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Coast to Coast; From wild surf beaches with crashing Atlantic waves to snug, sunlit ports and historic Victorian resorts, the diversity of the Welsh coastline is extraordinary. Here, photographer Andy Davies takes us on a journey around some of his favourite coastal locations and the stories behind them...

Byline: Andy Davies

DWYRYD ESTUARY HARLECH

The meandering river and sand banks of the Dwyryd Estuary are stunningly beautiful at low tide. The area is part of the Morfa Harlech National Nature Reserve and is a haven for wildlife, while the extensive mud flats and salt marsh areas are important feeding grounds for over-wintering wildfowl.

I took the picture above early in the morning, around 6am sometime in June, and it was magical as everything was so beautifully serene. At this time of the year the light is very vivid, yet still soft - perfect for pictures.

There's a "golden hour" just after sunrise and around sunset when the light is at its best - the sun is at a low angle, creating atmosphere, and the shadows created at these times add depth to the picture.

I walked around quietly looking for the best place to set up and I surprised a fox on the estuary bank.

Herons were feeding in the pools, patiently standing stock still until they spotted a fish, then their long beaks would stab into the water with surprising speed.

Aweather front had passed over the previous night and the light was exceptionally clear. It looks like the rain has scrubbed everything clean, which, in a sense, it has, removing all the dust from the atmosphere.

I was immensely glad that the weather front had passed over. A photographer's nightmare is to drive a long way to get a shot, only to find that the promised window in the weather fails to materialise.

The weather over the last two years has been pretty unpredictable.

I was in luck on this occasion, and the sun came out, casting a warm glow over everything, so the colours really leap out. Having had so much wet weather the greens still have that lush spring freshness, so the landscape looks young and vital.

CEMAES HEAD NORTH PEMBROKESHIRE

The cliffs between Cemaes Head and Ceibwr Bay are the highest in Wales - a dizzying 440ft (135m) high and quite spectacular.

Cemaes Head is particularly striking because of the amazing angular folds in the rock, which are a photographer's dream.

It is incredible to think that some 400 million years ago these sandstone and mudstone layers were compressed by the collision of two continents.

Maybe my background as a geologist helps when it comes to photographing cliff scenery. Because I understand how that landscape was formed and the shapes that can be conjured up, I know what to look for.

I love photographing wild places, and I have a particular love of the sea.

When I lived in Cardiff, I'd spend my whole time travelling down to Pembrokeshire so that I could scuba dive and surf. Finally, all that travelling made no sense and I moved to Marloes.

It's ideal for photography as I have wonderful landscape on my doorstep.

Also, my wife Karine, who is Breton, loves it and it's a great place to bring up our two young sons, Teilo and Iori.

Cemaes Head is about an hour-and-a-half's journey from my home, so I don't get there very often.

Its location is also particularly remote and inaccessible, so that makes it even more special to me.

I went there in late winter, and there was absolutely nobody else about, which is a pretty rare thing.

Thanks to its inaccessibility the beach provides a safe place for seals to raise their pups in the summer.

I had to be quite precise about getting a striking picture of Cemaes Head. The cliff faces west, so if you go at the wrong time of day, it will be in shadow, and, photographically speaking anyway, would present pretty much a blank face.

At the right time of day the sun illuminates the cliffs, and drenched in light, they look pretty awesome.

GUILLEMOT COLONY ELEGUG STACKS, PEMBROKESHIRE

Visiting the stacks is a real David Attenborough experience. The rocks are seething with birds, and the cacophony of calls is quite something, as is the powerful aroma of guano.

The birds are only 130ft (40m) away from you - it's not often you can get that close to a colony of seabirds.

Guillemots are very beautiful with their sleek brown and white plumage.

I took this picture in early May, when they are all jostling for space on the stacks to build a nest.

They get very competitive - as well they might, as the survival of the species is at stake - and peck crossly at any other bird that comes close.

Research has shown that the birds that manage to nest at the centre of the colony fare better in rearing their young than do those who nest on its periphery.

Maybe this is because the strongest birds choose the prime slots, and the rest are forced to make do with what's left over. Those on the edges might be more vulnerable to predators too.

There's nowhere else on the mainland in Wales where you can watch a bird colony this close.

I am happy to watch them for hours. They only form these huge seabird cities during the nesting season, which is approximately March until the end of July, and the colonies then disperse and the birds spend the rest of their time at sea.

