About swgt62

Kevin Bate holds a B.Sc. in Geology from Aberystwyth University and an M.Sc. in Petroleum Geology from the University of Aberdeen. He has 30 years plus experience as a geologist in the Oil & Gas industry Kevin is a Fellow of the Geological Society of London (FGS) and is a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Kevin has recently been certificated for the WERS2 First Aid course for outdoor instructors together with gaining a Level 3 Award in Education and Training (AOFAQ) Kevin established South Wales GeoTours as an independent business providing fee-based, guided one-day geological tours to tourists and amateur geologists alike in the South Wales area

Kids love looking for Dino footprints

Recently had the pleasure of leading a small group of children aged 8 and 11 on a Dinosaur hunt.

Regardless of the weather, that was terrible (howling gale and heavy rain), the kids were still really motivated to explore the Triassic geology near Barry, South Wales for world renowned Dinosaur tracks formed by various Dinosaurs during their early stages of evolution; the location is a SSSI in-fact which stands for Site of Special Scientific Interest meaning it is a protected geological site.

Dinosaur footprint hunting (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The Late Triassic Branscombe Mudstone Formation ranges in age between 228-208 million years old and is formed of red mudstones and thin sandstone and pebbly units reflecting deposition in a Sabkha environment adjacent to a body of standing water surrounded by soft sticky mud and which periodically became covered by windblown dust. The climate was arid and hot much like the Middle East today.

Representation of a likely Late Triassic environment

The rocks were deposited in the interior of the Supercontinent known as Pangaea (when all the landmasses of the earth were grouped into one single mega-continent).

Location of South Wales (Red Circle) within Pangaea (image by English Book in Georgia)

At the locality numerous footprints of early Dinosaurs can be found; it may take a bit of time for you to get your eye in to see the footprints but when you have found one or two you soon get to see many more. It’s likely that the animals walked through the soggy wet mud at the edge of a lake to get to the water to drink; as they walked the mud oozed-up between the toes and feet of the Dinosaurs with the prints quickly drying-out in the hot sun. Alternatively, the prints may have become covered by windblown dust which hardened into rock. These alternate ways of preserving the footprints is important as sometimes the footprints are seen as downward impressions whereas others stand proud of the background rock. They stand proud because the (windblown or water laid) sediment that in-filled the original tracks turned into rock harder than the original rock around it.

3-Toed footprint left by a Predator (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

And it’s not just one species of Dinosaur that left footprints; just like today if animals come to drink at watering holes they are hunted by predators. There are many small 3-toed footprints most probably left by agile carnivorous Dinosaurs such as the Therapod, Coelophysis together with larger generally rounded 4-toed footprints of larger plant-eating Sauropod Dinosaurs such as Plateosaurus. It is amazing but you can clearly see the shape of the individual toes together with the mud squeezed out between them and in other places an elevated rim of mud (now rock) around the more rounded 4-toed prints, left from 220 million years ago!!

Rims around a 4-toed Dinosaur footprint (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The children were highly excited to find footprints and even though the wind was blowing a gale, the rain came down in heavy bursts and it was cold. They asked me tons of questions some of which were hard to answer – they are children’s questions after all – and I found that very heartening. I really enjoyed explaining the geology and ecology of the early Dinosaurs during the Late Triassic period!

Abundant footprints left by a Sauropod dinosaur (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The Severn Bore

Although not directly related to the geology of the Heritage Coast, the modern-day natural phenomena that is the Severn Bore, does in-part owe its origins to the physical shape of the Bristol Channel and River Severn. And, it is a wonderful physical feature to see and be aware of. The word bore comes from the old Viking word, bára meaning wave.

Wikipedia defines a “Bore” as a tidal phenomenon where by the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave(s) that travel up a river against the rivers current, usually where there is a large tidal range. Bores can only ever be generated on Spring Tides when the alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun causes a gravitational bulge in the seawater leading to a greater volume of water entering an estuary. Bores are bigger around the time of the equinoxes.

Other rivers with bores include the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada, the Amazon (pororoca) in Brazil, Qiantang River (silver dragon) in China and the Trent (aegir) of England.

The bores physical features become exaggerated as it flows into such funnel-shaped estuaries as The Bristol Channel and River Severn system. The presence of sandbars in the river also enhance the bore. In the open sea the extra volume of water associated with the Spring Tide is un-noticeable as its spread-out across such a vast area of water, with maybe only a mm or so of additional height. However, as that volume of water is pushed into an ever-diminishing space, the extra volume of water has no place to go except upwards (as it is confined by the banks of the channel into which it is flowing). So what start-off as a tiny ripple downstream changes to a wave of a few meters in height as it moves upstream.

Severn Bore taken from near Lydney, Gloucestershire

Because the timing of bores is dependent on the tides, the actual height of a bore depends upon the depth of the river channel and wind direction at the time. If ships frequently navigate up affected rivers the disturbance can deepen the river course thereby diminishing the bore.

