18 January 2015


It is said that there is very little good news. There is, so I'm told but good news doesn't make headlines and is seldom broadcast. The news output on the main TV channels this year has been utterly depressing and makes you wonder what hope there can be for human kind. As Dolores O'Riordan sang 'with their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns' the few are leaving a terrible trail of destruction in their wake and yes, Mothers' hearts are broken.

The one subject reported though that really has depressed me beyond belief has not been the direct slaughter of innocents by misinformed terrorists although that in itself could be enough to think there is no hope, no it's been the indirect slaughter of innocents by those in charge and who should know better, who are trusted to know better, are paid to know better but do not live in the same world as I do, yes I mean our politicians, our government and how they are allowing the NHS to die. Nor is it withering. It is a death by thousands of cuts, literally, and it is violent, dark and absolutely bloody heart breaking.

The privatising of vital NHS services, GPs 'purchasing' of vital services for their patients are bad enough but seeing A&E departments fall apart under the immense pressure of the needs of people requiring their services is observing the NHS in its death throes. It is not the fault of the staff who work in these departments who face an uphill and never ending battle every time they walk into work. No, there are a myriad of reasons but they all interlinked and they all come back to the tories and our coalition government.

It is in the personal interests of many high ranking tories including cabinet members to see the NHS die. They and their friends are shareholders and beneficiaries in the companies that will take over from the NHS; the insurance companies, the private health suppliers and providers, all there ready and waiting to step in because health services are no longer about benefiting the people be they sick or well but in need of advice, but are about profit.

The tories bleat long and hard about the GP contracts that the previous government introduced which have led to GPs no longer providing decent out of hours services but have they done anything about these contracts? No. They torment us with little snippets such as asking GPs to see more patients outside of normal working hours (and how many actually do that?) but there is little if anything else offered.

111 was supposed to be the saviour, a better service than NHS Direct. Get rid of the NHS marker, contract it out and make it better! Have you ever called 111? I have several times. My only advice is don't bother. The script they read from has to be strictly adhered to, there can be no deviations. It is take a paracetamol or go to A&E and virtually nothing in between.  One weekend in absolute facial agony with a swelling that made  me look like I'd done a few rounds with Mike Tyson,  I was given the phone number of a dentist that offered an out of hours service. I called them. It was 120 pounds to walk through the door and sit in the dentists chair plus there would be extra to pay for treatment and yes I made it clear that I was an NHS patient and not private. Needless to say I did not take up their generous offer and instead maxed out on painkillers for another 24 hours enduring the agony.

Over the last twenty years we've got used to hearing about hospitals streamlining their services because due to the improvements in procedures and care, patients can released home sooner and so beds available in hospitals  have been reduced. Trouble is that when there is a high demand for beds either the people waiting in A&E have to wait on trolleys, sometimes in corridors until a bed becomes available whilst the person who was utilising the services and the bed is discharged perhaps a little sooner than they should have been into a world where the services they need are either lacking or non-existent. Or maybe they are discharged only to be readmitted a few hours later via the auspices of A&E because they have suffered a catastrophic event entirely down to the fact that they were discharged too early. I could relate anecdotal stories to illustrate this of people who I know where this has happened but there really is no need because everyone reading this will have similar stories to tell.  Such is the pressure on beds.

Recently I sat for many hours going through the budget proposals of Walsall Council who have enormous cuts to make to services if the budget it to be legal. This too was heartbreaking. How on earth are you supposed to make informed comments and arguments about why certain services should not be cut or charges raised on those least able to afford them when there appears to be little alternative? Some of the proposals for adult care in the community for both young and old are nothing short of insulting and also discriminative. Discriminative because in my mind everyone should have the right to access the care and services they need to be able to lead a full and active life within the community and yet for those who are disabled in some way or are old are now being told that in order to to be on a level playing field with healthy and able bodied they must pay and pay dearly.

It is the local councils that are supposed to provide social care. For many people who are being discharged from hospital it is vital that this social care is in place and accessible as soon as they are discharged but the councils are having to cut or to charge for these services and the administrative merry go round that is encountered when attempting to arrange access for someone is such a nightmare. No wonder hospitals cannot discharge those that are well enough not to be in hospital but do require social care and services. It is cheaper for the council and the individual for people to remain in hospital, bed blocking.

