Author Archives: Andie

Thank goodness for a sunny break in the weather

A rainy morning and a grey, dull afternoon, but for a couple of hours in the middle of the day the sun came out.   I walked down into the village in order to photograph the “today” version of a vintage postcard of Church Street (which I will post during the week), and to secure the ingredients for a leek mornay to accompany a nice looking piece of pork from the Aberdovey butcher.  The walk down Balkan Hill is always enjoyable.

The snowdrops are beginning to go over, but many are still in bloom and other flowers are coming out on the verges.  In spite of the sun it was breezy and there was a distinct bite to the air, so it was essential to keep moving.  I didn’t go far because I had things to do in the garden, but when I noticed that the fish and chip shop was open, it was a no-brainer to go in, buy a “cone” of chips (actually in a box, but a cone-sized portion) and go and sit on one of the seats on the edge of the beach to watch the world go by.

The nice lady in the fish and chip shop agreed that it is simply wonderful to get even a morsel of sunshine after all the wind and rain, and she gave my chips the serious drenching of vinegar that I requested.  The fish and chip shop, by the way, is now open from 12 noon to 8pm every day except Wednesdays, which is fantastic.  I could never remember when they were open during the winter, but I now look forward to sampling their fish as well as their chips.

The benches on which I was sitting with my chips were a testament to the recent storms and high winds, half buried in sand, their legs vanished.  Two seagulls and a jackdaw did their best to hypnotise me, but I resisted, as they become serious pests during the tourist season.  The chips were divine, reminding me vividly of standing in the queue for the Thames Clipper, the river bus, with an actual cone of chips after a frequent trip to the cinema in Greenwich.  Bizarrely, the sand in my chips also reminded me of crossing the Western Desert of Egypt to the Libyan border;  Everything you eat out there has sand in it, no matter how carefully one packs the food, and it grates on one’s teeth.  The state of mummified ancient Egyptian teeth, having chewed endless loaves of ancient Egyptian bread liberally mixed, albeit unintentionally, with abrasive desert sand is something to behold.  A study of 3000 mummies by the University of Zurich showed that 18 percent of all mummies in case reports showed “a nightmare array” of dental diseases.  Trivia for the day 🙂

A number of shops were open along the front, and it was very cheering to see the village coming back to life.  The Sweet Shop was open, but sadly after all those chips I had no room for a salted caramel ice cream!  I stopped to watch the silvery water of the estuary and the seagulls at the water’s edge instead, before trudging back up the hill to experiment with my new chainsaw.



Vintage Postcards #28: Happy Valentine’s Day!

This lusciously coloured postcard, which I have bought right at the end of my Vintage Postcard phase, is an unexpected treasure.  When eBay presented it to me as a possibility following previous Aberdovey-themed postcard purchases, I thought it was such fun, but I hadn’t realized that it contained a secret surprise –  a fold-out section consisting of twelve miniature black and white photographs on a paper strip, hidden underneath the flap at the base of the rose.

The card was posted in July 1956.  Apparently the stamp fixed to the card was not sufficient, and a “postage due” stamp and mark have been added.  The message is remarkably prosaic, given the romantic theme of the card.

It was produced by James Valentine and Sons, in their “Mail Novelty” range.


A snowy drive from Aberdovey to Chester yesterday

I checked the weather forecast yesterday, and it said absolutely nothing, zero, zip, nada, about snow.  But on drawing into Bala, a slightly blustery day turned into a minor blizzard and it didn’t let up until I was passing Wrexham.  I do the round trip from Aberdovey to Chester and back again quite frequently, and the weather is rarely as predicted, but often radically interesting in a rather challenging way!


Vintage Postcards #27: Aberdovey from the Air

These postcard images speak for themselves.  Both were unsent.  Lovely Sierd Jan Tuinstra, who is an absolute fount of knowledge about Aberdovey, has provided the following information, with my sincere thanks:

As to their date, they were both taken on the same day during the same flight. Probably sometime in the 1920’s . They pop up on eBay every now and then, and I have a slightly different copy of the top card a few years back, which was posted in 1928.  There is a third view from the same flight.

Commercial air photography didn’t exist prior to 1919. But after the war, ex RAF reconnaissance officers started the air photographing business using their hard won knowledge and experience.

I instantly noticed the railway wagons in the three postcards. Two of them can be readily recognized as Great Western wagons, thereby dating the view to after 1923. In every one of the postcards their position and that of the other wagons is exactly the same, meaning that all three views must have been taken on the same day.

Day trip: Ynyslas and Borth in February

On a lovely day, quite unprecedented for February, I decided to go a bit further afield than my usual strolls on Aberdovey beach and go to Ynyslas.  I had been meaning to go for a long time.

Ynyslas carries with it the novelty of parking on the beach.  There is a nominal fee when the visitor centre is open (from Easter to the end of September), but it is free in the winter months when the visitor centre is closed.   The drive to Ynyslas from Aberdovey takes about 40 minutes via Machynlleth, and of course you are driving in a loop around the Dyfi estuary because Ynyslas is immediately opposite Aberdovey.  There used to be a passenger ferry between the two, which had been operated for centuries, but eventually became redundant when the railway was built and the roads improved to handle the growing number of cars.

Visitor Centre, Ynyslas

Ynyslas is a nature reserve, properly entitled the Dyfi National Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre and as well as the sand dunes and the beach,  includes the Cors Fochno raised peat bog, which is of international importance.  I have only been to Ynyslas once before, and then only very briefly when it was an exploratory mission tacked on to a visit to the terrific mill at Furnace (covered on a previous post).  The visitor centre was open then, and had stacks of books on tables for visitors to consult, information boards, and a good collection of relevant books, greetings cards and small toys to buy, as well as a coffee and tea machine.  Considerate to out of season visitors there is a big board outside, by the entrance, showing the layout of the nature reserve, with the paths clearly marked.