Severn Bore taken from Minsterworth, Gloucestershire

The passage of the bore leads to a lot of churning of the water with the wave often having enough energy to rip-up vegetation along the banks of the river. After a bore has passed through the river can be littered with logs and branches. This introduces some danger to those that choose to surf or canoe the bore wave, which is a very popular thing to do! The Severn Bore tends to form a surf-able wave of up to 2m height between Awre almost to the city of Gloucester. The village of Newnham is the most popular location for the public to view the Severn Bore as it the main A48 road passes within feet of the River Severn although Minsterworth higher up the Severn is also a good spot. The longest single surf-run is reported to be 7.6 miles made in 2006.

A timetable of bores expected during 2018 is provided in the link below


The Great Flood of 1607

In January 1607, during the reign of the first Stuart King James 1stand a year after the gunpowder plot, a large part of South Wales and Somerset was abruptly inundated by seawater. It is thought that about 2,000 people were drowned and over 200 square miles of land was flooded. Reports state that the beach near Ogmore Castle was engulfed in rocks and boulders in a matter of minutes. Also, recently created sea defences where Aberthaw power station now stands, were destroyed by the force of the flood. So, whatever caused the inundation it introduced water into the Bristol Channel at extreme force, with enough energy to move very substantial boulders (The Severn Tsunami?, Mike Hall, 2013).

Representation of the Great Flood affecting the Gwent Levels, produced some time after the event

Two possible mechanisms could have caused the sudden inundation: A Storm Surge or, a Tsunami. At the time it was attributed to The Almighty as a response to “the sinfulness of Man and his disobedience of Gods law.”

The Storm Surge theory

The Royal Meteorological Society (Horsburgh & Horritt, 2006), has back calculated the tidal curve for Avonmouth for the week of 21st-31stJanuary 1607 and it predicts a spring high tide of circa 8m on the 30thJanuary. Such tides are common and not out of the ordinary for the Bristol Channel.

The weather at the time however may provide some important clues as to the cause. The most authoritative account is that made by a gentleman named John Paul, the Vicar of Almondsbury who recorded that a “mighty strong western wind” was blowing on the day. He also recorded that it was a spring tide which adds credibility to his observations. A number of other accounts also state that the weather was stormy on the day of the great flood.

From this circumstantial evidence it is safe to assume that a Low-Pressure atmospheric system had developed in the Western Approaches resulting in high winds and elevated sea-levels (due to the lower weight of air pushing down on the sea) much like are witnessed today during Autumn and Winter (see Blog 5). Modelling also suggests that the Jet Stream may have been flowing in a more southerly track at that time thereby causing in the track of large depressions that normally track over Iceland. Climate reconstructions also indicate that the 16thand 17thcenturies were exceptionally windy.

The wind would have been funnelled-up the Bristol Channel by the physical shape and geography of the area (see Blog 5) and coincided with a moderately high spring tide. The combination of elevated water levels (spring tide and a low air pressure system) with high winds could have been sufficient to push the increased volume of water onto the land. Floods were also recorded on that day in The Wash of East Anglia indicating that the weather was bad all over the U.K. at that time.

An argument against this is would a storm surge have sufficient energy to move boulders the size of double-decker buses and weighing hundreds of tonnes along the shoreline? But a storm surge will have the energy generated by a substantial body of water in the Atlantic supporting it so, maybe it is possible.

Tsunami theory

Many reports at the time of the Great Flood state that the speed of the wave was so fast that it could not be outrun. These same reports state that the weather was fine at the time which contradict that of the Vicar of Almondsbury. Basically, it would appear that the inhabitants of the area were caught by surprise by the flood.Descriptions in 17th century pamphlets write of “huge and mighty hills of water” appear indicative of a tsunami.

Evidence in the Bristol Channel area that supports the idea that the ingress of water was caused by a tsunami are the placement and alignment of substantial boulders along the beaches of the Bristol Channel and a number of erosional features (Bryant & Haslett, 2007). A thin coarse-grained deposit dated from that time has been encountered in boreholes in the Severn Estuary.

If one looks closely at Southerndown and Nash Point you can see that the very large boulders that litter the upper parts of the beach are aligned west to east and many stack-up on one another in what is termed an Imbricate attitude. There are also scoop-like depressions in the bed-rock near these large boulders.

Similarly, if one takes a discerning look at the shape of the cliffs, at positions tens of meters above current sea-level in the immediate area of Sully (where the Bristol Channel narrows abruptly), it can be argued that the Triassic cliffs are eroded further back than the underlying Carboniferous limestone, forming a substantial notch in the cliff.

The suggestion is that a tsunami flowed up the Bristol Channel on the day of the Great Flood picking-up and redepositing the very large boulders and stacking them upon one another as the water flowed from west to east. It is clear that boulders across the north shore of the Bristol Channel are aligned with their long axis west to east. The extreme abrasive action of such boulders moving across the seabed also produced the scallop-shaped depressions noted in the area and effectively bevelled-off prominent headlands such as at Sully. Modelling of the energies required to move such boulders indicates that wave height (above normal sea-level) would need to be circa 5m.

