Writer: Jon Gower

Photographer: Jeremy Moore

Publisher: Gomer Press    £19.99

Hardback: 160 pages

This book was published in 2012 to coincide with the formal opening of the Wales Coast Path and is described on the cover as “a visual and verbal evocation of that journey”. The foreword, written by the chair of the Countryside Council for Wales  (now called Natural Resources Wales) – the body who coordinated the paths’ creation-, is all about the path. It took me a while to realise it, but the book isn’t really about the path or walking it; its subject  is the Welsh coast and some of the islands nearby. It also introduces a handful of people who live or work along the coast.

Sunset at the Margam steel works, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Sunset at the Margam steel works

Unsurprisingly, it was the photography that drew me to this book. Photographers are often categorized by their main subject of interest. This photographer, Jeremy Moore, may be best known as a landscape photographer but this project liberated him from this label. What most landscape photographers do, he says, and I agree with him, is to focus on the wilder parts of a landscape, equip themselves with tripod and an array of filters, only photograph in ‘golden’ hour light and end up producing rose-tinted but beautiful images.  This project required him to broaden both his subject and his approach. Although landscapes (usually, of course, seascapes) dominate, the 120 or so images in the book, there are also pictures of birds, people and even a mug shot of Elvis Presley.

Rev. Madeleine BradyVicar of St Cwyfan's photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at The Water's Edge

Rev. Madeleine Brady, Vicar of St Cwyfan’s

The people portraits are not very remarkable, and mostly look posed. Moore does better with his images of birds, which are universally averse to posing for the camera. His flock of oystercatchers in flight of the Point of Ayr, and the murmurings of starlings above Aberystwyth are superb.  Many of his seascapes could fall into the rose-tinted category, and all of those are executed with the professional skill you would expect. To take his picture of the setting sun behind an outcrop of rocks near Abereiddi, unless he was very lucky, would have required thought, planning and patience.

Oystercatchers at the Point of Ayr photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Oystercatchers at the Point of Ayr

Moore has not entirely ducked the fact that the coast is not consistently attractive. The nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey, and the shot taken underneath the Dee Bridge, framing the nearby power station may not be documentary in their intent, but at least they are not glamorizing the subject. But even Moore succumbs to showing us the Margam Steelworks  at Port Talbot and the oil refinery at Milford Haven at sunset. And as for the impact of the hundreds of static caravan parks which are littered around the coast, a part view of a single such dwelling with no context of its location is a badly missed opportunity to reveal a truth about the coast.

Sunset at Traeth Llyfn, Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Sunset at Traeth Llyfn, Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire

Somehow he makes a tideline tangle of rope a tasteful study in colour combination and his image of rainbow coloured foam on the beach, is a surprising inclusion as it is almost the same but not as good as Peter Watson’s  in his earlier book (reviewed here).  But there are some gems, and the picture that I wished that I had taken is of a wire fence at sunset on Barmouth Bridge.

Mawddach railway bridge, Barmouth

Mawddach railway bridge, Barmouth

Overall, though, this collection of images gives a very skewed impression of the coast. The beaches are entirely deserted and free from litter. The hundreds of caravan parks do not exist and the few towns and villages featured show nothing of their overwhelming shabbiness.  Industry past and present gets the merest nod of recognition and, quite extraordinarily, you might think that it never rains in Wales.

Nuclear power station at Wylfa, Anglesey, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Nuclear power station at Wylfa, Anglesey

The writer, Jon Gower, is described on the cover as “one of Wales’s brightest literary talents” and amongst other achievements he  won the John Morgan Travel Award in 2000 for his book “An Island Called Smith”.

The book is divided into 10 sections  starting at the Severn. Gower doesn’t claim to have walked the whole of the coast and in just 160 pages, where the photography has more than its fair share of space, there are inevitably many gaps in his journey.  This does have a rather disorientating effect as, for instance in the first section he leaps from Newport to Cardiff, Penarth to Barry, and bypasses Margam and Port Talbot altogether.

I found many interesting snippets of information. Apparently picking marram grass was outlawed in Anglesey in 1561. (I wonder what the frustrated pickers used it for?) In 1988 the biggest turtle ever recorded was washed up dead on the beach near Harlech, weighing just under a tonne. Fancy that.

I struggled with much of his purple prose though.

Static caravan, Pwllheli, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Static caravan, Pwllheli

“Crossing the Neath by car over the high M4 road bridge- a trapeze for traffic- …..takes you over edgeland, a liminal world between human influence and natural shaping, a place where nature gets raggedy and prefabricated light industrial units grow like ragweed”.

“Llyn is a peninsula wreathed in legend, the wind carrying the wails of the drowned onto a jagged coastland, the myths settling as pockets of mist in mushroom field hollows”.

Gower is very big on birds. As a record of all the birds that you might see on a walk around the coast of Wales he probably does a good job, and many get written about at some length. Sometimes  in his enthusiasm he often veers into the fanciful:

“Then, having given up the ghost, there they were! Snow Buntings, a dozen or more, pecking for seeds on a shingle bank in the light of the headlamps. A whole, beautiful flake of them, a flurry of them, both snowy and showy”.

Beach foam, Fall Bay, Gower, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Beach foam, Fall Bay, Gower

Gower clearly wants to bring people into the picture. Some of his choices suggest a personal environmental agenda. Sir John Houghton, who lives near Aberdyfi and co-chairs the International Committee on Climate Change may be a very interesting man even if his quoted predictions of gloom and doom for the world’s climate may prove to be way out. Caerfi farmer Wyn Evans has a page devoted to his personal war on climate change through his production of bio gas and photovoltaic electricity.