These are the reasons A&E departments through the country cannot reach their targets and why people are kept waiting on trolleys for hours and sometimes days. It's all about money. Money to be made for shareholders and interested parties and money to be saved by councils by not providing services or providing them but charging and making them inaccessible to those who need them most.

Yes the NHS makes the headlines, the so called failures of A&E staff to meet targets. What isn't making the headlines and what isn't entering into the full consciousness of the British people in large numbers are the real reasons for these failures. It's all about money and profit. But you see it's not me, it's not my family......

3 January 2015

The life and times of Henney; an ordinary but extraordinary woman

Lucky Horse Shoe courtesy of  www.indepthinfo.com
When researching your own family history, many ancestors are fascinating, interesting and their characters reach out to you across what can be hundreds of years. Occasionally you find someone that you would love to meet, to ask questions, seek motives and answers because their lives are so full of twists and turns and you can feel the force of someone who held on, no matter what. You suspect a strong personality, guts, determination and perhaps you see a little of yourself hidden by the generations. Henney Rowbotham Lloyd Mason Robinson is one such woman.

When I first came upon the identity of my Great Grandmother Henney I made an assumption that many have made; that her name was a shortened form of say, Henrietta. What I did not do, as many more have on their family trees on Ancestry, is to think she was a boy. Certainly the Rev. Fisher of St Giles Church, Willenhall thought that he was baptising a boy on 17 June 1849 and duly entered into his parish records that the baptism had taken place of Henry Rowbotham, son of Thomas, a lockmaker and Ann.  Either Rev Fisher didn't listen properly when asking the parents the child’s name or perhaps he had partaken of a little too much communion wine but Henney was Henney, not Henrietta and she was undoubtedly a girl. It is all recorded as such on her birth certificate.

Henney was born in Humpshire as Willenhall was (and still is if you are of a certain age) known locally, a name derived from the fact that many of the men in the town had a humpback derived from bending over their  lock making workbenches from a very young age. Her father Thomas was one of these lockmakers of whom by 1855 there numbered 340 in the town. Self employed, most workshops were backyard affairs and often whole families were employed in the business, down to young children filing keys. They worked long hours throughout the year, rising before 6 am to start work that would not finish until at least 7 pm. Locksmiths in Willenhall were paid less for their locks than elsewhere and yet they achieved worldwide recognition for their skills. This did not however detract from the fact that it was a hard life and that finished products from one week would have to be sold before the following weeks materials could be purchased. Despite this Thomas would appear to have made ends meet as he had at least two young men apprenticed to him over the years and advertised in the trade directories of the period. Furthermore at some stage he decided to retire from lockmaking and buy a pub in nearby Wednesfield. He was old by then but perhaps he considered the business of a licensed victualler to be less onerous than lockmaking.

Henney was the ninth child of Thomas and Ann who went on to have a total of twelve children that are known of. Alas for the couple, their three boys Thomas, Edward and John all died as very young babies but their girls flourished. All must have attended school or were taught to sign their names at the very least by their parents as they were no marks, when signing any documents of note. I get the feeling that these girls were proud of their father and of their name because there are several occurrences of children being given Rowbotham as a middle name, which what makes what happened to Henney puzzling. There are mysteries to which I will never know the answer but I do know one thing; Henney, my Great Grandmother was a survivor and she didn't always play by the rules that polite Victorian society kept or invented.

It is not known when and how Lewis Lloyd came into Henney’s life but he had been born and bred in Bilston, a few miles down the road. He was five years older than Henney and worked as a waggoner. He was illiterate, signing documents with the customary mark. Perhaps he conveyed locks that had been produced by Thomas or maybe they met at Willenhall market, either way it seems that fifteen year old Henney developed a passion for this young man and was headstrong enough to do something about it or perhaps she was led astray. We cannot be certain. What is known is that Henney removed herself to Bilston and satisfied the vicar of St Mary’s that she was 21 years old and therefore did not require her parent’s permission to wed and that she lived in Bilston. The banns were called. On Christmas Day 1864, when Henney was just 15 years old, she became a wife.

Where the young couple began their married life is lost in the midst of time but it is known that in the autumn of 1868, nearly four years later, they were in Caledonia Street Bilston long enough to baptise a daughter by the name of Anne Maria. Whether Henney had borne other children is a mystery. There appear to be no baptisms in the whole of Staffordshire for any other possible children of the marriage  prior to this, so maybe Henney did not have to marry so young but chose and wanted to do so, or maybe the stress and unhealthiness of her life in those years was such that any babies never went to full term. Poor Anne Maria didn't fair well; she died before the end of the year.

