Nation diary: The winding road to the sea follows a wayward river


A heavy, cold mist hung in the air, offering a gritty, rough edge for the wind. While momentarily, the rain had ceased, but the thick soil was beyond measure saturated and the grass of the pasture stood over terraced puddles of muddy water.

A consequence of the Ice Age, the boulder clay below the sward consists of the irregular geological material brought by the ice and then deposited in coarse accumulations. The sound of falling water was everywhere as I walked up the road, as the trickling threads of runoff that flowed through the fields blended into deeper rivulets and cascaded down into the stream next to the path. The path to the sea is short but tortuous for this rainwater. The ice layers that formed the rock and clay debris also blocked the system of rivers and streams that existed before glaciation.

As the atmosphere warmed, a large tongue of ice that reached across the shallow valley that would become Cardigan Bay kept meltwater from draining westward.

The blocked valleys were gradually filled by lakes before the ridges between them were covered and new channels towards sea level were cut by rapid, stormy erosion. Most of the old drainage pattern was more or less restored when the ice floes eventually melted, with the exception of a few odd corners like the valley that stretched out below me.

Massive floods of water as the world thawed opened a river nearly a mile wide between this ridge and the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains, but today the only flow in this valley is a quiet stream less than 10 feet wide.

Before the incongruous river turns westward to meet the sea a mile or two further on at Clarach, a particularity of the terrain leads it northward across this cut in the hills. The watercourse comes to a modest end after running along almost three sides of a square, as a series of channels flowing through and over the curve of the beach. The pebbles covered by the water that form this final barrier, another indicator of the sheer size of these events, are themselves essentially glacial in origin.


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