Sunday, 26 January 2014

Walking On The Moon

"Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my legs don't break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon"

Well known lyrics, from a well known song 'Walking on The Moon' by 'The Police" in 1979 - they and the tune were running through my head when we did this lovely walk across to the headland at Porth Kerry from Cold Knap near Barry Island back in November.

While I haven't actually been to the moon, the rock formations on this part of the South Wales, Glamorgan Heritage Coast are pretty amazing and for me anyway, have a 'lunar like' feel to them. Around the corner from the more commercialised seaside and industrial port setting of Barry, at low tide, on a sunny afternoon in November, Cold Knap provided a rather unexpectedly, tranquil, strange and beautiful setting to explore.

Th Knap Lido - Post card by Tuck DB cards
The pebble beach at 'The Knap', as it tends to be known locally, is popular with anglers and surfers. At the Eastern end,  nearest Barry, in the 1940's  it had a very popular open air lido which was surrounded by beach huts. However, the use of outdoor lido's declined in popularity and it closed in 1997. A regeneration project in 2004 saw the disused lido filled in and replaced with manicured gardens. However, for our walk we headed to the Western side of Cold Knap beach away from the houses (and ice cream vans in summer), and on to what is a completely unspoiled and  pretty unique area.

Located on the Bristol Channel, this stretch of coastline has the second highest tidal range in the world, at about 15m. For this reason you should be careful about not getting cut off under the cliffs at high tide. Although the beach is pebble, at low tide a strip of sand is exposed. On a clear day there are good views across the Bristol Channel to the islands of Sully, Steep Holm and Flat Holm, and the Somerset coast, 15-20km beyond. This is a busy shipping channel with plenty of container ships to be seen heading up or downstream, or simply waiting for the tide to take them to the docks at Bristol, Newport, Cardiff, Barry or Sharpness.

Looking from the car park at The Knap towards the Porth Kerry headland
As you move across the beach you begin to realise that the most amazing thing about this place is the rock formations.

This area is a total paradise for anyone interested in geology. It provides a text-book example of horizontal sedimentary geology. You are walking on a sea eroded, 'wave cut' Lias Limestone outcrop laid down in the Jurassic era 135 to 180 million years ago. 

The cliffs are made up of clearly visible, alternating layers of grey limestone and black shaley, mudstone and the limestone platforms on which you are standing have been cracked open and exposed by the action of the sea washing away the alluvial sediments where they were deposited onto the eroded carboniferous limestone surface. Here endeth the very interesting geology lesson (given to me by Jez who studied the subject as part of his degree)!

Jez and I both thought this particular section had a 'Roman' feel to it. The slabs of rock in the wave cut platform you can see Molly walking on, reminded us of a Roman road leading to a rock 'altar' set in the cliff side - where you can see Jez and Dewi sitting. There are caves cut into the cliffs but these surfaces are unstable so take care - really you should stay back from under the cliffs to avoid potential injury from slabs of falling stone.

Although none of this is man made, our sense of a 'Roman' presence is perhaps not surprising, when you realise that Cold Knapp was in fact a small Roman port in the Third Century or early Fourth Century AD. There are Roman remains on display near the entrance to the car park. A building of 22 rooms, arranged around a central courtyard, with cellars and what may have been a watchtower, were excavated. 

From the 'altar' continue walking across the pebbles towards the headland.

At the Western end you will reach Porth Kerry Beach, which lies at the bottom end of Porthkerry Country Park. A popular place for families and dog walkers, the area belonged to and was farmed by, the Romilly family from 1412,  until it was  sold to the local council in 1929 when it became a public park.  The park and adjacent coastline is overlooked by an impressive railway viaduct, built in the 1890s to carry coal to Barry Docks. The viaduct is still in use. At this point you can hear, but not see, aircraft taking off from Cardiff Wales Airport which is just around the corner at Rhoose. Planes coming into land can be seen approaching from the South East over the Bristol Channel. From here we walked along the path at the edge of the country park until it met the pebble line, and then continued  along to the headland, before retracing our steps back across 'the moon' to Cold Knap.

Looking back from the headland at Porth Kerry towards Cold Knapp, with Sully Island in the distance on the right

  A picnic on the beach in November!

The Bristol Channel coastline can be very beautiful!

More information 

Parking and public toilets are available alongside the beach at Cold Knap. There is a popular cafe and coffee shop in Cold Knap village.

The walk involves walking across large pebbles and rocks which can be difficult and it therefore demands strong footwear - walking boots recommended! 

Be sure of tide times before attempting this walk Tide times

Dogs are not allowed on the beach May 1st - Sept 30th.

Reference Sources

Glamorgan and Gwent, A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales - Elisabeth Whittle 1992

Weatherman Walking - BBC Wales 

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