The Elegug Stacks are near the Green Bridge of Wales, which is the largest sea arch in the UK, and was formed by coastal erosion.

This section of coastline is very dramatic and I love the way the stacks, which are two heavily-eroded limestone pillars, rear up out of the water.

This kind of scenery gives you a sense of how ancient the landscape is.

MORFA NEFYN AND THE RIVALS LLYN PENINSULA

I left for North Wales from my home in Marloes about 9pm on the recommendation of weather man Derek Brockway, who had promised in his weather forecast that the rain would clear.

I drove through the night and ended up on the Llyn Peninsula about 1am. At that point, I started to wonder if I should have stayed at home as the wind was rocking my camper van in a pretty spectacular way and the rain was lashing down relentlessly.

Iwent to sleep, hoping it would pass over but when I woke up at 5am, conditions were dreadful. There was nothing for it but to go back to sleep and try again later.

At 6am there was no change, so I fell asleep again, somewhat restlessly this time, as I was starting to think the whole thing was going to be a washout.

To my relief, when I looked out at 7am, things were looking up. There was a fantastic build-up of really angry-looking storm clouds and they looked great, as glimmers of sunshine were filtering through, casting a strange steely light on the landscape.

The water gleams where the sun hits it, but there's no warmth here, the effect it creates is ethereal, otherworldly. The sea looks magnificent and powerful but far from welcoming, so you feel very glad to be safely ensconced on dry land.

All of this makes for really spectacular pictures - you by no means need clear blue skies to create the most captivating images.

I loved the scene before me as it looked so wild - beyond the sweep of the bay the mountains known as The Rivals (Yr Eifl), created a brooding backcloth with those menacing clouds hanging over them, threatening to bring more rain.

I was very lucky to capture that shot when I did - the moment passed very quickly and it was soon dark and overcast once again.Iwas happy though, asIwas delighted with my stormy picture.

GEM ANEMONE NOLTON HAVEN, PEMBROKESHIRE

I was decked out in my scuba diving kit to get this shot, which was taken underwater near Nolton Haven on the Pembrokeshire coast.

The gem anemone is a truly extraordinary creature with its exotic colours, and underwater those pinks and greens appear luminous.

The mottled green and white tentacles look so delicate, almost translucent and are very beautiful.

Gem anemones can be found in rockpools, but they are very hard to spot as they tend to secrete themselves in crevices. In my picture the anemone is feeding on plankton, so it's open, and it's situated on a rocky underwater reef inhabited by mussels, which are also open and feeding.

In nature, nothing happens by accident, and the gem anemone's lurid colours are there for a purpose - they act as a warning to predators to keep away as its tentacles are capable of giving a nasty sting to small underwater creatures to crabs and fish that might make a meal of it.

The anemone punches above its weight thanks to its colourful liver, compensating for the fact that it's quite small, around 25cm across.

The underwater world is completely magical, and you become totally absorbed by the things you see when you are cocooned in this mysterious marine environment.

It's astounding what you can discover right on your own doorstep.

COASTEERING ST NONS, PEMBROKESHIRE

The sport of coasteering was pioneered by Pembrokeshire outdoor pursuits centre TYF, based in St David's.

It involves negotiating the coastline by scrambling along the rocks near water level, swimming from outcrop to outcrop, and often culminates with a spectacular cliff jump into the sea.

Participants get a great adrenalin rush, as well as having lots of fun.

I wanted to get a different perspective on the activity - shots from the clifftop or taken from a boat have been done before.

I got into my wetsuit, flippers and mask, and put an underwater housing on my camera so that I could get the shot from the waterline.

I'll go to any lengths to get my picture.

It was a beautiful clear, sunny day, and the sea was still and calm. From my position in the water I got a kind of fish-eye perspective on proceedings.

The unusual angle captures something of the sensation of leaving the land and leaping into the sea.

Agroup of people are lined up on the rocks waiting to jump into the water, while three others are already in mid air. It's a really lively action shot full of life and movement.

I like the colours in the picture too. The sea is a deep green, the sky is a rich, flawless blue, and there are rich reddish tones in the rocks.

Some of the participants are wearing yellow helmets, and these leap out too.

The whole image speaks of summer days and the fun people have when the weather is great.

Andy Davies was born in Cardiff in 1962 and studied geology at Swansea University and marine geology and geophysics at University College London, before working in conservation. Coastline Wales is published by Graffeg, price pounds 25
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 13, 2008
Words:1792
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