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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/England's lost ground




There are two classes of readers, who, I fear, will be much disappointed if they attempt to go through this paper—the politician who expects to find an elaborate disquisition on the faults and shortcomings of the British Government, by which the country has lost ground and is going to the dogs; and the member of Mr. Bright’s peace society, who hopes to be gratified with prophecies of decline, in consequence of the rifle movement.

The lost ground of which I am going to write, has nothing to do with these; for it is not a moral but a physical loss of country, which, to many people, will be more alarming—an actual disappearance of old England’s shores, which lie buried beneath the sea. From the præhistoric days of dim, mysterious legend, down to yesterday, acre after acre of fair land has gradually been swept away by the resistless action of the waves, which, in course of time, has materially altered the shape of the coast; and there is something intensely interesting in bringing before one’s mind their probable features,—the old traditions and legends connected with their disappearance, and the reconciling them with geological facts. I was much struck, while staying last summer at Aberystwith, with the contours of Cardigan Bay, which is in shape a magnificent curve, of which the horns are respectively, Strumble Head, in Pembrokeshire, and Bardsey Island, in Carnarvonshire. If the reader looks at the map he may calculate for himself the amount of square miles contained in that expanse of water, even a rough guess of which I should be very sorry to hazard. Whatever it may be, tradition asserts that a fair land lies buried here, overwhelmed by a fearful and sudden catastrophe.

Once upon a time—so runs the tale—in the year of the world, 3591, there was a Prince of Demetia, a province of South Wales, whose name was Seithenyn, the son of Seithyn Seidi. This province lay low, and was liable to inundations of the sea, to prevent which, great embankments were formed with flood-gates, the care of which was committed to Seithenyn, as a sort of water-commissioner. As the flood-gates were situated at the mouth of the great river, it was necessary to close them at high-water, a duty which the prince forgot on one occasion, during a night of heavy conviviality. The awful result, according to the Welsh Triads, was, that the Cantref Gwaelod, or the Lowland Hundred, was swept over by the waves, which destroyed all the homes, lands, and population, including sixteen fortified towns, superior to any in Wales. A neighbouring king, of the euphonious name of Gwyddno Garanhir, who was also a poet, wrote a long account of it, invoking Seithenyn in no measured strains. The original was believed to have been written in Welsh, but has been thus translated in the “Archæologia Cambrensis:”—“Seithenyn, come out and look towards the abode of heroes; the plain of Gwyddno is overwhelmed by the sea. Cursed be the embankment which let in, after wine, the open fountain of the roaring deep. Cursed be the keeper of the floodgates, who, after his festive mirth, let in the fountain of the desolating ocean,” &c. &c.

From many appearances on the coast of Cardiganshire, it seems probable enough that a large tract of country lies underneath the sea; but whether that tract was ever populated, or was overwhelmed before the time of man, is a difficult question to answer. Near Aherystwith there are, running out from the main land at intervals from each other, certain curious embankments about the width of a road, extending a long way out. They are so straight and of such extreme regularity, that it is hard to consider them, as some do, natural beds of rock, more especially as on each side of them, there is very rough, foul ground. At low water they can be traced a long way out to sea, and even when covered by the waves, a peculiar streak marks their subaqueous course, although I cannot vouch for the great length to which they are said to extend.

Sarn Badrig, to the south of Harlech, is believed to be twenty-one miles long, and is often dry for nine miles at low-water of spring tides. Sarn Cynfelin, near Aberystwith, is seven miles in length, and at the end of it ruins, like those of old walls, are said to exist, called Caer Gwyddno, or Gwyddno’s fortifications. Besides these, there are several minor “sarns,” the word itself being generally applied to a Roman road.

Whether these embankments were artificial, or whether they are natural results, such as the pebble banks which are formed sometimes by the operations of tides and currents, it is at least curious to observe how our ancestors have speculated on the appearances that presented themselves to their notice, and have endeavoured to account for them by a legend, instead of a theory, as they of the present day would do.

There are, however, other appearances on the same coast, which afford such convincing proof to the geologist of the existence of former land, that he needs not the additional confirmation of tradition. These are submarine forests which have been detected at unusually low tides in various places. At the embouchure of the river Dovey, Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/196