Imbricated boulders, Porthcawl: image taken from Bryant & Haslett, 2007. Full acknowledgement made

If it was a tsunami want what would have caused it? The British Geological Survey confirm that there have been no substantial landslides off the continental slope for many centuries which precludes an analogy with the mega landslide that occurred off the shelf of Norway 6,000 years ago that caused a tsunami to rush down the North Sea toward Britain washing away Dogger-land (that joined Britain to the rest of Europe following the last Ice Age) and making Britain an island. If the tsunami was not caused by a landslide it may have been caused by movement along the many faults that extend into the inner Western Approaches such as the Central Bristol Channel Fault Zone, the West Lundy Fault Zone, or the Sticklepath Fault shown in the figure below.

Main Structural elements of the Bristol Channel and the Celtic Sea basins: Graphic from Tappin et. al., Full acknowledgement made

One note of caution with regards the theory if that tsunamis are rarely one single wave but more generally comprise a series of waves. There is no indication from reports that multiple waves hit the Bristol Channel on that day in 1607. There is also the fact that a storm surge also affected East Anglia on the same day with no mention of a great flood anywhere at that time in the English Channel or elsewhere in Wales.

If I had to stick my neck-out I would plump for the Storm Surge theory as the tidal and weather modelling for the end of January 1607 could provide the right conditions. Also, the dating of imbrication of rocks on the beaches and the erosion of the cliff sections is not precise enough to substantiate the tsunami theory.

The Severn Tsunami? The Story of Britain’s Greatest Natural Disaster. Mike Hall, 2013. Published by The History Press Ltd. ISBN 9780752470153

The Bristol Channel floods of 1607 – reconstruction and analysis. Kevin Horsburgh and Matt Horritt. Weather – October 2006, Vol. 16, No. 10

 Catastrophic Wave Erosion, Bristol Channel, United Kingdom: Impact of Tsunami? E.A. Bryant and S. Haslett. The Journal of Geology, 2007, Vol 115 Pgs 253-269.

The geology of Cardigan Bay and the Bristol Channel. D.R. Tappin, R.A. Chadwick, A.A. Jackson, R.T.R. Wingfield and N.J.P. Smith. British Geological Survey United Kingdom Offshore Regional Report, 1994.

High Tidal Range and Impact on Coastal Access

Tides are caused by the gravitational influence of the Sun, the Moon and the rotation of the Earth. As noted in Blog 4 the Bristol Channel experiences the second largest tidal range in the world at 15m. There are a number of factors that influence that fact:

  • Shape of the land – the Bristol Channel is shaped like a funnel (fig 1); it is 45km across in the west but narrows to less than 10km near Newport. As the tides flow through the channel it gets squeezed leading to an increase in range
  • Atlantic Ocean – the greater the mass of water immediately adjacent to the Bristol Channel causing greater tidal range
  • Topography of the land – The high mountains of Wales and Exmoor help funnel the prevailing westerly winds up the Bristol Channel. This helps pile-up the water in the channel
  • Air Pressure Systems – The Azores High pressure system during the summer helps depress the water column reducing tidal ranges. However, in winter the Azores High fades away removing the pressure on the water column leading to more water being present. Prevailing winds are the Westerlies that effectively push the water eastwards and into the funnel-shaped Bristol Channel

Funnel-shaped Severn Estuary

The Bristol Channel has two equal high and low tides every day i.e. Semi-Diurnal (the difference in height between high and low waters over a half-day). The times of High and Low tide advance by circa 1 hour over a 24-hour period and there is generally a circa 6.5-hour time period between High tide and the next Low tide. Average high Tides range between 6-8m in height.

The height of these tides is the direct effect of the gravitational pull on the water of the Moon and to a lesser extent the Sun. Approximately twice a month, at the time of the new moon and full moon when the Sun, Moon and Earth are in alignment tidal range is at its maximum (fig 2). These are called Spring Tides; it does not relate to the season of Spring but rather to the meaning of “jump or burst forth,” as in a natural spring.

Lunar cycles and influence on tides

When the Moon is at 90°to the Sun – Earth alignment i.e. 1st& 3rdquarter the tidal range is at its lowest. These tides are termed Neap Tides (originating from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “without the power”).

During a Spring tide the water will rise to its highest possible point at high tide (Fig 3) and at low tide to its lowest possible point (large tidal range). Conversely during a Neap tide the high tide will not reach a high level and the low tide will not attain a very low mark (low tidal range).

Spring and Neap tidal ranges

A further level of complexity to add-on to these two primary cycles concerns the prevailing air pressure systems and then the temporal weather conditions. Consider a situation in winter time during a Spring tide and when westerly storms hit the west of the UK; high water levels are produced by low air pressure, tidal cycles and the weather conditions blowing from the west. The result can be a tidal surge although these are rare.

Field trips cannot operate during high tides because even during Neap tides high tides attain heights of almost 7m when a number of the outcrops to be visited are either inaccessible or, are completely covered by water. It is unsafe to attempt to visit an outcrop on a rising tide, close to high water mark.

