A man from Penzance was shocked when tides revealed what he called “The Forest of Lyonesse” – an ancient petrified forest which stood long before the Mounts Bay we know today:
“It was truly amazing and I felt privileged to be one of the few people to see this incredible sight.”
Petrified woodland are fossilised remains of forests, occurring due to a lack of oxygen as a result of being buried under sediment, preventing the decomposition process. These remains are preserved in a high amount of detail, and are found all over the world, usually exposed due to erosion and low tide. The forests at Mounts Bay are thought to have existed 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, during a slightly warmer period of climate.
This forest is rumoured to be the remains of the land of Lyonesse (or Lethowstow) – a legendary, low-lying country said to have been engulfed by the sea, linking to a very real narrative of climate change and sea level rise. English Heritage funded a CISMAS project to find out more about this area, which you can read about here. The land also features in the Arthurian epic of Lord Alfred Tennyson, ‘Idylls of the King’:
“Then rose the King and moved his host by night
And ever pushed Sir Mordred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonesse–
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.”
It has been the focus of various writers and artists, and its recent uncovering on Mounts Bay beach rekindles these legends, reminding us of the wonder of the natural world, and the ever-changing landscape of the coast.