.” This, the writer explained, translates as “the fort or palace of Gwyddno.” He then continued, “Adjoining it are vestiges of one of the more southern causeways or embankments of Catrev Gwaelod.”

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Lewis went on, “The depth of water over the whole extent of the bay of Cardigan is not great. And on the recess of the tide, stones bearing Latin inscriptions, and Roman coins of various emperors, have been found below high-water mark. In different places in the water, also, are observed prostrate trees.”

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In Lewis’ opinion, Cantre’r Gwaelod may have succumbed to floods sometime before the second century. He based this idea on the maps drawn up by the ancient Greek scientist Ptolemy, who is thought to have died around the year 170. You see, Ptolemy created a map in which Cardigan Bay is shown much as it is today.

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In more recent times, too, people have suggested that Cantre’r Gwaelod might have once existed. Phil Hughes, for instance, is the chairperson of an organization called Friends of Cardigan Bay. Speaking to the BBC in 2006, Hughes said, “There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Cantre’r Gwaelod existed, and I believe there was land out there.”

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Of course, the tree stumps seen along the coast in the aftermath of a storm might indicate Cantre’r Gwaelod’s one-time existence. However, up until 2019 these stumps had been obscured from view. But when Storm Hannah hit, it uncovered them allowing people to finally examine them.

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One of these people, of course, was Wayne Lewis, a 38-year-old Welshman with a keen interest in photography. Lewis was thrilled by the stumps in the sand, as can be seen from quotes published by Mirror Online in May 2019. He said, “The trees really are stunning. It’s breathtaking that these trees were part of a Bronze Age forest that extended almost to Ireland, but have not been seen for thousands of years.”

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Lewis went on to explain how the stumps finally came to be seen. He said, “It first emerged in 2014, but was then partially recovered, and usually you are only able to see the tips of the tree stumps. It seems it has been uncovered again recently. I don’t know for sure, but it is probably due to a combination of Storm Hannah… and the tides have been very low, making more of the forest visible.”

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One might wonder how these stumps – which are thousands of years old – have managed to stay intact this long. Well, apparently they became encased in peat, an acidic material created by the build-up of dead organic matter. This meant that the stumps weren’t getting any oxygen, and were thus preserved as if in an airtight container.

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Having followed the developments at Borth, Alun Hubbard has come up with a theory as to how the tree trunks were revealed. Hubbard is a geography expert from Aberystwyth University in Wales and believes that it has to do with coastal defense structures which were installed in 2012. These defenses save Borth from the worst excesses of the waves.

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On the flip side, though, these new defenses mean that the motion of the seawater has been altered. As such, all the materials such as stone and sand which hitherto obscured the trunks have now been removed. Speaking to Wales Online in 2019, Hubbard claimed that the trees were more easily seen now than ever before.

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According to Hubbard, “More exposure to the north makes me think it is likely to do with the sand and pebbles that have been captured by the break-water. To me, the north end is being starved of material. That means the sea defenses are catching material to protect the village. It’s still adjusting.”

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Elaborating further, Hubbard went on, “Of course climate change is leading to extreme events in places. Borth is very vulnerable to high seas and extreme events so we might see more in future. Borth [is] an ephemeral geographic formation. It’s coastal erosion and position that allowed it to be there. The sea will take it away again.”

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Hubbard’s words seem to suggest that Borth itself will go the way of Cantre’r Gwaelod, if indeed such a place ever existed. But whether it did or not, it’s nevertheless left an impact on Welsh society and culture, having inspired several pieces of art. Across the centuries, the mythical land has influenced poets and novelists alike.

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Children’s authors have also tapped into the lore of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Indeed, in 1977 Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp was first published, a tale which was based in the kingdom. The place also appears in Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree and Cerys Matthews’ Tales from the Deep.

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Cantre’r Gwaelod has also been a source of inspiration for musicians. In the 1700s, for instance, a traditional Welsh song called “Clychau Aberdyfi” (“The Bells of Aberdovey”) became popular. The lyrics recall the mythology surrounding the kingdom, and it’s even set the basis for more modern artistic initiatives in the region.

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Furthermore, a documentary concerning Cantre’r Gwaelod has also been produced by the BBC. This was broadcast as part of a wider series called Coast, and it saw TV historian Neil Oliver travel to Borth and its surrounding areas. Here, he took a look at what’s left of the underwater forest with the help of some experts.

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So, Cantre’r Gwaelod has become an important place at the heart of Welsh heritage, whether it ever existed or not. And who knows? Perhaps the tree trunks exposed by stormy weather actually do indicate a one-time kingdom near Borth which was lost to the sea. However, more archaeological works will surely be needed for us to find out more about this mysterious lost kingdom.

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