Therefore, all field trips will be organised to commence at times when tides are falling during the circa 6.5-hour time period between the high and low tide marks. More outcrop will be exposed when the tidal range is higher, during Spring tides however, the time period between high tide and low tide remains at circa 6.5-hours which then impacts on the rate at which the subsequent tide comes-in., so this too has to be factored in to the schedule.

Thus, the timing of field trips will be dictated by tide times and tide heights in combination with everyone’s normal daily routines and availability. This will result in certain days of the month when field trips cannot operate because high tides occur at midday.

As an alternative I am considering leading trips to inland localities where the geology of the South Wales Coalfield (Late Carboniferous) is exposed. I am thinking of combining discussions on the geology along with the industrial history of the area. I have always had an interest in the history of the Industrial Revolution in the UK, even studying History at A-Level whilst still at school. Thus, trips to places in the South Wales valleys could run when the tides are not good for going to the coastline.

I would really like to hear your opinion on this idea so, if you think you would be interested in such trips please get in contact via the website. I will research localities during the forthcoming winter and can have a schedule of trips organised for the summer of 2019. Please get in touch.

Pubs for lunch

I spent two very pleasurable days in the middle of July 2018 visiting the Pubs (short for Public Houses) in the Vale of Glamorgan (see location map below) that could provide suitable places for participants on my trips to stop for lunch (if so desired). Alternatively, participants can bring a packed-lunch themselves to consume at a convenient spot during the course of the trip.

I have listed below the pubs into two groups, those that are within close proximity to outcrops we will be seeing and secondly, those that are a little further away but still do-able. I provide links to the pubs social media sites wherever available.

I must say that I have not eaten at the majority of them, so I cannot, at this point in time, vouch for the quality and value for money of the food they serve.

Many of the pubs are extremely old (many hundreds of years old) and are therefore extremely characterful both on the outside and inside. I am sure all provide an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, especially for overseas visitors.

Location of the various Pubs available to visit

Pubs close to the Outcrops:

The Star Inn, Wick

The Star Inn, Wick





The Farmers Arms, St. Brides Major

Farmers Arms, St. Brides Major




The Plough and Harrow, Monknash

This pub is famous for being one of the most haunted buildings in Wales. Very popular

The Plough and Harrow, Monknash



The Horsehoe, Marcross

The Horseshoe, Marcross


The Old Swan, Llantwit Major

An old and very characterful pub

The Old Swan, Llantwit Major




The White Hart, Llantwit Major

The White Hart, Llantwit Major


Pubs a little further from the Outcrops:

The Victoria, Sigingstone

Victoria Inn, Sigignstone


The Red Lion, Pendoylan

A well-known gastro-pub serving award-winning food

Red Lion, Pendoylan



The Bear Inn, Cowbridge

A famous and characterful pub in the beautiful village of Cowbridge

The Bear Inn, Cowbridge



The Carne Arms, Llysworney



Other Pubs that I still need to check-out for suitability include The Bush Inn, St. Hilary and The Red Lion in Bonvilston. The other day when I visited the pubs the Bush Inn had closed  for the afternoon as I got to it a little after 3pm and, the Blue Anchor in Aberthaw which is currently closed for renovation.

Risk Assessment Trips

Although the subject of Geology is a fascinating one it does involve spending time in the outdoors in sometimes less than perfect weather and walking across variable terrain to outcrops where the rocks are exposed.

In general, you will walk along pathways when one can chat and enjoy the scenery as you walk; however sometimes you will need to walk down gentle cliff paths or across rocky beaches with slippery seaweed cover to access outcrops.

Hazards and Risk is inherent in any field activity but is managed properly can be reduced to a small enough level as to not destroy what is basically a fun day out in the open air.

Having spent over 30 years in the Oil & Gas industry with frequent visits to the well site, a Safety and Risk Awareness culture has been instilled in me and my hope is that that culture has become embedded in my Geotourism business. If you attend one of my trips and notice any deficiencies in my conduct or attitude, please let me know.

As per the UK Health & Safety Executive*:

Hazard: a hazard is something that can cause adverse effects

Risk:   a risk is the likelihood that a hazard will actually cause its adverse effects

*Health & Safety at Work Act, 1974

I have made dedicated visits to every location where I may visit on one of my tours for the specific purpose of making a note of all Hazards at that locality, the chance of accidents occurring (i.e. the Risk) and ways that I and participants can mitigate the probability of those incidents. Essentially, I implement the concept of ALARP in that I seek to reduce levels of risk to “As Low As Reasonably Practicable.”

For the various Hazards I identify a Risk level of Low, Medium, or High which I colour code Green, Orange and Red respectively. For each Hazard I make a recommendation as to how to reduce the risk of that specific hazard. A list of Hazards I have identified are as follows:

  • Walking down Steep Slopes
  • Falling Rocks
  • Falling Water
  • Uneven, slippery rocks
  • Cut-off by High Tides
  • Freak Waves
  • Collision with Cars
  • Collision with Mountain Bikes
  • Access to Mobile Phone Signal
  • Access to Car Parking*

The latter (*) is not a Hazard per se but I have included it in my Risk Assessment as it does influence the choice of localities to take field parties.

