'I MUST go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking, And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.’

At this stormy time of year, a walk along the seafront can be very bracing and I can never hear this famous poem by John Masefield, without thinking of its parody: "I must go back to a woollen vest, to a woollen vest with sleeves!"

The winter storms, most years, scrape a lot of sand and debris from our foreshore uncovering a mysterious treasure of drowned forests and legendary ‘palaces’ or ‘Llys’ in Welsh.

At Splash Point, Rhyl (along the promenade out of town past the Sun Centre, where the road makes a right-angled bend away from the beach), at this time of year, you can see ancient sodden tree stumps.

Apparently no-one has done any carbon dating on them yet, but they are thought to date from the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago.

When the vast ice sheet melted, the sea level rose and all along our North Wales shore there must have been drowned forests, and maybe even early settlements.

Since then the land has actually been rising again, like a dense foam mattress when you get up off it.

The weight of one mile thickness of ice being released has caused this ‘isostatic rejeuvenation’, and you can often see the evidence of this on seaside rock faces as a darker coloured (greyish) lower band from the current beach to about 25 feet up the cliffs.

You can certainly see it around the edge of the Lleyn peninsula on the boat-ride out to Bardsey.

All around the coast of Britain, there are folk tales of drowned villages where, at certain times “you can hear the church bell tolling”, and so forth.

The Mabinogion has the tale of an island floating just beneath the surface of the water, where heroes dive down to find another world.

Also in the Mabinogion is the legend of the kingdom of Maes Gwyddno, more commonly known as Cantre’r Gwaelod, said to lie under the Irish Sea in Cardigan Bay.

It was ruled by Gwyddno Garanhir (Longshanks), born circa 520AD.

The land was said to be extremely fertile, full of fruit trees, but depended on a dyke to protect it from the sea.

The dyke had sluice gates which were opened at low tide to drain the water from the land, and closed as the tide returned.

In around 600AD, a storm blew up from the south west, driving the spring tide against the sea walls. The appointed watchman, Seithennin, a heavy drinker and friend of the king, was at a party in the king’s palace near Aberystwyth.

Some say he fell asleep due to too much wine, or that he was too busy having fun, to notice the storm and to shut the gates.

The water gates were left open, and the sea rushed in to flood the land of the Cantref, drowning more than 16 villages.

I wonder if these are all part of a folk memory that goes as far back as the Stone Age, that witnessed the sea rising; more likely these stories have been built around the seasonal observance of exposed tree stumps like those at Rhyl, and more on Anglesey and down south of Port Madoc.

With climate change meaning that all the Arctic ice will be melted within the next few years, it is likely that the promenade at Rhyl will be drowned again before long.

The earliest evidence on the coast of human activity comes from over 70 prehistoric objects said to have been found from the upstanding peat beds and estuarine clays on the Rhyl foreshore over the years, including an antler mattock now dated to 6,550 years ago. There was also a fish-trap made of woven wooden sticks stuck deep in the mud.

These peats and clays are the remains of a much older landscape, buried by later material deposited over the millennia and inundated by rising sea levels.

Beneath our feet, and out there under the waves, lies a drowned landscape of potential prehistoric sites and finds dating to the end of the last Ice Age or just after, down to the time of the first farmers 5,000 years ago. Flint flakes, fragments of bone and antler tools, food remains, tree stumps and even entrapped pollen and insects in the deposits can tell us much about this lost prehistoric environment.

I wonder what future archaeologists will make of the buried roads and buildings from today!

Climate change and pollution is also having a huge impact on our sea wildlife, and the wildlife trusts have been working for years to get large areas of our local coasts and seas made into marine reserves.

The Clwydian branch of the North Wales Wildlife Trust is hosting a free talk by one of the local staff involved on February 7 at Maes Esgob Community Centre, Dyserth (7pm).

Contact Mark Hughes on 07800 771570 or mjdhughes1108@gmail.com for more details.

Find out more about this and many other projects and events on our Facebook page (N W W T Clwydian Branch) or on the NWWT website.

Jan Miller

North Wales Wildlife Trust