Oakenholt Marsh, Pentre Ffwrndan

Oakenholt Marsh, Pentre Ffwrndan, near Flint

This section of the Wales Coast Path runs along the edge of the Dee estuary salt marsh, an important wildlife habitat. Oakenholt Marsh, upstream from here, is renowned among birdwatchers for its “high-tide roost” – when thousands of wading birds wait on the marshes while the tide obscures their feeding grounds on the mudflats.

The landscape here is a combination of human and natural processes. The estuary was further north until 1737, when the river Dee was turned into a canal between Connah’s Quay and Chester to ensure ships could continue to reach the port of Chester. The project also created areas of dry land alongside the canal where the river no longer flowed. A levy on the land’s owners helped to fund the canal’s maintenance.

Further downstream, the canalisation shifted the flow of water in the estuary southwards, particularly after construction in the 1860s of a “training wall” on the north side downstream of Connah’s Quay. Plants colonised the former tidal mudflats on the English side.

To the north from here you can make out the white buildings at Parkgate which once lined a promenade. Parkgate had a quay and boatyard but is now far from navigable water (see satellite view below). The other side of the coin was that new harbours, industries and towns flourished along the Flintshire coast.

The Dee estuary is designated a Special Area of Conservation. As well as the extensive salt marshes, the SAC covers areas of sand dunes, shingle and bog.

About the place-names:

Oakenholt means “wood of oak trees”, from the Middle English oken and holt (Okenholte 1586, Oaken Holt 1608). The wood itself is part of the narrow valley south of Oakenholt through which the Lead Brook flows. 

Pentre Ffwrndan was written as Pentre Ffwdan in 1684 and Pentre Ffwden in 1661, meaning “commotion hamlet” (Welsh pentref “'village, hamlet, settlement”, ffwdan “fuss, bustle, agitation, trouble”). Perhaps the inhabitants had a troublesome reputation! Compare with Sodom, north of Bodfari, and Uffern (“hell”) near Prestatyn. But by the late 18th century the focus seems to have changed from the social to the industrial, with the name being reinterpreted as ffwrn dân “fiery furnace” (Pentre Ffwrndan 1788). This reinterpreation is likely to reflect gentrification to throw off the earlier derogatory association of an unruly hamlet. There is also a Biblical association of Nebuchadnezzar's ffwrn o dan poeth (“blazing fiery furnace” – Daniel 3: 6, 20 and 23). 

With thanks to Hywel Wyn Owen and Ken Lloyd Gruffydd, members of the Welsh Place-Name Society and authors of 'Place-Names of Flintshire' (University of Wales Press, 2017)

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