This risk assessment needs to be read within the context that the cliffs that form much of the Heritage Coast are sometimes high and unstable. Where the shoreline is formed of Carboniferous Limestone the relief is minimal. However, where Triassic and Early Jurassic rocks form the shoreline the elevation of the cliff tops can be significantly higher, ranging between 15-30m.

The Triassic rocks are primarily composed mudstone with occasional evaporate (salts) bands (Mercia Mudstone Group), whereas the uppermost layers of the Triassic (Penarth Group) are composed of more homogenous sandy limestones and interbedded mudstones. The mudstones of the Mercia Mudstone Group are crumbly and tend to break into small pieces that can fall from anywhere on the cliff face. The more homogenous limestone units of the overlying Penarth Group can break into blocks circa 1-2m in diameter and circa 10cm in thickness. These heavy blocks can fall without warning.

Fallen blocks from unstable cliffs (photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The Early Jurassic Blue Lias Group consist of horizontally bedded black mudstones and grey limestones across large areas of the Heritage Coast. The dark mudstones erode much more easily than the harder limestones. Tide and wave action will result in the mudstone eroding at a far greater rate than the limestones which leads to instability and eventually rock falls.

Alternating harder and softer lithologies (photo: South Wales GeoTours)

Both the Jurassic and the underlying Triassic rocks have been affected by vertical jointing (a parting of the rock fabric along a plane of weakness). The vertical jointing intersects with the horizontal bedding resulting in enhanced structural weakness. If the weight of the cliff gets to a point where the stresses are greater than strength of the supporting rock the cliff will collapse. It is extremely dangerous to stand both on the edge of a cliff top or, at the base of a cliff, as the cliff can suddenly collapse without warning.

Rock Fall, Heritage Coast (photo: South Wales GeoTours)

One other very real hazard is the nature of the substrate of the beaches. Some beaches are composed of sand which is easy and safe to walk across. But some locations the beach is formed of abundant cobbles and pebbles thrown-up by wave action and added to by rock falls. Where tides cover these loose rocks, they can be covered in seaweed. Walking on these rocks is hazardous as they can be slippery and wobbly. Walking boots that give you ankle support are essential and maybe a walking pole to improve your balance would be good.

Unstable substrate typical of many locations (photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The Bristol channel is an area affected by extreme tidal range, at 15m. In-fact the tidal range of is the second largest in the world, after the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada where the tidal range is only slightly more at 16m. The coastal shelf on the northern side of the Bristol Channel dips shallowly meaning that the tide can rush in at a surprisingly fast rate which can catch people by surprise. This hazard can be mitigated by ensuring visits are only made on a falling tide.

Large tidal range affecting the Bristol Channel (photo: South Wales GeoTours)

Given these concerns and, in case of emergency, it is important to be within mobile phone coverage at all times. I have walked all localities and noted the signal strength of the phone coverage. All locations had signal.

Upon completion of the risk assessment of all locations I compiled the list of hazards versus the full list of localities with the hazards colour-coded by risk level. This allowed me to rank locations that provided good access with least hazards whilst also presenting interesting geological features. All locations where hazards are colour coded red are discarded from the list of locations where I will take participants.

It is also important that participants treat the coastline with respect by not dropping litter, by not hammering rocks to remove fossils and by not disturbing other beach users.

The Heritage Coast of South Wales

The Heritage Coast is a rugged 20 km section of the South Wales coastline between Ogmore in the west to Summerhouse point near the village of Aberthaw in the east providing visitors with spectacular views of cliffs and the Bristol Channel together with world-class outcrops of geology.

The South Wales Heritage Coast is one of three Heritage Coasts first introduced in 1973/74, the others being the Dorset Coast and the Suffolk Coast. They were established as a partnership between The Countryside Commission for Wales (now natural resources Wales) and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, the latter operating the scheme with two specific aims:

  • To conserve the scenery
  • To manage recreational activities in a sustainable way

The Countryside Commission in 1970 stated that the aim was “to make the widest use of all coastal resources rather than to preserve scenic stretches for their own sake or to discourage access thereto.” It was hoped that the goodwill generated by a shared responsibility for the coastline would encourage cooperation and effective management strategies which if successful could be deployed elsewhere in the U.K.

There is now a total of 46 Heritage Coasts in the U.K., 14 in Wales totalling 495 km and a further 32 totalling 1,057 km in England. The designation of the term “Heritage Coast” is different to that of a “National Park” or an “Area of Outstanding Beauty.” Whereas a National Park has legal status with paid employees, the Heritage Coast relies 100% on volunteers and voluntary cooperation between parties. The Vale of Glamorgan Council has financial responsibility for the Heritage Coast with additional financial support coming from Natural Resources Wales.

The Glamorgan Heritage Coast occupies the western limb of the Vale of Glamorgan. The rocks on either flank of the Vale of Glamorgan are older than those exposed in the centre of Vale. In other words, if you travel from Porthcawl to Aberthaw, which forms the centre of the Vale, you cross rocks that become progressively younger; if you travel-on from Aberthaw to Penarth you travel into progressively older rocks. This is what geologists term a syncline and is the result of tectonic forces bending the Earth downwards.

