Friday, 6 May 2016

Children of the Submerged Woodland

Out of curiosity about the inundation of the lands lost following the Ice Age, I came across a couple of articles about submerged forests being exposed in Pembrokeshire (my home area) following the 2014 storms.  I had totally forgotten about them and their impact; Newgale beach, which I used to spend nearly all of my summers every year on with my family, was almost demolished and he valley behind it almost entirely returned to the sea. It seems that these storms turned up the inundated landscape too.  

Newgale before the storm

 Newgale after the storm

The exposed peatlands from the submerged land

Then I remembered being told when I was a child about the sunken forests off another beach around the coast from us at Abermawr beach. In these latter two, the exposure is less wood and tree stump and more of a peat soil surface which gets exposed, the age is more Mesolithic but with some Palaeolithic beneath it – including stone tools. Hazelnuts and other fruits can be found in the peat. What appears to have happened is that following the glacial retreat, there were a few thousand years of land exposed here, enough to lay down peat and have woodland covering. Then, from about 5000 to 2000 BCE the sea advanced and these lands were eventually lost completely and we get the coastline as we see it today pretty much.

The same sort of peaty exposure at Abrmawr

I had also been doing some reading up on 'fairy' folklore from my area in north Pembrokeshire. There are stories about a group of 'people' who were known as the Plant Rhys Dwyfn, who lived under the sea in Cardigan Bay and used to go to the market in Newport. They would always pay well and as one of the merchants there gave them good quality goods for which they paid a good price. Eventually other salesmen started trying to get more money from them by inflating their prices and so the undersea folk stopped going to the market and started frequenting Fishguard (my hometown) on marketday. There is also a tradition amongst fishermen in the area that they would see the fields and pastures of these Underseaworlds beneath the waves.

What makes me wonder, is the possible link between the stories of these cardigan bay Plant Rhys Dwyfn, the submerged landscape and the inundation itself. 

Was the inundation preserved in story? What is the relationship between the sunken lands and the Plant Rhys Dwyfn for instance?  Did the occasional exposure of the landscape inspire stories about sunken lands and people who still live there?

1 comment:

Lorna Smithers said...

Plant Rhys Dwyfn - the Family of Rhys of the Deep? Gwilym Morus-Baird wrote about the use of the term dwfn in relation to Annwn here

A while back I found a story in John Rhys set in Caernarvonshire about a mermaid where people who are dead are said to be 'with Gwyn ap Nudd in the Gwaelodion' (the bottoms) in reference to the sea.

I also wonder whether the stories originate from the peoples of that area who may have later been seen as (or like) spirits of Annwn/faeries.