Category Archives: Aberdyfi

Mad weather, but still very beautiful

So much for my plans for another long walk today.  Had a late swim in the sea last night after most of the beach-dwellers had gone home for the evening, and it was still very warm when I returned to the house.  I had been planning another hill walk today, but the weather forecast wasn’t promising, and it’s just as well I didn’t venture out early because by mid-morning thunder was rumbling and there were flashes of lightning and by the afternoon the sky had turned charcoal, and when the rain came it wasn’t messing around!  Even so, the view was amazingly striking.  Aberdovey and Ynyslas still look fabulous even under looming blue-black clouds!  The photos below show the sequence, over 16 minutes from 1502 this afternoon, from mildly intimidating to fully apocalyptic 🙂

On the next one, see if you can spot the bandstand on Pen Y Bryn!

 

A short wildflower walk from the Dysynni (Tonfanau) bridge

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.

Although part of my walk was B-road, only two cars passed me, and there were plenty of verges onto which to retreat to let the occasional vehicle go past.

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.

 

Tonfanau footbridge

Tonfanau, with the scarring from the quarry

I’m not sure what this flock of birds consists of.  My initial thought was that they are starlings, but although the shape and beak are right, they seem far too light, unless it’s a trick of the sun.

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.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) apparently smells similar to cloves at night.  The leaves are edible when boiled and smell like fresh peas.

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.

Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra), looking very like a thistle, but with long pointed leaves and no spines.  The brightly coloured bee is a male red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius)

Betony (Stachys officinalis)

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

Perforate St John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum)

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.

Beautifully scented honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) was in all the hedges

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica).

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.

Heather and broom on the southern slopes of Tonfanau.

View from the bridlepath across the Dysynni to the hills beyond

Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)

Lord and Ladies (Arum maculatum) fruit, what we used to call cuckoopint when I was a child.

Meadow vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Common fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica).  Pulix in Latin means flea, and the plant was used was used as a flea deterrent.

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.

Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna)

Red campion (Silene dioica). Campions are one of the flowers I remember very fondly from childhood.

A verge full of splendid colour.

 

An imposing farmhouse and fields int he foreground, with
Craig yr Aderyn (bird rock) and soaring hills beyond

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.

 

North and mid-Wales railway e-Books

For the last few years I’ve been purchasing e-books from the British Transport Treasures website, which is dedicated to supplying good quality digitized copies of out-of-print British transport titles, some dating back to the turn of the 20th Century and many of them really difficult to get hold of.  Prices are generally very low, and support the hosting of the website.  I came across the site when chatting with the site’s owner, who’s an expert on the local history of the area where I used to live in London.  I think that the site is a brilliant way of keeping some of these old titles alive and accessible.  The following railway e-books may be of interest to local railway enthusiasts:

The Story of the Cambrian, by C. P. Gasquoine,Woodall, Minshall, Thomas & Co. Ltd., 1922 [ebook]
£4.05
Hard back book, 10”x 6.5 “, pp. 158, 34 B&W half tone images, appendices of old timetables. Map of Cambrian Railways.
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/the-story-of-the-cambrian-by-c-p-gasquoinewoodall-minshall-thomas-co-ltd-1922-ebook/

Cambrian Railways A Souvenir – 1895 [ebook]
£2.15
Bbooklet, 9.5”x 6.5”, 40pp superb black and white photographs, adverts Cambrian services, coloured map of railway on back cover.
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/cambrian-railways-a-souvenir-1895/

Locomotives of the Cambrian, Barry and Rhymney Railways. By M. C. V. Allchin, self published 1943 [ebook]
£2.95
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/locomotives-of-the-cambrian-barry-and-rhymney-railways-by-m-c-v-allchin-self-published-1943-ebook/

Welsh Mountain Railways 1924 [ebook]
£2.15
Booklet 7.25”x 4.25 50pp. inc. covers, two maps, 16 black and white photographs tipped in, not paginated.
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/welsh-mountain-railways-1924

Snowdon and the mountain railway, by anon. (“E. W.”) Woodall, Minshall & Co. nd. But c1900. [ebook]
£3.95
Paper covers, silk cord binding, 11X 8”, P. 18 inc. covers and adverts. 12 B&W photogravure photographs of trains, the railway Snowdon and surroundings.
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/snowdon-and-the-mountain-railway-by-anon-e-w-woodall-minshall-co-nd-but-c1900-ebook/

The Wonderland of Wales, GWR, Ffestiniog, Snowdon and Welsh Highland Railways, Timetables, etc., summer 1923 [Booklet]
£2.00 Booklet, 7.25”x 4.75”, pp. 16, inc. paper covers.
http://www.britishtransporttreasures.com/product/the-wonderland-of-wales-gwr-festiniog-snowdon-and-welsh-highland-railways-timetables-etc-summer-1923-booklet/

 

Watersports, the golf course, wild mushrooms, and a superbly moody sky

Often when I walk on the beach in the summer, looking north to Tywyn there is a big blue sky with little fluffy white clouds and when I turn round to look back at Cerdigion it looks like the coming of Armageddon, with dark clouds gathering in an unbroken, uncompromising line.  It was just like that yesterday, and it made for some  dramatic colour and light contrasts.