The configuration of the geology also explains the origin of the name “the Vale of Glamorgan.” The poetic name Vale equates to a valley or, Val in ancient French (The Vale of Glamorgan was a centre of Norman settlement and culture following the invasion of Britain by William the Conqueror in the year 1066).

What is special about the Heritage Coast is its spectacular cliff sections and wave cut platforms. The cliffs reach up to 50m in height and show beautifully the regularly alternating Jurassic limestones and mudstone that are in places deformed into folds and cut by faults. These cliffs contain abundant fossils ranging from ancient shells to dinosaur bones.

Spectacular cliffs of The Heritage Coast (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

The wave cut platforms that are exposed at low tide display in spectacular fashion this same geology but where it has been eroded flat by the action of the sea to produce what is in effect a map of the geological structure affecting the coastline. The stretch of coastline from Porthcawl to Monknash is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the unique geology and botany encountered.

Geological structures exposed in Wave Cut Platform (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

Acquiring Supporting Graphics

As much as possible throughout the development of the South Wales GeoTours website AND in the construction of presentation material I have striven to acquire and use as much of my own graphical material. In so doing I naturally avoid any copyright issues. If any images provided by others are used I acknowledge those as such. The images presented in the South Wales GeoTours website were taken from the range of equipment described in this blog article.

I have always had an interest in photography. I purchased my first SLR camera (a Zenith) and lenses whilst I was at Aberystwyth University; I subsequently upgraded to an Olympus SLR (EM-1) a few years later when I was studying for my Masters Degree at Aberdeen. Both of these cameras pre-dated the advent of digital technology.

My first purchase of a digital camera was a pocket Nikon camera made in 2003 (TG-310) living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was effectively a point-and-shoot camera and I soon became frustrated with it as it offered no functionality in terms of changing aperture or shutter-speed. But then I knew that when I bought it! Unfortunately, the camera ceased to work within 2 years.

I was without a camera for three years until 2008. Whilst passing through Singapore on the way home to Brunei from a vacation I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T5 with a kit lens. This was a good digital camera to re-familiarise myself with photographic techniques. I captured some good images on travels around Brunei and Indonesia and probably it would have been sufficient if not for the fact that I befriended a very good photographer at work (at BSP). He is a fantastic photographer (much better than me) and trips out taking photographs with him around the BSP camp pressed upon me the need to “get a better camera” if I wanted to take really good photos. I advertised the Rebel and lenses at work and fortunately someone purchased the equipment from me.

I subsequently upgraded in 2010. I purchased the camera body and lenses whilst on vacation in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was aware of a reputable but cost-effective photography dealer (Jakarta Photography Centre) located in the Kemang district of Jakarta. I had previously done the necessary research into the various options for manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Ricoh, Hasselblad) and limited my final choice between Nikon and Canon. This was based on the availability of a wide range of high-quality but affordable (just…) lenses and accessories. In the end I settled for Canon based on my earlier good experiences with Canon.

I purchased a Canon 5D Mark 2 as it is one of the two Full-Frame format Canon DSLR cameras, the other being the Canon 1D, but that camera is professional level equipment which is out of my price range. Full-Frame format means that what you see in the view-finder is what is captured by the sensor, whereas the majority of DSLR cameras use CMOS image capture sensors that effectively crop the image seen in the view-finder due to size limitation.

The lens I purchased to use with the 5D was the Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM as I felt this was the best lens for the type of photography I enjoy, namely Street and Portrait photography. I also purchased some filters to protect the lens from scratching and to provide some UV filtering.

A year later, in 2011, I purchased the EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM telephoto lens to compliment the EF24-70mm lens. The EF70-200mm lens provided me with a degree of telephoto functionality in addition to being a benchmark or workhorse lens of professional portrait photographers and photo-journalists.

Two years later, in 2013, I purchased a good quality tripod in Brunei. The tripod I bought is the 055CX3 manufactured by Manfrotto, together with the 488RCO midi ball tripod head. This tripod is very good, and I love using it. It is light, as its made from Carbon fibre, yet is very stable. The final piece of equipment I purchased at that time was the Canon RS-80NS cable release to allow me to take photos without camera shake.

Equipment used to capture images (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

When I am out in the field taking photos, I carry this equipment around in a Crumpler rucksack that is constructed specifically for carrying photography equipment (now discontinued by Crumpler).

As for making trips to outcrops for the purpose of taking photographs there are a number of aspects to consider:

  • I make those trips on bright days with minimal haze in the air and consequently when visibility is good
  • Given that the Heritage Coastline of South Wales in general faces south the sunlight shines in an optimal direction for illumination
  • The afternoon is often better for taking photos as that’s when the Sun is in the west. Many of the bays tend to face to the southwest. In the morning many of these bays are in shadow
  • Tides. In the UK we have two low and two high tides each day i.e. semi-diurnal tides. Low tide is the best time to take photos as more of the rocks are exposed and access to beaches/outcrops is greatest.