1869 was a momentous year for Henney. She and Lewis moved to Moseley Hole lying just south of  Portobello, close to Willenhall. By this time Lewis had become a bolt maker, so perhaps he had found a job at the colliery there where his skills would have been needed. During the summer, cases of smallpox began to increase in the Wolverhampton area, becoming a full blown epidemic killing thousands during 1870 and 1871. Lewis became one of the first to succumb during that damp, stormy but warm summer. Poor Henney was left a very young widow at the tender age of 20, worse she was pregnant again and gave birth soon afterwards to  Elizabeth Rowbotham Lloyd in Heath Town. Henney had a couple of sisters that had married and moved to the area and her parents were also by this time living in close proximity, so presumably she was relying upon their support rather than entering the workhouse, which must have loomed large as a real possibility following her husband’s death. I cannot think that Thomas and Ann had been agreeable or happy at Henney’s marriage at such a tender age because her sisters all waited until at least their twenties before embarking upon this change in status. Perhaps the intervening years had softened their disapproval and they were willing to help this child who now found herself in such dire straits.

I hope that Henney welcomed the advent of 1870 praying that the year could not work out as badly as the previous 12 months, losing a child, then her husband and then giving birth to young Elizabeth. Maybe she had already met William Mason or was there a whirlwind romance? William had been born in 1837 in Penn, so was a good 12/13 years older than Henney. He was one of eight children and had spent many years of his life following work in the wider Wolverhampton area. In 1870 he was still a bachelor at 32 and worked as a miner as he had since 14 years of age. Later he became a colliery horse keeper, beginning a line of work with horses and a love of horses that was common within the family for a couple of generations.

On 9 October 1870 Henney married William at Holy Trinity Church in Wednesfield. What attractions did this young single mother hold to lure a confirmed bachelor of 32 into marriage? William would have proved a shrewd choice of husband for he was hard working and no longer would Henney have to rely upon her family for what effectively was charity to keep her out of the workhouse.

Henney,William and young Elizabeth set up home in Deans Road Wednesfield. I hope that they enjoyed a decent quality of life for a while as disaster was about to strike for Henney once again. Towards the end of April 1872 young Elizabeth developed flu like symptoms and then began vomiting. Shortly afterwards the tell tale spots of smallpox erupted on her skin and in her mouth. She would have been highly contagious at this time as Henney would know from her previous experience of this disease. Henney must have been distraught to see her second child fighting for her life but I have questions for Henney. In 1867 vaccination against smallpox had been made virtually (the act ‘required’) compulsory for all children within 3 months of birth and was free. If parents failed to get their child vaccinated then the Registrar was required to deliver a notice of vaccination and if this was ignored then the parents were liable to a summary conviction and a fine of 20/-. Henney wasn't stupid, she could read, she knew how devastating the disease could be having lost Lewis and yet  Elizabeth, just two years old, died after suffering from smallpox for 12 days. William who had been present when his step daughter died registered her death on the very day of the event.

Fate left cruelty behind for a decent period whilst Henney and William got on with ordinary life. They stayed in Wednesfield for a few years and their first daughter Annie was born there in 1873. There was then a gap when they moved to Moseley Village and their second daughter Mary Ann Amelia (known as Millie) was born in November 1879. The 1870s saw the decline of mining in the Willenhall area, mines were closed and presumably in search of work William moved the family to Littleworth in Cannock where at the end of 1882 my grandfather John Thomas Mason was born. He was followed quickly by Henry in 1884 and very shortly afterwards the family moved to the Pool Green area of Aldridge, just a few yards down the road from where I live now. William was by now a colliery horse keeper but I am uncertain as to which colliery in the area he worked.

At some point towards the end of 1885, William hurt his leg and he developed a fever. On 21st January 1886 Henney became a widow for the second time when William died and was buried in the cemetery by Aldridge church. He was nearly 50 years old, whilst Henney was now approaching 37 and had four children to feed and clothe including a babe who was yet to celebrate his second birthday. Times were desperate and needs must to evade the workhouse but Henney was living in a small conservative village where everyone did know everyone and transgressions would be noticed and remarked upon.

