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28 October 2014

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South Wales - Bristol to Cardigan Bay


Times and Tides

The South Wales coast, by the Second Severn Bridge, has the second highest tidal range in the world, at around 14.5 metres (the highest is the Bay of Fundy, located off the northern coast of Maine, USA). It's also home to an extraordinary tidal phenomenon - the Severn Bore.

The Severn Bore

Severn Bridge

The River Severn, the longest river in Britain (350km or 220 miles) is home to one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena - the Severn Bore.

Bores are naturally occurring tidal waves occurring in the lower reaches of about 60 rivers throughout the world and 8 in the UK.

There are around 260 bores a year, but on 25 days a year really substantial waves are experienced.

The size of the bores can be predicted and The Environment Agency predict and "star" the bores, posting information, timetables and the best viewing points on their website and in leaflets.

Travelling about 34 kilometres upstream from Awre to Gloucester and taking about 2 - 2.5 hours to do the entire distance, a particularly impressive stretch to watch it is during its final stage from Minsterworth to Gloucester. Reaching a height of 2-3 metres, its average speed is 16km per hour.

This same stretch of estuary is one of the most archaeologically rich coastal sites anywhere in the UK and Mesolithic footprints of children from 6200 BC have been found here. We look at how people have been coping and living with tides throughout history and meet up with Professor Martin Bell who is an expert on the incredibly rich finds on the Gwent Levels.


Cardiff Coal Exchange

Cardiff celebrates 100 years as a city and 50 years as capital of Wales this year and is home to one of the oldest multi-cultural communities in the UK.

Over 50 nationalities came and settled here from the latter part of 19th century, in part due to one man - John Crichton Stuart, the 2nd Marquis of Bute, and coal. The marquis invested in Cardiff when he saw potential in providing a gateway to the world for the huge amount of coal flooding down from the Rhondda. He built docks to get the coal out and as a result men flooded in and out to and from the four corners of the world.

Cardiff became one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world with a lot of the racially diverse communities settling in an area known as Tiger Bay just beyond the docks. An iconic place and often described as a real melting pot where many different groups lived harmoniously together.

Further change came to Cardiff Bay when a regeneration scheme in 1999 saw the building of a great barrage around the bay allowing a huge amount of waterfront development. This was controversial at the time as people were concerned about housing and environmental issues, but in a deal to win Cardiff over, a wetlands reserve was built beside the development and provides a home to wildlife.

Southerndown and Dunraven Bay

The coast around Southerndown and Dunraven Bay is dramatic and rocky. On the beach away from the rocks is the honeycomb reef that is home to the honeycomb worm who builds his home from sand. There are also other sandy creatures, sandmason worms, and lugworms.

Ogmore by Sea to Swansea

We also build our homes from sand - i.e. building sand which goes into cement. We often think of sand is an ever replenishing or growing substance, but it is actually finite. Sand is washed up cyclically from the seabed onto the shore, and can create great dune systems like the one that once would have stretched from Ogmore by Sea round to Swansea. This particular dune system would actually have been one of the UK and Europe's biggest had it not been broken up by building projects such as Sandfields housing estate which was not only built on the sand dunes but out of it as well.

Sand can also be potentially destructive. The lost town of Kenfig lies under the dunes, the sand inundation was caused by a mini ice age in the 12th to 15th century which caused particularly bad storms and winds and resulted in sand swallowing the town.

Paviland Cave - The Red Lady

Paviland Rocks

Paviland cave is home to a hugely important archaeological find. In 1823 the Rev William Buckland discovered the ancient remains of a body stained with red ochre and elaborately buried with artefacts at Paviland on the Gower. Buckland misinterpreted the find as that of a young female prostitute who serviced Roman soldiers from a nearby camp. In fact the body turned out to be that of a young man 26,000 years old who was buried with great dignity and ritual.

Access to cave is limited to certain times only and completely dependent on tide times. Information and advice re visiting should be sought in advance from Swansea Tourist Information: 01792 468321

Laugharne - Home of Dylan Thomas

Carmarthen Estuary and Laugharne, were home to one of the greatest writers from Wales: Dylan Thomas. Although born in Swansea, Thomas chose to settle in Laugharne living at the Boathouse for the last four years of his life during which time many of his major pieces of work were written, including Under Milk Wood.

Milford Haven

Milford Haven is part of drowned river valley and second deepest natural harbour in world - Nelson said it was possibly the finest. The town was founded by Sir William Hamilton (husband of Nelson's lover Emma) who built it for Quaker whalers from Nantucket with hopes that they would start whaling community here as London street lamps fuelled by whale sperm oil.

Smalls Lighthouse

Smalls Lighthouse

The Smalls is one of the most remote offshore lighthouses in the UK and home to extraordinary stories. The first message in bottle was sent from here and an incident here involving two lighthouse keepers brought about a change in the way lighthouses were run forever.

The couple, Howell and Griffith, were quarrelsome and when Howell unexpectedly died one night, this left Griffith with the worry that he would be blamed for the death. He made a coffin and lashed the body to the outside of the lighthouse but storms picked up and no help was able to come to them for some weeks by which time Griffith had gone mad - making the lighthouse authority decide that there should always be three men stationed on lighthouses from then on in.

The lighthouse is managed by Trinity Lighthouse, and cannot be visited.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge

Wales Timeline - Red Lady of Paviland
Wales Timeline - The Growth of Cardiff
Coastal Habitats
Coastal Plants
Coastal Birds
Finding Coastal Wildlife
Kids Guide to the Seaside

On the rest of the web

Environment Agency
The Severn Bore
Newport Wetlands
Butetown History and Arts Centre
Norwegian Church and Arts Centre
Cardiff Tourist Information
Paviland Cave
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse
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Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

South East Wales
South West Wales

Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

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The Travellers Coast- Cardigan Bay to the Dee

Neil discovers the story of a Welsh Atlantis lost beneath the waves; Miranda goes in search of leatherback turtles; whilst Alice descends into the caves of Great Orme and Nick canoes in the treacherous Menai Straits, to examine the bridges across to Anglesey.

sand mason worms at work
Worming away in a sandy 'des res' are creatures you might not initially notice!

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