Kevin acquiring photographs, Heritage Coastline (Photo: South Wales GeoTours)

When back home I download the images in RAW format to the Apple iMac and then perform minimal editing of the images using the Canon Digital Photo Professional software. Edits I make generally is limited to cropping and a little sharpening; I try to avoid anything further to that. I finally export the image as smaller JPEG files to allow upload into the website design package I use, WordPress.

A few of the images I use in the website have been taken using an iPhone6, but I aim to use my DSLR camera and EF lenses as far as possible

Setting-Up the Business – A Case Study

For the first time in my working career I am attempting to be self-sufficient and self-reliant in terms of financing the wellbeing of my family and me. Its daunting …. scary in-fact.

I have always been a paid employee of medium sized to large multi-national companies. I have strived to perform to my best abilities to justify collecting my salary at the end of the month.

I did not need to consider such things as ensuring that I am paying the correct amount of Tax and National Insurance; what about a separate business account, and how to I advertise my business? On an even more base level, how do I set-up a business??

These are aspects I now need to consider and plan for, as should others that are thinking of setting-out on their own.

In summary, the steps I have undertaken so far in setting-up the business are as follows:

  • Receive training from Business Wales in setting-up a new business
  • Receive funding from Careers Wales for re-training activities
  • Undertaken those re-training activities, namely social media marketing and outdoor First Aid & Instructor training
  • Scouted & taken photos of outcrops
  • Prepared presentation material as teaching aids
  • Made Risk Assessments of each outcrop for Health & Safety purposes

Fortunately, one day shortly before being made redundant from Shell I was reading an edition of the monthly free newsletter from Newport City Council. A significant section of the newspaper was focused on defining the support, provided by the Council, to individuals wanting to set-up a business for the very first time. One of the items referred to a suite of training courses offered by Business Wales (Development Agency of the Welsh Government) that aims to give new entrants the necessary background and support to start a business for the first time.

For a number of years previously I had been thinking of what my future could involve following the end of my Oil & Gas career. Except in a few favoured instances a career in the Oil & Gas industry ends in the late 50’s or early 60’s; there are very few old people in the industry.

I was in Australia attending an industry conference in the year 2007 when an Indonesian friend of mine said that he too was already thinking of what he could do after retirement from Shell. His idea was to take tourists on trips to explain the geology of the island of Bali.

I thought to myself that that was a practical and sensible business idea and I immediately translated Bali to South Wales. I know that there are some world-class outcrops of Carboniferous, Triassic and Jurassic rocks along the south coast of South Wales and that combined with my local knowledge and decades of experience as a geologist seemed a valid option for me to consider.

Key Message 1 is don’t be afraid to adapt someone else’s business idea. Shape the idea to your environment. Standing on the shoulders of giants is OK to do.

I was hoping to initiate the idea at the age of 59 but redundancy at the age of 55 has brought implementation of the idea forward. Hence, I took the bull by the horns and contacted Business Wales.

I attended an initial one-day workshop organised by Business Wales named “Taking the Plunge” in February 2017. The aim of this workshop was to summarise the process of setting-up a new business for new entrants to self-employment. At the end of the one-day one should be able to assess whether self-employment is for you or not. The module covered aspects such as how to do a self-evaluation in terms of assessing if self-employment if for you and how to construct an action plan. The module also summarised how to finance your business and to know what legal constraints will impact your business together with becoming aware of your Tax and National Insurance commitments. I strongly recommend that you attend an equivalent workshop in your home area as it will explain the foundations of setting-up in business.

Should you wish to learn more about how to get started on your own Business Wales offer a series of other modules targeting individual aspects in a bit more detail.

Modules offered by Business Wales for new business start-ups

I attended the Starting-Up, Sizing Up the Market, Winning and Keeping Customers and Pricing for Profits modules.

A significant component of the process of setting-up a business is the compilation of a fully researched and realistic business plan. Firstly, you have to make an honest assessment of whether working for yourself is right for you; the plus-side is that you potentially have the capacity to earn more money as its your business. You also have more control over work-life balance (in theory) and you have the chance of trying-out that big idea. In my case its all about taking the next step following redundancy. The downsides are that success or failure of the business is your responsibility together with facing the unknown (future).

Although you have a good idea for a new business simply having that idea is insufficient to directly equate to success. Constructing a business plan forces you to put your thoughts on paper in a logical order. It is effectively a map of how you expect your business to operate over the first year or two and will cover aspects such as identifying the Unique Selling Point (USP) of the business, how you will do your market research (on competitors), what marketing strategies you will deploy, finding whatever finances are required to get the business going and how you will operate the business, either as a Sole-Trader, as a Limited Company or in Partnership.

When acting as a Sole-Trader your business can operate its finances through either your personal bank account or, a business account, and you can take profit directly as its earned. Essentially, your personal and business income streams combine into one in terms of calculation of Income Tax. The downside however is that you are liable for any debts the business may incur.

