Cantre’r Gwaelod: the Ancient ‘Sunken’ Forest Unearthed by Storm Hannah

A graveyard of trees previously submerged has given way to a fantasy of resurrection

Ancient forest unearthed on Welsh beach. Courtesy: Matthew Horwood

Ancient forest unearthed on Welsh beach. Courtesy: Matthew Horwood

At low tide on 24 May, walkers on a beach in Borth, Ceredigion, Wales, took to their cameras to photograph petrified tree stumps, usually submerged, protruding from the sand. Known as the Sunken Forest or Sunken Kingdom, this graveyard of trees – pine, alder, oak and birch – has been preserved since 1500 BC and surfaced at various points in history, in folktales, songs and legends from the 17th century, that widely identify it with Cantre'r Gwaelod (The Lowland Hundred), an ancient civilization described as a ‘Welsh Atlantis’. So, the story goes, the tract of land was highly fertile and protected from the sea by floodgates, which opened at low tide and closed at high tide. As versions of the story shift, different characters are blamed for the civilization’s submergence; from an absent-minded priestess allowing a fairy well to overflow to a drunken prince forgetting to close the floodgates. But ultimately, the sinkage is down to rising sea levels. 

Last month, when The Sun and The Mirror published photographs of the prehistoric forest, they claimed that Storm Hannah was responsible for its ‘unearthing’. Thanks to the heavy winds that swept across the UK on 26 and 27 April, only now, they say, are people connecting the forest to an ancient legend about a 'sunken civilisation'. Through sensational weather reporting, the anthropomorphic Storm Hannah has become part of the legend; a force of destruction giving way to a fantasy of resurrection. We can only speculate how the story will develop with the arrival of new winds. 

Mimi Chu is assistant editor of frieze and is based in London, UK.

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2019
Janiva Ellis, Catchphrase Coping Mechanism, 2019, oil on linen, 2.2 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and 47 Canal, New York; photograph: Joerg Lohse

frieze magazine

May 2019

frieze magazine

June - July - August 2019