Last weekend Mumbles had a brand new tourist attraction. With the Mumbles Railway, the seaside and ice cream, chips and oysters the village has always been the place to go on a summer’s day. Over the past few years with the creation of Oyster Wharf the offering has been updated and there is now a real European feel to the prom.
There’s always something to see as the massive tidal range means the bay is constantly changing and rarely the same twice in the same day for very long. Every time I get to the front I see people taking pictures of the lighthouse or the view back towards the Guildhall. Sometimes the water laps against the old sea wall, other times it looks as if someone has pulled the plug out leaving it hard to work out where the sea has actually gone.
Then last weekend the news started going around that we had to get down to the front to see the big digger. I was surprised. For weeks there’s been massive work going on along the prom to renew the sea defences and widen the prom. There have been diggers and tractors of all shapes and sizes stationed halfway between Oyster Wharf and Verdi’s for ages. I’ve even stood there for half an hour at a time with the grandkids watching them drive massive sheets of metal into the sea bed as they start to build a new barrier. I thought I had seen it all…
It was only when I got to the prom that I realised what they meant. One of the diggers was under water. Not just a little damp. This massive piece of steel and engineering was almost completely submerged with only its hydraulic arm like the neck of a bright yellow ‘Loch Ness’ monster straining for air.
The crowds had already gathered. We patiently waited for our turn to get to the front and get the perfect shot. As the pictures posted on social media swept across the internet so more and more people turned up to see for themselves. The question on everyone’s lips seemed to be, ‘how could this have happened?’.
If I’m honest I have no idea. The tide time tables are incredibly reliable. The people in charge know the exact time its safe to go to work. I’ve actually been there when someone makes the decisions to open the gates of the ‘Digger’ enclosure. It’s a bit like a dinosaur escape scene from Jurassic Park as the machines all race down the slipway near Southend Gardens. They all rush to make the most of the window of opportunity that low tides bring. I can only imagine that there must have been a problem with the engine and that it couldn’t be fixed before the return of the sea.
I can only imagine the panic amongst the workforce and then final acceptance that there was nothing that could be done to save the mechanical monster.
It got me thinking how clever human beings are in the quest to tame nature. That goes for now and in the past as well.
Recently I saw an oil painting of Mumbles before the prom had been built. Before man started to take on nature the village started where the sea ended. The old shoreline started where the road now runs in front of the Village Inn which also featured in the painting. In the painting you can see the Oyster Catchers dragged up onto the shingle. Now I don’t know for sure, but I suppose that that must have all started to change with the building of the Railway line along Swansea Bay.
Different times have different challenges. In the early 1800’s they didn’t have a public Inquiry where everyone could have their say on such a massive civil engineering project. It simply took an Act of Parliament in 1804 to build a railway to carry limestone form the quarries in Mumbles to the docks and then to the world.
The Act of Parliament was the easy part. Once given the go ahead how on earth did they make it happen when the tide comes in twice a day to try its best to destroy everything the engineers had just built. Today we have masses of electronic gadgetry and civil engineering wizardry that give us such an advantage over our forefathers which makes their achievements even more astounding to me.
These days, and rightly so, the environmental aspects of such major works are considered. Over the past year strange shapes have been attached to the old seawall. At first I thought it was one of the ‘Art Installations’ but in reality the ‘Mumbles Sea Hive Project’ was a collaboration with lots of different partners in the new sea wall project which was undertaken by Swansea University.
The idea was that if they were going to give the bay a massive environmental shock with a brand new sea defensive wall why not try to make it as wildlife friendly as possible. Instead of just having smooth concrete walls could they design shapes that would encourage wildlife to thrive. They tried lots of different shapes and designs. They will monitor which designs work best for wildlife and add the best ones the final coating of the new wall.
The work on the Prom will continue for years I’m sure and when its done we will soon get used to the new Mumbles front in the same way the old Oystermouth folk did when they built the railway but somehow I think the pictures of the drowned mechanical monster will stay in people minds for some time to come.