Harriet Elizabeth Mason was born in Aldridge in the late spring of 1888. Her mother was Henney, her father? Well the surname she carried belonged to a man who had been dead for two years.The mystery is solved by examining the census of 1891. At 108 Albert Street Wednesbury one Thomas Robinson a 32 year old blacksmith born in Aldridge, is found living with his wife, Henney, his two stepsons John and Charles and also  his daughter Harriet, presumably named after her paternal Grandmother and a long dead sister.

Thomas Robinson was the son of Pool Green blacksmith John Robinson and his wife Harriet. John must have been making a decent living from his smithy as not only did Thomas serve his apprenticeship with his father but there were other apprentices too and a servant to attend to the family. When Henney and William had moved to Pool Green with their young family, Thomas would have been in his early twenties. He probably got to know the family well through William and his connections with horses and would have been near at hand when Henney was widowed. Clearly a close bond formed between the two and the result was Harriet. For some reason however Henney and Thomas did not marry despite the fact that legally there was no impediment and yet Harriet was openly acknowledged as Thomas’s daughter and Henney his wife, but not in Pool Green, they moved out of the village. Presumably Thomas’s family were not happy with developments and a young 26 year old getting together with a woman at least 11 years his senior with four children in tow. In other places Henney and Thomas would just be accepted as a married couple with no questions asked whereas in Aldridge there was history and the village gossips no doubt had a field day on the scandalous goings on!

By 1897 the gossipers had probably moved on to other subjects and Henney and Thomas moved back to Aldridge for a brief period. In the their time away Thomas’s mother had died and his father was now living alone in Pool Green. What made Henney and Thomas now decide to place their union on a legal footing is not known. Henney was now 48 approaching what was then old age, maybe she pestered Thomas for marriage knowing it offered her a little more security with him effectively still being a bachelor and not yet 40 years of age or perhaps Thomas wanted to do the right thing and make his father a little happier now they had returned to the village. Whatever the reason was, on 29th November 1897, Henney and Thomas married at the Register Office in Walsall and Henney’s oldest daughter Annie was a witness.

Clearly there was not enough work in Aldridge for Thomas and so the family moved to Hamstead Cottages next to Hamstead Colliery where he worked as a shoeing smith. In 1901 on census night the whole family were together. Annie was working in Birmingham as a domestic servant, John was home from the army, Charles was working as a blacksmith striker at the colliery and Harriet was at home with her Mother.

By 1911 Henney and Thomas were living on Hardwick Road in Streetly with Thomas now working for himself as a general and shoeing smith. Annie had married and had her own brood of four children living in Handsworth, John was also married with a child and living in Aston and Charles was working as a blacksmith in a foundry in Kilburn, Derbyshire. Only Harriet now 23 but still single remained at home. I am hoping that in these years life had been kinder to Henney and that she took comfort in the fact that she and Thomas had now been together for nearly 25 years.

One more move was on the cards, this time to Dudley Port where Thomas continued working as a shoeing smith. Henney became a widow for the third and final time in the spring of 1920 when Thomas died. She outlived him by five years. In January 1925 now approaching her 75th birthday Henney developed bronchitis and without the aid of antibiotics to fight the infection, it weakened her heart and she died of heart failure on 2 February. Her daughter Annie was with her.

I do not have any photograph of Henney and so do not know what she looked like but I imagine an attractive and maybe in her younger years voluptuous woman who was passionate and a little wild, willing to follow her instincts. Her every day activities would not have marked her out from the millions of other working class women of her day, cooking, cleaning, caring for her children but she was long lived for her time and left behind a remarkable story of surviving against all the odds, despite heartbreak and despair throughout her life. I am proud to call her my Great Grandmother.

3 November 2014

Poppies and a veil of tears

We left a bright and sunny Birmingham to journey south to the city where the streets are paved with poppies, so we're told. We arrived in London to grey skies and heavy rain. The purpose of the journey was to view the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red; an art installation by Paul Cummins, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, or the Great War as it was known until all hell broke loose once again in 1939.

I'm not an art critic so I cannot comment on the artistic side of this. What I can say is that it takes your breath away on first sighting. It is as though a river of blood runs around the Tower of London. 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a soldier who died from the UK and Commonwealth countries during the Great War, makes a visually stunning and sobering sight. For me on a personal level it works as an act of remembrance. It is not a celebration of the so called glories of war, for me there are none, nor does it glorify state violence on a mass scale, it uses the simplicity of the globally recognised emblem of remembrance, the poppy, to provoke thought, remembrance and to reflect upon the utter futility of war and the damage caused to individuals and families that like the blood that flowed during the war, cascaded down the generations.