Out of season Ynyslas is virtually empty of bodies, just a few dog walkers in the dunes and rather more on the beach.  I decided to do the circular walk that leads through the dunes, out on to a stretch of beach, and then back along the mouth of the estuary to the car. The dunes are of particular interest because they demonstrate all the stages of dune formation and growth, and there are multiple types including both fixed and mobile dunes. There was not a lot to see other than marran grass at this time of year, but come the spring there will be all sorts of flowering plants and insects to see including wild orchids, mosses, liverworts, fungi, insects and spiders.


Fringe of pebbles between the dunes and the beach at Ynyslas

Where the path tips you out on the beach there is a big ribbon of huge rounded grey pebbles that lies between you and the vast, eternal vistas of sand.  You need to be a bit careful as they shift constantly underfoot.  Once safely installed on the beach there is tons to see, and it is quite different from the stretch between Tywyn and Aberdovey.  For one thing, there is a sense that you can see forever down the beach along Cardigan Bay.  It is a very wide, open stretch of beach, with the waves chasing each other up the sand in long white-topped lines for as far as the eye can see.

Ynyslas beach (click to enlarge)

Before the beach reaches the estuary, the sand is largely uninterrupted by the mass of small cockle, razor clam and tellin shells that scrunch underfoot on the stretches on the north side of the estuary.  Instead, there are occasional shells of a completely different character, and even the usual species like cockles are generally much larger.  Gigantic Icelandic cyprine and common otter shells are dotted around, big common whelks are a frequent sight and the pod razor clams reach their maximum lengths along this section of beach.  Of the smaller species the limpets were a pleasant surprise, as were needle whelks and acorn barnacles.  Some of the shells contained keelworm tubes (spirobranchus).  In the sand itself there were dozen upon dozen of sandhopper burrows.  I was surprised at how many articulated bivalves I found, both halves still connected, including well preserved cockles

The Icelandic cyprine (Artica islandica, also known as the ocean quahog) is particularly fascinating.  It has a dark brown periostratacum (outer skin of a shell) and lives so long that it is amongst the longest living of any animal – up to 500 years.  Amazing to think that an Icelandic cyprine shell could have contained a creature that was alive when Shakespeare was writing.  The oldest known, its age determined by counting growth rings, was 507, and was nicknamed Hafrún (c. 1499–2006) .  This example is 10cm (4 inches) from top to bottom.

Dog whelks (Nucella lapillus), which are lovely to look at and beautifully constructed along a spiral axis, are actually somewhat stomach-churning in their feeding habits.  Like all gastropods, whelks have a toothed tongue called a radula.  They use it to drill through the shells of other gastropod, and produce a chemical to help with the process.  Once the shell has been pierced, they inject other chemicals into the shell cavity to paralyze and liquefy their prey before extracting it through the hold in the shell.  You can spot the holes in shells on the strandline.

One of the whelks had keelworm (Spirobranchus) tubes.  These calcareous tubes are made by the keel worm with an open and closed end.  The open end allows it to put out tentacles with which it feeds on organic detritus, whilst safely armoured in its shell.  Like keelworm tubes, barnacle shells are also found on shells of other organisms.  There were several examples of acorn barnacles at Ynyslas, like the dog whelk in the above photograph, all in clusters because barnacles form colonies.

Sandhopper burrows (click to enlarge)

Sandhoppers (Talitrus salafor) are interesting too.  At around 20mm in length, they look rather like fleas, with their backs arched.  They live in burrows at depths up to 30cm and emerge at night to feed on the strandlines.  Although they live on the strandline they are terrestrial and cannot survive in the water so when the tide comes in they dive into their burrows, backfilling with sand to plug the passage and protect themselves.  They are targeted by some species of wading birds.

I found two nursehound eggcases, which I dutifully reported to the Shark Trust.  One of them was partially covered with what look like tiny shells, as well as some keelworm tubes.  I thought at first that the shells might the blue-rayed limpet (Patella pellucidum) but quite apart from the fact that they are the wrong shape, I cannot see any of the radiating blue lines that ought to be present if this identification were correct.  Perhaps they are very early on in the growth cycle.

The limpets are common in some areas, but I have never seen one at Aberdovey.  There were plenty on the beach at Ynyslas.  Like dog whelks they have a toothed radula, but they infinitely more friendly to other species.  They feed on algal spores left behind when the tide recedes, and in clearing patches of seaweed they create opportunities for other species to colonize rocks, increasing biodiversity along the seashore.



As I returned towards the car I thought I could hear oyster catchers, but all I could see were ducks.  If you are a refugee from an urban environment, like me, you might associate ducks with the coarse quacking of mallards, but these sounded more like oyster catchers, with a a high-pitched peeping noise as you can hear in the video.  They were feeding in the marsh grasses in the muddy zone at the edge of the estuary waters.

The views from Ynyslas towards Aberdovey, as you round the corner from the open sea into the estuary, are breathtaking, particularly on a gloriously sunny day.  Beyond the town you can see down the Dyfi, a long peaceful arc of water flanked by low hills.

Aberdovey from Ynyslas

The BBC website has a good suggested walk beginning at Ynyslas, which goes further than I did and can take up to three hours.  The Natural Resources Wales website gives more information about what to see at Ynyslas, and it offers a number of suggested walks of different durations.  I plan to return to do the Cors Fochno walk, and to do another dune walk when there will be plants in flower.

I drove past the golf course into Borth for a quick stroll along the seafront, overlooking the pebble beach and rolling waves.  Now a seaside town, it used to be the main source of sailors for the local shipping trade in the 19th Century.