I came down Gwelfor Road, emerging on the coast road by the Post Office, thereby bypassing what I always think of as the family section of the beach, the stretch leading away from the lifeboat station, handily close to all the facilities.  It tends to be fairly jam-packed at this time of year.  I usually like to wend my way through the melee to enjoy people having fun, but given the ongoing risks I thought I’d give it a miss.  I headed straight into the sand dunes, which were only being used by others as a thoroughfare to cross from the road to the beach.

There was a stiff and slightly chilly breeze that occasionally developed into a fairly strong wind.  Although most people were in shorts, as I was myself, most also wore jackets and fleeces, and on the beach there were a lot of colourful windbreaks erected.

A giant inflatable pink swim-ring making its way apparently under its own steam across the dunes, one of the more surreal things that have caught my eye this year.  Eventually the owner became visible as he and his swim-ring, still held aloft, proceeded down the beach towards the water’s edge.  I assume that a child was following on somewhere behind.

There wasn’t much in the way of wild flowers and I eventually walked down to the beach and along the water’s edge.  The sea was fairly turbulent for the time of the year, and the combination of a good wind and waves seemed to be ideal for some watersports.

Watching one sailborder wading with his kit into the sea, it seemed to me that one needed a fairly impressive amount of strength just to get it out beyond the shallows, never mind to climb on board, stay on board and direct the thing.  Very skillful, and so much more rewarding than thundering around on a jet ski.

 

When I reached the Second World War pillbox (about which I have previously written here), I crossed the dunes to take photos of the Trefeddian Hotel for yesterday’s post about the hotel’s  architectural changes.  It was looking quite dramatic in the full sunshine against the dark hillside.

There were a few people using the golf course, but not very many, so I wandered back along one of the water courses that wend their way through the course.  I know nothing about golf, but in spite of the blatant artifice I have always found the undulating landscape and the manicured greens of a golf course rather soothing.  Or at least, when not at risk of being hit in the head by a golf ball.  The water courses are thriving ecosystems in their own right, with incredibly clear water and a remarkable variety of plant life.  They appear from and disappear into underground conduits.  There must be a direction of flow, but no current was visible today.  Most of the plant life likes shallow, slow-moving water, like the great swathes of water cress, and full sunshine, like the patches of duck weed and blanket weed.  There were several  red damsel flies darting around, only occasionally settling.

One of a number of rich patches of watercress (above and below), just where the stream disappears again.  Not to be eaten without treatment due to the high risk of liver fluke.

Amphibious bistort, above and below (Persicaria amphibium).  Sorry about the fuzzy image of the flower above – it was seriously windy and it simply wouldn’t sit still for long enough for me to get a clear shot.  It did, however, show the leaves clearly.  Between that and the one below, which shows the flower a little more clearly, but not much of the leaves, I think you can get the idea.  It’s a perennial and flowers in slow-moving water from June to September.

Water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) and blanketweed (Spyrogyra)

A beautiful orange weed, that probably does the stream no good at all.  It lies on the bed of the stream, but this was floating slightly clear of it.  I’ve tried to find out what it is to no avail.

A very poor photo of a damselfly, right at the limit of my lens’s reach

Nearby in a hedge, was a curtain of purple, which turned out to be tufted vetch (Vicia cracca).
Patches of Ccommon centaury (Centaruium erythraea) were on the edges of the sand dunes and the golf course.  Centaury is named for the centaur Chiron who used it to cure wounds inflicted by the multi-headed Greek Hydra, but it has been used as an improbable cure-all for all sorts of diverse conditions.

Walking back along the golf course, I was lucky enough to find both a puffball and, the absolute highlight of my nascent foraging activities, two enormous parasol toadstools!  They were both about 10 inches tall and around 6 inches across.  Absolute beauties.  The nearby fennel has now gone to seed, but I picked some of that too, as it makes a great base for a stock.

Parasol mushrooms, a puffball and wild fennel, with my iPhone in the background for scale

Wild fennel.  A few weeks ago it was covered with feathery green leaves, but now it has gone to seed.  The stems and seeds are still wonderful in stock, and the seeds can be dried out and ground into and over all sorts of things, imparting a delicious, slightly aniseed flavour.  Where I group up in Spain it was known locally simply as “anis.”

