Bottom left of this map is the Dysynni rail bridge with the more recent Tonfanau foot bridge immediately alongside. The bridge was built in 2013, just north of Tywyn (see more about the bridge on an earlier post here). On Saturday, having escaped the truly appalling traffic carnage and the suicidal pedestrians in Aberdovey, I parked up just short of the bridge, hauled on some walking shoes and crossed over the bridge, pausing to admire the Dysynni river. The railway bridge that runs alongside, a nice bit of local heritage, is currently encased in white plastic. Heaven knows what is being done, but good to see that it is being cared for. The footpath beneath the railway bridge, by the way, is closed as a result. I had only very limited time, but yesterday I simply wanted to scope out the best way of getting to the top of the Tonfanau hill that dominates the Dysynni at this point, so was looking for the footpaths that would take me up on another day.
The walk along the Wales Coast Path extends towards Tonfanau station from the bridge, but turns back along a hairpin turn along the road until just past the main quarry gates, when it turns left through a farm gate into the quarry yard to proceed along the western edge of the hill, as shown on the above map. I ignored that turning and walked past the quarry until I reached a bridlepath sign on the left at Lechlwyd, also shown on the above map, which takes a route along the eastern edge of the hill. Along the bridlepath, the hill soars steeply above the track. It is beautiful, vibrantly green, and in places covered in dense swathes of glorious gorse and heather. At the point where a gate opened into a big field I turned back, but the footpath eventually leads up to the top of the hill and the Iron Age hillforts. I did that walk on Sunday, and I’ll post about that walk in a couple of days.
The walk offers some fine views over the Dysynni and the hills beyond, but perhaps the most remarkable aspect of it was the amazing density of wild flowers bursting up and out of the verges and reaching through the hedges. If you are looking for a short and very easy walk that requires no preparation or planning, and is easy on the legs, this one, at this time of the year, is a very good option.
Field or common bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). Visually similar to sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella), which I have posted about from dune walks, but common bindweed has smaller flowers and different leaves, much longer and thinner. One of my books (Spencer-Jones and Cuttle 2005) says that once they begin to coil anti-clockwise around a support they grow so fast that a stem can complete one coil in less than two hours. As a result they spread fiendishly fast, colonizing whole hedges and shrubs.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is liberally distribute throughout all the verges near the Dysynni.
It is very common on wastelands, and reaches 150cm, forming clumps. At the moment the bright white flowers on purple-red stems are particularly attractive.
Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) grows on the wasteland and the edge of cultivated land and footpaths, with a preference for semi shade. The toothed leaves look rather like nettles. They grow up to 1m tall. It was renowned from the 16th Century for its healing properties, and it has proved to be mildly antiseptic. White markings on the lower lip of the two-lip flower guides bees to nectar.
A pink version of yarrow, which is usually white (Achillea millefolium). The name, meaning thousand leaf, refers to the feathery leaves. They thrive in coastal areas. I’ve posted about it before, but I love the story behind the name. spreads by underground stems, and is patch-forming. It is disease resistant, which can benefit neighbouring plants, and its small leaves prevent excessive moisture loss. It was named for Achilles, who used it to heal the wounds of his soldiers, and it retains its reputation as a good cure for cuts and bruises. It has a long history as a remedy for colds and fevers (as a tea) and for toothache (when the leaves are chewed). Its leaves and flowers are used in salads in small quantities, it can be boiled as a vegetable and served with butter, and it can be thrown into soups and stews. It has a slightly bitter taste. Flowers July to October.
Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca). A climber that uses long tendrils to scramble through hedges and shrubs.
Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) – there were loads of these, which I had never seen before, and they were very pretty. When they have finished flowering a fruit forms, the calyx of which has hooked spines that attach themselves easily to animal fur for dispersal. A standard tool in the physician’s herbal remedy kit in the past, and still used as a component in solutions for catarrh and digestive problems.
The blackberries (Rubus fruticocus) are ripening! Not long now :-). Apparently there are nearly 2000 micro-species, so telling one from another is more of a challenge than I feel the need to get to grips with.
Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). It produces white hairs to disperse its seeds, giving it a rather fluffy appearance. The name Eupatorium comes from Eupator Mithradates the Great of Pontus (which under Mithradates incorporated Turkey and various territories around the Black Sea). Mithradates allegedly used it for making antidotes to poisons.
The perennial Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion augustfolium) is everywhere hereabouts at this time of year. Because it has rhizomes, it forms in large patches that are actually a single plant. Each spear has a marvellous grouping of bright pink flowers with long white stamen, as below. When the seedpods open, seeds spreads by means of attached plumes, forming pretty fibrous masses, as shown below. The plant used to be known as fireweed due to its prevalence on WW2 bomb sites, and it is frequently found in wasteland and poor soils.
Rosebay willowherb seed pods and plumes
Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
Common/yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) looks so exotic, like an orchid, but is relatively commonplace. It is a perennial that flowers between July and October. Narrow leaves grow spirally up the stems. The flower is two-lipped and only large long-tongued bees can push the two closed lips apart to reach the nectar. Colloquial names include squeeze-jaw and bunny-mouth. It likes open fields and sandy soils.
Update on a very wet Monday (10th August): I couldn’t find out what these are, but in reply to my request for help, Jean suggests that they may be bullace, wild plums. I’ll go back and pick one when it stops raining.
Sheep’s-bit (Jasione montana)
Sometimes called Sheep’s-bit scabious, this is actually a perennial member of the campanula family, even though it has no obvious resemblance to the usual bell-flowered character of campanulaceae and at first glace looks much more like a true scabious. Unlike scabious, it has small, alternate hairy leaves. and tiny narrow petals. According to the Wildlife Trusts website, pollinating insects, which see a different light spectrum to humans, find it highly visible under ultraviolet (UV) light, and use the patterns and colours on the petals to guide them to the nectar and pollen. It usually starts flowering in July, but thanks to the remarkably warm spring, a lot of species are flowering early. It likes a wide variety of environments, including dry grassland, and is often found in coastal areas. It is an excellent pollinator.
Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) on Hemp agrimony.
Bittersweet, or woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara). All parts of the plant are poisonous but in humans usually cause only upset stomachs. The latin species name “dulcamara” means sweet-bitter, which describes the bitter taste, followed by a sweet after-taste. In Germany physicians used it as a cure for rheumatism and it was hung around the necks of cattle to ward off evil. It flowers from June to September and is happy in hedgerows and woods. After flowering it produces egg-shaped berries that start off green, as above, and slowly become a bright, shiny red.
The drive back into Aberdovey from Tywyn defies description. The road was lined with parked cars, often in places where I’ve never seen cars parked before (and in several places where cars simply shouldn’t be parked). It seems as though a lot of people who would normally be holidaying on the Mediterranean have decided to come to Aberdovey instead. I am sincerely happy for the Aberdovey businesses, but social distancing is non-existant, masks are few and far between, and the whole thing looks like a seething petrie dish for the transmission of nasties. After one experimental foray, I’m staying well out of it.