Posted by: georginaferry | August 17, 2010

What I did on my holidays

Looking out over the Teifi estuary

It’s not really a valid excuse in these days of mobile broadband and wireless hotspots, but a holiday in West Wales accounts for my absence from the blogosphere for the past three weeks. Most of my energy was devoted to an annual activity that has nothing to do with natural history (see,  but I also had plenty of time to revisit the breathtaking coastline of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. Back in the Museum today I’m hunting through the collections to identify some of the objects I spotted.

Like most of the country, Pembrokeshire had a late spring. But unlike Oxford it also had a wet July, with the result that the meadows were still a vivid green. And the wild flowers! Usually by the time we arrive in early August there’s not much left apart from golden gorse and purple heather. But this year it looked more like June than August. Cow parsley, scabious, thrift, snapdragons, viper’s bugloss, hawkweed, red and white campion, foxgloves, all  grew along the coastal path and in the hedgerows. Attracted by the flowers were an abundance of butterflies which I’m ashamed to say I mostly failed to identify. Common blues certainly, and purple emperors on buddleia, but otherwise lots of small brown varieties that moved too fast for me to get a good look at their defining characteristics.

The sky above the village where we stayed was full of the cries of martins, not as elegant as our own swifts but very entertaining to watch. Flocks of oyster catchers flew overhead in V-formation like geese, and the mournful cry of the curlew sounded over the estuary. Buzzards sat on watch atop telegraph poles on every  lane, the hoarse croaking of ravens announced their presence overhead, and I saw a red kite for the first time this far west. My favourite bird sightings were choughs and fulmars on the cliffs, and a solitary gannet far out to sea, the sun catching on its gleaming white wings. Too late for puffins as usual.

Rock pool at the Witch's Cauldron

We did not do too badly for large sea mammals: grey seals swam off the coast, and we spent a magical half hour watching a bottlenose dolphin teach her calf to fish off the headland at Mwnt. But for high drama the tussle between a crab and a prawn twice its size in a rock pool at the Witch’s Cauldron near Ceibwr was better than television. My photo fails to capture this or indeed any of the rapidly-swimming shrimp or gobies – only an assortment of molluscs and seaweeds which I have yet to identify. *Update – I think the snails are rough periwinkles, Littorina saxatilis, and (in the foreground) flat tops, Gibbula umbilicalis, correct me if I’m wrong! Plus the odd limpet, Patella vulgaris.

Cliff near Cwm Tudu

Much of the drama of this shore comes from the fantastic rock formations in the cliffs, all visible from the wonderful coastal path that follows every curlicue of the coastline from Poppit Sands to Amroth. Some of the coastline north of the Teifi estuary towards Aberystwith is also accessible, and a favourite spot is the cove half an hour’s walk north of Cwm Tudu. It’s hard to imagine the forces that must have come into play to bend the rock strata into such startling folds. Since then the sea has eroded the layers differentially, so that as you run your hands over the rock you encounter sharp points, deeply scoured pockets and surfaces worn smooth all within a few inches of each other.

Pembrokeshire has mountains as well as a coastline. I made a third visit to a spot freighted with significance: the outcrop of spotted dolerite at Carn Menyn in the Preselis, said to be the site where our prehistoric ancestors quarried the ‘bluestones’ for the inner circle at Stonehenge.

Part of Carn Menyn in the Preselis, though to be the source of the bluestones at Stonehenge

If this is true, you can see why they picked the spot: the remaining rocks have been almost pre-shaped for standing stones by ice erosion.

Time to go and wander round the galleries, or find someone to badger into looking at my pictures and helping me to understand more about what I’ve been appreciating largely on aesthetic grounds. Many of the staff are on holiday, but the museum is full of  visitors, mostly very young, whose enthusiastic voices echo outside the door as I write.


  1. Hello Georgina! your Pembrokeshire holiday brings back memories of many visits to Newport, Pembrokeshire, mainly when Rose was Primary school age.
    Her 4th birthday party was a BBQ on the Newport beach. It was memorable for the huge numbers of baby crabs that we found under seaweed in the rock pools – some as small as a little finger nail! And naturally they were usually in groups – little families of baby crabs!
    Those rock pools were where we went crabbing using bits of bacon tied to my office key – best use of an office key in years!
    Hope you are well!

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