We found a relatively quiet spot to stand silently by the moat, each wrapped up in our own thoughts. The rain was apt, providing a veil of tears through which the river of blood flowed.

Of my four Great Grandfathers, three played their part in that war to end all wars. One was killed in action, two were injured and eventually returned home, the other was too old to serve but saw three of his sons leave the village, one of which, never returned. Today I remembered all of them and also their nearest and dearest and what they must have gone through during those four hellish years and the years that followed.

I found it all very deeply affecting but then for me this wasn't a trip to 'the must see art installation of the decade', it was part of my personal act of remembrance this year. Alas many amongst the crowds were not there for the same reason. I had heard that the crowds were respectful but saw little evidence of this whilst being jostled by someone trying to get just the right angle for just the right picture, or for smiling family group photographs set against the backdrop of a river of blood, or the shouting and loud laughter. Maybe we just went on the wrong day.

If you can make it to London before the 12th, when each poppy will be lifted, cleaned and then boxed up and sent on to all those people who have purchased one of the poppies, then do go because  it is a very special thing to see.

2 June 2014

It is done

It's now been over three years since Mom died. Until today her coats hung in the  hall with matching scarves carefully placed around the neck of the hanger. Little ribbons or flowers, depending on which charity she had given to that winter, were pinned to lapels. Her shoes lay underneath, dusted each week by me. It was though she was still resident in the house. If you held a scarf to your face you could still detect her perfume. They smelt of Mom.

Upstairs in the wardrobe hung her clothes. All neatly lined up. More coats and jackets, then dresses, trousers, skirts. In another wardrobe blouses and tops. In cupboards her other wear, ordered meticulously. All ironed, neatly folded, a place for everything and everything in its place. Sachets of pot pourri  and lavender everywhere. Little tablets of soap from gift boxes lay underneath perfumed paper. Small  brooches on  her 'best' jackets. No dust had collected. Everything smelt fresh and lovely, just like my Mom.

Everything was as it was on the day she left us. Seems like yesterday and yet it seems like a lifetime ago.

Dad had finally agreed last year that everything should be sorted and bagged and given to charity but every time I mentioned getting started, a tear would roll down his cheek and I did not have the heart to start the job. This week he's away so I suggested that it might be the right time for me to deal with this, whilst he wasn't there, so as not to upset him as much as if he watched me go through all her lovely clothes. He agreed.

So today it was done. As I took each item from the hanger and folded it neatly, then placed it in a bag, I thought of all the times I had seen Mom wearing that dress, those trousers and so on. Memories of ordinary days and memories of special times. How particular colours suited her, what she paired together, combinations. Remembering how lovely she looked in everything, recalling conversations. I felt her with me. I could smell her and in my memory I could see her, smiling, always smiling, looking beautiful.

2 March 2014

Tiptoeing through the bluebells

Me and Mom in 2002 before she got ill
I've spent the last three days in the garden. Yes, even today when it rained or drizzled for the majority of the time I was out there having great fun with the pressure washer. My greenhouse is now pristine.

Taking things very gently, careful not to overexert myself I've planted lots of seeds in trays, toilet rolls and pots in the greenhouse; from cayenne peppers to sweet peppers, from leeks to spring onions and from sweet peas to pumpkins. Preparation of two flower beds underneath the many shrubs went well and lots of summer bulbs were set and many more seeds sewn for flowers with the intention of attracting bees and butterflies. I've even made a start on the patio tubs for the summer. There's still an awful lot to do but I'm happy with my achievements over the three days.

Working in the garden always brings me closer to my Mom. It will be three years since she left us later this month. Like this last one, the winter that preceded her death was exceptionally mild and the day she died was a glorious sun filled warm spring day, the sort that heralds the arrival of the warmer seasons with a huge orchestra playing the 1812 Overture, the sort of day she loved. The daffodils in her garden were at their best, strong, tall, golden, shimmering in the sun. It looks as though this year the sunshine yellow daffodils will once again be in full bloom on the first day of spring, the third anniversary of her departure.They had been well tended over the years, originally by herself and then later by a gardener whom she watched and instructed so that her garden was just so.

