Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pembrokeshire Paradise Regained at Abereiddi

Take a look at this picture of Abereiddi, on the beautiful north coast of Pembrokeshire.  Let it take you - in spirit, if not in body - to that most beautiful part of the world.

I admit, the photo was not taken on a particularly beautiful day, but this needn't diminish the pleasure of your visit.  In your mind's eye, travel down the deeply-cut lanes bounded by banks of wildflowers and hawthorns until you reach the cluster of prettily painted houses tucked at the back of the beach.

You leave the houses behind you, nestling in their verdant scrubby gardens, and you're struck by that pleasurable assault on the senses that accompanies your arrival at any beach.

But this is not any beach.  Abereiddi has that rare combination of natural beauty - supplied by rugged cliffs and headlands; traditional architecture - supplied by the cottages with their limewash and slurried-roofs; and historic interest - supplied by the evocative ruins of the nearby slate quarries.

Now, how would you feel if I told you that this wonderful beach was going to be edged with steel girders, concrete blocks and huge boulders?  I'd imagine that you'd be rather upset.  Well, calm down, don't worry, it isn't.

If you've not been to Abereiddi before, you'll be surprised to learn that until recently, that's exactly what was here.  Take a look at the second photo (below) - taken a couple of months ago.

The decision to remove the ill-conceived 1960s sea defences - taken courageously by Pembrokeshire County Council was fully supported by the National Trust.  As the owner of a small part of the north end of the beach, the Trust commissioned a study that showed that this was a classic example of self-assured-destruction: that of sea defences being undermined by the very erosion that they had been built to stop.  

With the beach now restored to its more natural state, it can behave as it wants to: a dynamic shingle ridge that changes its position in response to storms. 

So-far-so-good, I hear you say.  

But working with the forces of nature is rarely straightforward.  See how the space available for parking has already been reduced by a couple of month's erosion.  What happens if the next storm takes another quarter of the car park? What if the coast path begins to erode? What about all the other sites in Pembrokeshire - and around our entire Welsh coastline - where there are aging sea-defences which were built with good intention but with little understanding of how the coast would respond to rising sea levels?

These are the sort of knotty questions that the National Trust, partners and the local community will need to address over the coming months and years.

When I next go to Abereiddi - this time in body rather than in spirit - I for one will not lament the loss of parking.  I'll take the Strumble-Shuttle bus down those flower-lined lanes and I'll have my picnic sitting on the shingle ridge where once stood a steel girder.


  1. Great piece of writing - conjures up a pleasant, romantic image of this glorious coastline. Given its aim of supporting the removal of the sea defences. it is not surprising, however, that the two images depict the tide in a totally different state. In the top photo, if the the tide was in, as it is in the bottom photo, the images wouldn't be so starkly different. It isn't the girder and boulder defence that offends the eye, it is the little fence inside it. As a very regular visitor to Abereiddi over the last 30 years, I had never noticed that fence - was it new? Moreover, why remove the defences prior to having an immediate plan and permission to replace it with something else?

    1. Thanks Hazel for your comment. It's great to get feedback from regular visitors and we welcome debate on the blog. Although the local authority were responsible for the old sea defences, we supported the decision not to replace them. The article was making the case that in some places we should adapt to the forces of nature, rather than try to use engineering solutions to fight them. The recent storms have now completely changed the beach and solutions will need to be investigated to extend the car park inland to make up for what's been lost. I'm looking forward to getting another photo of how it is now so that I can update the blog.