Conversely, setting-up a Limited Company means registering your business with Companies House (in the UK at least), and the business is a separate entity requiring its own business bank account. You become an employee of the business and therefore you receive a salary from which you pay Income Tax and National Insurance via PAYE. Laws on book-keeping and tax returns for Limited Companies are strict and a tax return for the business MUST be submitted every year. You will therefore most likely have to employ a Tax Consultant to submit your tax returns.

I have chosen to operate as a Sole Trader for two reasons: (1) because of the small scale of the business, (2) because it is a much simpler way of operating in terms of book-keeping and accounting when such things are unfamiliar. I can take whatever profit the business makes with that income is added to my other income streams; I simply make a simple payment for Income Tax and National Insurance at the end of the tax year.

My Unique Selling Point I defined as being that I provide guided geological field trips to outcrops 6 days a week whereas competitors provide field excursions generally on a once a month basis.

My approach to evaluating market demand for my business idea was to construct a questionnaire consisting of 10 questions and subsequently utilising the Survey Monkey application to post the survey on a number of tourism orientated forums/groups on Facebook, LinkedIn etc. I received a total of 90 responses and it was clear that the majority of those respondents were interested in attending geological field trips when in Wales on vacation.

As for an advertising strategy, I will advertise my GeoTours business in a number of Oil & Gas industry journals together with placing adverts on tourist websites such as VisitWales.com and VisitSouthWales.com. Similarly, I will utilise Facebook to advertise the business too.

Key Message 2 is force yourself to put your ideas down on paper in a structured way in the form of a Business Plan (USP, market research, finances, business structure). It will highlight short-comings that you can fix which will only help you in the long-run

I have made a lot of effort into trying to quantify the likely demand and thence cash flow for the business. This has not been easy as it requires me estimating items that have not yet happened; basically, it is a thumb-suck on how the business may perform but one grounded in realistic projections of demand, pricing, effects of seasonality and impact of advertising.

The starting point I made was to make a Sales Estimate taking into account estimated numbers of customers paying for the field trips I offer, at the price per person I set and then further influenced by the seasonality of the weather; business during the short days of the winter months is expected to be minimal. Then on-top of that I have to take into account the variation in tides as there will be a number of days in succession when high tides that make access to the outcrops unsafe coincide with day-time hours.

Following the sales estimate, the really hard-work of estimating a Cash-Flow for the business ensued. A Cash-Flow document estimates the income per month (including loans and grants) minus all the out-goings incurred by the business; such out-goings include the purchase of printers, safety equipment, software and IT expenses, and travel expenses. This ultimately provides a Net Cash-Flow estimation on a monthly basis. This is an important step in business planning as it allows you to estimate when income will be greater or lesser from the business thereby allowing you to make forward plans of when to implement things such as purchases and advertising campaigns.

During the course of attending the Taking the Plunge work-shop Business Wales mentioned the possibility being eligible for up to £1,500 Re-Act funds for re-training provided by Careers Wales. I subsequently attended an interview with a careers advisor at Career Wales during which support was provided to me in preparing a re-training proposal for re-training funding. This proposal was subsequently submitted to Careers Wales for approval. I am glad to say that my proposed re-training budget was approved.

Summary of the ReAct initiative provided by CareersWales

With the help of the careers advisor at Careers Wales I identified the following aspects on which to utilise the budget; firstly, it was clear that I needed familiarisation is all aspects of digital marketing together with gaining certified First-Aid training specific to outdoor activity. Careers Wales further advised that achieving professional certification in Teaching for outdoor activities would add support to my business. I agreed that that was a good idea.

Between Careers Wales and I we identified the following two training providers:

  • Marketing tom media to provide familiarisation in digital marketing & website design
  • RCTraining to provide First-Aid and Outdoor Instructor training

At the time of writing this blog the digital media training provided by Marketing Tom Media comprising three one-day courses involving Digital Marketing, Email Marketing and WordPress web design have been completed. The First-Aid for outdoor activities training (RCTraining) has been completed and the Level 3 Teacher training is over 50% completed.

Key Message 3 is find-out what resources are available with local government and or your Council in terms of help with re-training

I am periodically updating my Business Plan to keep it current as training modules are completed and key milestones in my understanding of setting-up in business are achieved.

Key Message 4 is keep your business plan up-to-date and relevant based on what you learn along the way

On a more direct front I have spent significant time scouting all the various outcrops and localities to visit during the course of field trips. During those visits, I have taken numerous photographs of the outcrops which I have used to construct presentation materials to aid me in explaining the geology.

I have also made separate and dedicated visits to all the same localities purely to make Risk Assessments of potential hazards at the outcrops. This has involved assessing the probability of slip and trip incidents, incidents due to tidal fluctuations and freak waves and the likelihood of rock falls from unstable cliffs. Things to do to mitigate these risks are also suggested.

What remains to be instigated include the opening of a business bank account, the finalisation of the South Wales GeoTours website, the creation of a Twitter account and the placing of advertisements. The aim is to start trading and taking of my first groups in mid-to-late March 2018.

Exciting times indeed.