Me and Mom are different types of gardener. She liked order and neatness whereas I love riots and wildness. She would do a little every day, I tend to have periods of benign neglect to be followed with a frenzy of activity because I've left the weeds in the vegetable plots too long and they're strangling my veg. Mom took care of her lawn, dandelions and daisies that had the audacity to take root on the hallowed turf were ruthlessly slashed, rooted out and burnt. I now have very little grass left after the latest improvements and I rather like the moss, daises and forget-me-nots that have rooted because they cover up the bare bits that have developed because of my neglect.

When I consider our differences as a gardener I always want to apologise to Mom for not respecting and upholding her order and neatness. I'm not sure that she ever understood why I leave things to seed and don't pull out self-sewn flowers but I love the uncertainty of where something may pop again in years to come, like shadows of former years reaching out to touch once again. I want to think that she understood that my rebellious nature meant that I was never going to garden in the same way as she did. One thing I do know she understood was how my love for nature, for gardening and for cultivating has grown over the years. She planted the seeds of love within me when as a small child she would name all the flowers, cultivated or wild (read weeds rather than wild if you're like my Mom) and trees and sometimes tell me short stories of where she had first seen that particular plant. She waited a long time for the seeds she had sewn to develop and mature but I am so glad that she gave me that gift; the gift of seeing the beauty of small and simple things like a petal or a leaf. Thank you Mom.

As I've worked these last three days I've had a lot of conversations inside my head with Mom as I always do when working in the garden. I told her of things that should never have been left unsaid whilst she was alive and reflected upon times when we visited places together that blossomed with the loveliness of Mother Nature. I remember that one of the last proper conversations that I had with her was about how the bluebells in Cuckoos Nook were well advanced and that I thought they would bloom in April, so I wanted her to get well so that we could go dancing amongst them. It was a joke of course, Mom's dancing days were well gone by then but it amused her all the same and she smiled and said I could do the dancing for the both of us. A few days later she was gone but when the bluebells bloomed I did go dancing alone in the ancient woodland and felt her presence.

21 February 2014


Me to Walsall Manor Outpatients: "Hello, I was told by Nuclear Imaging two weeks ago today that I would have an outpatients appointment within two weeks. Do you have an appointment booked for me please?"

Outpatients: "No there's no appointment for you but you are on the waiting list for your cardiac procedure."

Me: "What cardiac procedure?"

Outpatients: "Oh, haven't you been told?"

Me: "No, I thought that was the point of the outpatient appointment I was waiting for; to give me the results of my recent tests and to outline what would happen next."

Silly me for thinking that a consultant would actually communicate my test results to me face to face and then we would have an opportunity to discuss what those results meant. It's only my life after all!

1 February 2014

Turning over old leaves

As far as the eye can see
 Like Kate  I too was glued to the facebook pages of LoveTywyn   during the storms at the beginning of the year. Simultaneously I was  amazed and fearful. Amazed by the videos posted that showed the dramatic power of the sea and waves and fearful for a place that is dear to my heart, hopeful that no harm would come to the people who live there.

Tywyn was a second home to me when I was a child. We visited several times a year with various members of the family and friends too. Family connections go back further than the 1960s with my maternal Grandfather having seen some service there at the end of the second world war. It is therefore a familiar and loved place that accompanies a treasure trove of beloved memories and one that I am pleased to say has not changed in any great way in at least fifty years. I caught my first shrimps, crabs and tiny fish there in rock pools up towards the River Dysinni and I learned to swim (in a fashion) there by launching myself off sandbanks into slightly deeper water with a an attentive and encouraging Grandfather supervising and  encouraging. It was also the place where as a teenager, I wrestled with the conundrum of having two boyfriends at the same time in the same place!

In the 1960s and 70s, we always stayed in a very old caravan at Bryn-y-Mor. No running water and no electricity made for interesting holidays. I thought the calor gas lighting to be a thing of beauty because you could watch the tiny flames change colour and dance about, more fascinating than a light bulb and so much better for making shadow animals on the walls. Each morning I would fill the water container from a tap just behind the next caravan down and after breakfast we would take left-over bread and crusts to feed chickens that were kept on site. There were days of blazing hot sunshine when the beach was all we needed and wanted and days of torrential rain when we sat inside playing card and board games and probably drove the adults insane with sibling bickering and arguing.

