exploring Eleri

Cardian Bay Rivers
Rivers Flowing into Cardigan Bay illustrated with their attendant Nymphs – Map by Wm Hole from Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612)

Following the preceding survey of recent history of the drainage of the bog and the diversion of Eleri, this page will be more of an an exploration on the ground, but also containing some glimpses of the more remote history which led to the creation of the landscape as it is now.

After the last Ice Age the retreating ice gouged out a flat plain which later became Cors Fochno, leaving only a few outcrops of harder rock as islands in a bed of blue clay. Soon a reed fen developed which must have lasted for many thousands of years. Then for a short period the climate became drier and the reeds were replaced by forest. With the return of wetter climactic conditions the forest gradually fell and decayed and the ground became covered by Sphagnum moss. Successive layers of moss built up into peat and the ‘raised bog’ which is here today. Bores through the peat reveal an estimated 5000 years of peat deposition with layers of decayed trees below it and decayed reeds below that. The underlying blue clay extends out beyond the bog and under what is now the sea bed. It can easily be revealed today below the layers of forest remains under the sands and pebbles on the beach. These trees, although now in an area covered by the sea at high tide, seem to have grown directly on the blue clay on ground which did not become bog and their semi-fossilised stumps can still be seen at low tide sticking out of the gravelly sand. Through all this time Eleri and the other rivers which cross the bog must have once run out of the mountains through the reeds and later through the forest to the sea.

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Many times have I followed the winding waters of Eleri to where the the tree-lined banks give way to open ground, and then turned away from the canalised embankment and the straight track along it, to walk instead across the drained fields where reedy depressions, ditches and wet hollows indicate where she once ran. But then it becomes impossible to see anything on the ground. Her natural course soon arrives at the railway line built over the drained ground and its dry bed. Then the neatly manicured lawns of the golf course with only an occasional wet hollow which may be a river remnant or simply an obstacle constructed for the golfers. But further on marshy fields and parts of the ‘rougher’ end of the golf course towards the sand dunes do preserve some features of the last stretch of her course to the sea.

So having done some research, I went to where her estuary must have been, about a mile or so west of where she now disgorges into the wide estuary of the River Dyfi. One of the itineraries of this area for the Geologists’ Association(*) indicates that a natural shingle bank at the top of the beach extended from the base of the cliffs further south as far as the mouth of Eleri at its northern extension, being replaced by sand dunes on the other side of the estuary. Both the shingle bank and the dunes are recent developments in geological terms, and most of the shingle has now been replaced by sea wall along the sea front road through the village of Borth. When Eleri was diverted early in the nineteenth century the shingle bank began to extend a little further north to overlap the sand dunes so the empty space where the estuary was became filled with shingle. The area is now further raised by a gravel-laid car park at the rough end of the golf course so no trace of river is visible here. The Geologists’ Association itinerary indicates, however, that the previous course of Eleri can be seen by standing on the shingle bank to view a line of reeds extending towards the railway station. This is that view:

View from the Shingle

As this was taken in winter the reeds have a rusty brown hue and can be seen in the picture in front of the houses in the distance. From here I walked across to the line of reeds where they ended in the freer draining sand:

The end of Eleri?

The line here is parallel with the shingle bank so this could have been a turning point towards the sea. Following the reeds southwards they eventually broadened out into a wide swathe around this pool:

Lake Eleri?

The area of play for the golfers runs along the other side the reeds so presumably this has been broadened and landscaped as part of the golf course, but as it is right on the line of Eleri according to the 1830 map it must have been based on the course of the river. Golfers continue along this narrow strip of their playing area for half a mile before crossing the road to the more neatly manicured part of the course and towards their club house. But Eleri flowed across what is now the road here so I had to leave the tussocky ground avoided by the golfers and climb over a fence to cross it myself. On the other side of the road there is an immediate clue on a lane leading off to a holiday village using the traditional name of the location for its cottages:

reedy morass

The marshy fields here, and the presence of the reeds, also indicate that she came this way. But beyond these fields the railway and the tidier end of the golf course make further observation difficult. I followed the main road towards the station until the reeds and the marshy ground on this side of the track gave way to drier ground. From here a public footpath crosses the golf course and goes on through the wetland nature reserve over the railway and leads to a point about half way along the diverted Eleri embankment. I have walked this way many times but today I carried on to the station to take a narrow lane over the line and back to the familiar remaining ditches and reedy channels and to the point of diversion at Ynys Fergi. Although it is is now impossible to observe the remains of her course at the points in-between, I am now even more assured of what I had previously assumed: that every time I stand on the platform of Borth Station, I am also standing right at the point where she crossed what is now the railway line, and that where she flowed immediately beyond this must now be under the gardens of the houses backing onto the line.

Information Sources

(*) The Aberysywyth District : Geologists’ Association Guide No. 54 M.R. Dobson/J.T. Greensmith (1995)

Ceredigion : Its Natural History David B James (2001)

Cassini Historical Map Old Series, matching OS Landranger 135