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Pantomime in Prehistory

It was a dull, misty day and I had decided to take a walk along the Gower coastal path. As I was not very familiar with the part between Port Eynon and Mewslade I decided that this day was a good one to correct that deficiency. I parked in Port Eynon and was delighted to see that there is no charge for the car park during the winter months – surely an oversight by the ever strapped council so, don’t let this get any further! Next week is Easter weekend and last minute work was going on at the adjoining caravan park building a secure fence to keep the happy campers safely enclosed.

The path goes through the caravan site and then skirts the bottom of the wood that covers the headland. Soon I was walking uphill and was staring at Overton Bay, the tide was out with good waves, not huge but enough to tempt a few surfers. I walked down the path to the edge of the shore and my mind started conjuring images, there is no sandy beach here and the rock formation points directly south. As it was misty it was not possible to see the West Country but it was there, somewhere. I was reminded of the lines of a Billy Fury song – “So near, yet so far away”. The song was, of course Halfway to Paradise and, naturally I could only sing it with conviction if I was standing on the other coast!

Anyway enough of that, what I am trying to get at in my roundabout way is that Ilfracombe, due south as the seagull flies is a mere 38 miles away. However, to get there involves a journey of some 180 miles, a significant cost in fuel and an even greater cost to return. You see the Severn bridges allow you to get out of Wales free of charge but we charge you to get back in!

But it was not always so, if you should sometime take the oportunity to stand where I was standing and were lucky enough to have a clear day then here is a little exercise for you. Look due south, the coast you are seeing is Devon and, as I said, 38 miles away, what separates the two lands is the clear, blue sea you are staring at, but it was not always so. Let your mind take you back in time. How far back? No, further than that! And further than that too! I’m asking you to go back 29,000 years, give or take a few months. The ice was gradually melting but you would still be aware of it all around. In front of you and stretching as far as Ilfracombe was a vast, flat plain populated by lions, rhinos, deer, sabre-toothed tigers and screeching hyenas. And, of course, man.

This area has an old human story. We became aware of the story in 1822 when a surgeon and a curate exploring the coast discovered animal bones in Goat’s Hole, not too far from where you are standing. They probably happened to mention it down at the local hostelry that evening and word got round to Miss Mary Talbot of Penrice castle who popped round to have a look for herself. She then mentioned it in passing to a Mr William Buckland, professor of geology at Oxford University who then hopped a ride on a passing stagecoach and began exploring the cave on the 18th January 1823. He uncovered human remains, the remains of the Red Lady of Paviland. She was rather old, in fact she went back the whole of 29,000 years so it was little wonder that she was dead.

We can know very little about her but we can surmise that she was the ‘Widow Twankie’ of her time because it turns out that she was actually a man!

What a pantomime!




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