Beauty spot has a dark his­tory

Llanelli Star - - LETTERS - St­ef­fan Rhys st­ef­[email protected]­me­dia.co.uk

IT’S one of Wales’s best­known and pop­u­lar beaches, a seven-mile long stretch of sand where fam­i­lies play dur­ing sum­mer.

But there is a dark his­tory to this danger­ous stretch of South Wales coast­line, dat­ing back to the time when it was a ma­jor ship­ping route serv­ing Wales’s boom­ing coal and tin­plate in­dus­tries.

There are said to be around 300 ships wrecked un­der the sands of Cefn Si­dan, near Llanelli.

And though many of them will have been dashed on the area’s treach­er­ous sand­banks, oth­ers were lured to their doom by mer­ci­less loot­ers.

Coastal park ranger Emyr Richards said: “There would be a gang of loot­ers that would ac­tu­ally try to en­tice the ships on to the sands us­ing false beacon fires.

“Your ship gets caught in the sands, and it’s wrecked, and then they come in and plun­der the cargo.”

Mr Richards was speak­ing to Will Mil­lard on his pro­gramme Hid­den Wales, which re­cently ap­peared on BBC Wales.

He said one such group of loot­ers was known as “Gwyr y Bwyell Bach”, the men with the small hatch­ets, so-called be­cause of the weapons they car­ried.

“The rea­sons the hatch­ets were spe­cial was be­cause they had a claw ham­mer and lit­tle hatchet,” said Mr Richards.

“And the main rea­sons for that were to chop off the fin­gers of vic­tims to get their rings off and to take what they want, break­ing into the casks of brandy and fine wine.

“It was quite a sav­age time.”

The en­tire coast­line of Wales is dot­ted with ship­wrecks.

A few miles east of Cefn Si­dan is a tiny is­land which is a grave­yard of ships near Porth­cawl and Og­more.

And diver James Hed­ley Phillips has dis­cov­ered more than 30 ship­wrecks off the Welsh coast, once re­cov­er­ing a batch of 100-year-old bot­tles of wine from a wreck which he drank from freely be­fore dis­cov­er­ing they were worth at least £1,500 each.

There are ac­tu­ally only six “des­ig­nated wrecks” in Welsh wa­ters, and th­ese have been given pro­tected sta­tus un­der the 1973 Pro­tec­tion of Wrecks Act.

Any­one who visits, films or sur­veys th­ese sunken ves­sels needs to get a spe­cial licence from the Welsh Govern­ment.

On Cefn Si­dan, the largest vis­i­ble re­mains are at the west­ern end, and be­long to a large wind­jam­mer that grounded there nearly 100 years ago, called the SV Paul.

In 1925, the ship left Nova Sco­tia in Canada, and on Oc­to­ber 30 she ran into se­vere gales, los­ing her sails and an­chors and even­tu­ally ground­ing on the sands.

The ship was car­ry­ing a cargo of ex­pen­sive trop­i­cal hard­wood tim­ber when it grounded.

“Luck­ily no­body lost their lives in the wreck, but the cargo – that’s a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether,” says Mr Richards on Hid­den Wales.

“Many of the houses (lo­cally) have got some very ex­pen­sive trop­i­cal hard­wood, and there were a few gar­den sheds that were very well built.”

After the de­cline of Llanelli’s tin­plate in­dus­try, the ships stopped com­ing.

“That in­dus­trial her­itage is what made this area,” says Mr Richards.

“We spread tin­plate, saucepans across the world, it’s a fan­tas­tic her­itage that we’ve got along this coast­line, and its story needs to be told.”

Cefn Si­dan’s wrecks date back to 1668.

They in­clude La Je­une Emma, which was head­ing to France from the West Indies when it was blown badly off course in 1828.

Thir­teen peo­ple on board died, in­clud­ing Ade­line Co­quelin, the 12-year-old niece of Napoleon Bon­a­parte’s di­vorced wife Josephine de Beauhar­nais, who is buried at a nearby church.

Off the same stretch of coast is the White­ford light­house, an ex­tra­or­di­nary struc­ture which is en­tirely sur­rounded by the sea when the tide is in.

It is the only cast-iron light­house in Bri­tain which is “wave-washed”.

Re­mark­ably, it was oc­cu­pied, and who­ever would have lived there would have done so sur­rounded by wind, waves and one of the most danger­ous tides in the world.

It was the light­house keeper’s job to main­tain it, and records from 1880 show they were paid £1 a week and stayed up there for two weeks at a time.

De­spite the small num­ber of peo­ple who would ever have seen them, the light­house still fea­tures in­tri­cate Vic­to­rian fea­tures, like the rail­ings that sur­round it.

It was de­com­mis­sioned by the 1930s, and has been de­cay­ing ever since.

Main and light­house pic­tures: Hy­wel Wil­liams/Cre­ative Com­mons

A ship­wreck on Cefn Si­dan beach. Left, the SV Paul, which was wrecked on Cefn Si­dan.

The White­ford Point light­house.

The SV Paul, which was wrecked on Cefn Si­dan.

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