The Dee Bridge, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

The Dee Bridge

People have, of course, played a massive part in forming the coast that we see today.  I think it might have been better to leave out the coast’s current inhabitants entirely. Apart from his climate change preoccupation, Gower’s choices seemed arbitrary. Why Nicola Morgan and her very ordinary looking café on Penarth Pier, despite her “warming drinks and ready smile”?

Better, I think, to tell us more about those individuals who truly have left an impact, as he reasonably does with Clough Williams-Ellis at Portmeirion  but fails to do, for example, in relation to the creation of Porthmadog by William Maddocks, who does not get a mention.

Tideline debris, Bullslaugher Bay, photographed by Jeremy Moore in Wales at the Water's Edge

Tideline debris, Bullslaugher Bay

Overall, my sense on finishing this book was that it was trying to sell me something. It portrays  the Welsh coast as a beautiful, bird-filled but sparsely populated paradise.  There’s no denying the beauty of much of the coast, but this is only part of a much more complicated story. What we are offered here is a dream of the coast. The reality is far more interesting and challenging than this.

Thanks to Jeremy Moore, who after a great deal of thought and a most intreresting dialogue with me,  allowed Gomer to let me use some of his images. Jeremy has seen a copy of the review and I have invited him to comment, unedited. 

{ 15 comments }

Wales Coast Path (Anglesey): Trearddur Bay to Rhosneigr

December 7, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path (Anglesey): Trearddur Bay to Rhosneigr

Date walked: 29th July 2014 Distance: about 15 miles Map used: OS Explorer No.262: Anglesey West At the start of these walks on Anglesey I flew from Cardiff to Anglesey Airport near Holyhead on the excellent Citywing service.  ************** I  had a good nights sleep at Ingledene Bed and breakfast in Trearddur Bay. It was novel having my breakfast delivered […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path (Anglesey): Holyhead to Trearddur Bay

November 23, 2014

 Date walked: 28th July 2014 Distance: about 12 miles Map used: OS Explorer No.262: Anglesey West ************* Having reached Bangor on my last walk I had a dilemma: how to deal with Anglesey. Clockwise? Anticlockwise? And starting from where? In the end my decision was made by my choice of how I got to the islands […]

Read the full article →

A circular walk in the Brecon Beacons taking in Waun Fach

November 16, 2014
Thumbnail image for A circular walk in the Brecon Beacons taking in Waun Fach

  The most perfect of walks in the Brecon Beacons: a beautiful day, stunning scenery, good company and a dead sheep. What more could you ask for? Date walked:  8th September 2014 Distance walked: 10.4 miles Map used: OS Explorer OL 13 – Brecon Beacons National Park I chose this walk from a little book “Circular walks […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path: Caernarfon to Bangor

November 2, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path: Caernarfon to Bangor

Possibly the least inspiring walk that I have completed over the whole of the Wales Coast Path – well something has to be at the bottom of the pile. Date walked: 26th June 2014 Distance walked : 12 miles Map required:  OS Explorer  OL 17 Snowdon I had two guide books to refer to for this […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path: Near Trefor to Caernarfon

October 26, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path: Near Trefor to Caernarfon

Date walked: 25th June 2014 Distance walked : about 16 miles Map required:  OS Explorer  253: Lleyn Peninsula West and 254 Lleyn Peninsula East. I had three guide books to refer to for this walk: Llyn Peninsula – The Official Guide- by Carl Rogers and Tony Bowerman, published by Northern Eye Books (2014). The Wales Coast […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path: Morfa Nefn to near Trefor (part two)

October 12, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path: Morfa Nefn to near Trefor (part two)

This is a continuation of a day’s walk on The Wales Coast Path. Part one was posted last week. Date Walked: 24th June 2014 Distance walked: about 7 miles *************** The path from near Pistyll continued to climb gently. Out of sight, below me, was the disused quarry at Penrhyn Glas but ahead I saw […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path: Morfa Nefyn to near Trefor (part one)

October 5, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path: Morfa Nefyn to near Trefor (part one)

Date walked:  24th  June 2014 As I was writing this day up I was finding more to say than on most days and many images that I was reluctant to leave out, so I have split the day into two. Part two will be published in a week’s time. Distance walked : about 6 miles Map required:  […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path: Porth Colmon to Morfa Nefyn

September 21, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path: Porth Colmon to Morfa Nefyn

Date walked:  23rd June 2014 Distance walked : about 12 miles Distance: Map required:  OS Explorer  253: Lleyn Peninsula West. I had three guide books to refer to for this walk: Llyn Peninsula – The Official Guide- by Carl Rogers and Tony Bowerman, published by Northern Eye Books (2014). The Wales Coast Path- a practical Guide […]

Read the full article →

Wales Coast Path:Mynydd y Gwyddel to Porth Colmon

September 14, 2014
Thumbnail image for Wales Coast Path:Mynydd y Gwyddel to Porth Colmon

Date walked:  22nd June 2014 Distance: about 11 miles, although by the official website it should have been about 8. Go figure. Map required:  OS Explorer  253: Lleyn Peninsula West. I had three guide books to refer to for this walk: Llyn Peninsula – The Official Guide- by Carl Rogers and Tony Bowerman, published by Northern […]

Read the full article →
Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)