A trunk smoothed by the sea
In all the years that I enjoyed the simple delights of Tywyn I never knew of the treasure trove beneath the sands. As a child, had I known, I would have been digging for the treasure. Lying covered with sand, protecting the precious spoils within are the remnants of an ancient forest and of peat beds, dugs by the locals some hundreds of years ago and formed centuries before that. These treasures were uncovered by the recent storms and now hundreds if not thousands are flocking to the this latest tourist attraction in this tiny seaside resort.

Two weeks ago we took a few nights away and stayed on the other side of the Dovey Estuary near Ynys Hir. Whilst there I was not going to let the opportunity slip of seeing the ancient treasure before once again, it is reclaimed by the sand. That said it would seem that this weekend there are more storms and high tides there and so even more may be uncovered. Since the first storm some of the treasure has been reclaimed  but more has been exposed, meaning that the ancient remains can be seen along a four mile stretch of beach from the Neptune end of Tywyn towards the Dovey Estuary.

I recalled mention of an ancient forest along the Cambrian Coast of Wales from a TV programme I had watched a long time since but when attempting to discover more about the forest at Tywyn there was little available information apart from various archaeological assessments and reports prepared for the many proposed coastal protection scheme plans throughout the years and to these and in particular the report number 555 prepared by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust in 2005, I am indebted for the knowledge now gained.

Wood preserved but now breaking away from the peat
Until a month ago the best place to see remnants of the ancient forest was a few miles south of Tywyn and on the other side of the Dovey Estuary at Ynyslas and Borth. These remnants have been scientifically dated to the early monolithic period. There is an underlying salt marsh dated to around 6000 years BCE and the forest bed is dated to between about 5400- 3900 BCE. So the sea was close and then receded to about 5 miles out from the coastline we see today before returning to reclaim the land once again, where it has stayed ever since and if sea levels do rise further, to perhaps go even further inland than now.

An ancient felled tree
The presence of the hidden submerged forest and peat beds, lying beneath the sands at Tywyn have been known about for a very long time. Mostly, they have remained hidden by the sands that protected their precious treasure but every now and then a strong tide combined with even stronger winds has exposed small sections allowing some research to be undertaken. The presence of charcoal has been noted indicating ancient human activity nearby. What a different view those people must have had to that now; a forest stretching all along what is now the coastline and out to the sea for what is thought to be a distance of five miles. I pondered on that during our visit as I stood beside the remnants. I tried to imagine the thousands of oaks, hazels, pines, birch and willows standing tall and largely undisturbed and all the animals both large and small that would have taken advantage of that wonderful habitat. I also thought about the local people who in the 18th century dug out the peat beds for the fuel they needed for their hearths. In some of the peat beds spade marks can be observed as can the drainage channels dug in order to take the moisture from this most valuable of resources formed over thousands of years.
Spade marks in the peat beds

The reports talk of the remnants extending for about a kilometre along the beach. In 2014 we now know that they extend for much further than that but tides are regular and the opportunity for in depth research is limited. What is there one day can have been covered on the next by the constantly shifting sands moved by the ebb and flow of the tides. What is also now clear is that the remnants disappear underneath the large expanses of sand, shingle and stones at the top of the beach that protect the land behind from flooding on a regular basis. It is possible that small remnants also stretch to and beneath the salt marshes that are beyond the beach and  that lie in effect, below sea level.

There were many people enjoying this natural and ancient tourist attraction but one thing gave me a sense that maybe not all was well, a sense of misgiving. The peat is incredibly soft. Lumps of it have been broken off by the power of the sea and deposited at the top of the beach, in fact I brought one such clod home with me. It is so soft that the prints of walking boots and trainers will be seen in centuries to come in the same manner that at Ynyslas there are 3000 year old footprints observable in the peat. With so many enjoying the remains I worry about the fragility of them and just how much 21st century footwear and use they can withstand. Although it is on the one hand sad that the sand will once again cover the remains, it is also a good thing if the remains are to stay preserved.

One paragraph from the report stuck in my mind:
Drainage channels between the peat beds
"This area of submerged ancient land surface is the largest in extent and the best preserved of the 31 known or reported exposures in North West Wales. It therefore has good potential for research and deserves monitoring."

I know from news reports that the archaeologists have been out there since the remains became uncovered and are now saying that this is probably the largest and best preserved ancient forest in the UK. I sincerely hope that they have been able to gain an awful lot of information just in case we happen to be responsible for its disintegration.

I consider myself privileged to have seen this ancient landscape, hidden from me as a child but buried treasure even for this cynical 51 year old.