And here is one of the parasol tops sitting on a handy diffuser, ready for the frying pan.  The stalks are too tough to eat, but I put it in a bag in the freezer for making a stock for a beef dish on another day.

I had the puffball sliced and fried in a little butter with a sprinkling of parsley on a side dish as a starter.  I saved one of the parasol mushrooms for my father and served the other fried almost the same way in butter, parsley and a little garlic, with streaky bacon and a poached egg on top.  It looks a bit like very flat burger in the picture, but that’s just the colouring from the butter and bacon.  Dividing the two mushrooms into two dishes allowed each one to be appreciated for its own particular virtues. Wonderful.  God I was stuffed!

The changing appearance of the Trefeddian Hotel in postcards

The Trefeddian as it was built on the left, and my photograph of it today (28th July 2020) taken from roughly the same angle but from a lower level

You can click on any of the images to enlarge them to get a better look at the details of the building.

The Trefeddian Hotel is one of the major local landmarks, a palatial white immensity overlooking the golf course, sand dunes and beach, recipient of the AA Hotel of the Year Award for Wales 2018/19.  I don’t know anything about the history of the Trefeddian Hotel, but images of the hotel in postcards provide a fascinating record of architectural changes to the building’s exterior features.  It would be great to know the background to these changes and to find out if the interior evolved at a similar rate to the exterior.  All of the images can be clicked on to get a better view of the details.

I have to admit to being slightly in love with the original vision, above, left and below, with its wonderful square chateau-like towers and its mock-Tudor half-timbered exterior.  Or was it inspired by the Alsace as the decorative tiling on the roof may imply?  Whatever the inspiration, it is a bizarre mish-mash of ideas.  Although it breaks all the rules and is anything but elegant, I think that it is delightful, a truly riotous expression of enthusiasm for a very personal conceptualization.  Whoever designed it, it looks as though they were having a great time.  I do wish I could have seen it.  The only piece of history that I’ve picked up is that the hotel has been in the hands of the same family for a century, so it dates at least to the 1920s if not before.  Note the single-storey building to its right/the south, which remains today.

The postcards below show the extension that was added to the north (left, in these postcards).  The second of the two has a postmark of 1934, which indicates that the extension predated that year.  There was no attempt to integrate it stylistically with the original, and it looks very peculiar.  A single storey building to the north, on the far left of this postcard is retained today.

In the first of the two cards, the railway crossing on to the golf course is accompanied by a small building that looks rather like a toll house.  This was the crossing-keeper’s house, and was still standing at least in July 1965 when it was photographed by C.C. Green for his book The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways vol.2.  Today the crossing remains, but the house has vanished.  I’m surprised that the crossing ever needed a keeper, because the traffic crossing the railway must have been minimal, and mainly on foot.

In the two postcards below, the half-timbered effect seems to have been removed, and may have been in the image above as well.  It would make sense that it was taken away at the time that the new wing was added to lessen the contrast between the two.

The following photograph gives a good view of the elaborate porch into the old wing and shows the complex of single and two-storey buildings to the north of the new wing, at the left side of the postcard. The enclosed garden at the rear of the building appears to have a small greenhouse as well as other structures, and looks as though it is laid down, at least partly, to rows of vegetables.

The next architectural reinvention of the building retains the new wing and removes all the original external features including the towers, the original gable and any remaining half-timbering.  Was it a complete rebuild on more or less the same footprint, or just a change to the external features?  I am guessing from the angled corner at the south end where the south tower once stood, visible in the second of the two photographs, that it was a re-invention rather than a complete rebuild.  The aerial view in the second postcard shows the outbuildings and an intriguing view of the garden, all providing a good idea of the scale of the operation.  The first of the enclosed gardens at the rear of the hotel looks as though it was turned over to vegetables. I can’t work out what the other two enclosed gardens contained.

The postcards have postmarks dated 1972 and 1979 respectively, so the conversion was probably done in the 1960s and looks like it.  The northern extension to the left has been retained, but the towers and the mock half-timber have gone and the replacement facade has about as much personality as a cereal box.  The colour change from yellow to white by the end of the 70s was a good move.  The single storey building at the right that I menitoned at the start of the post is visible in the second photograph, now connected to the main building by a corridor with windows.

Today the Trefeddian has retained its gabled north wing, but its box-like southern section has again been reinvented, with a new gable, decorative metalwork and balconies.  Two extensions to north and south have been added, flanking the two main wings, and there are dormer windows in the roof.  The building is still asymmetrical, but it has a much more aesthetically appealing appearance than its previous incarnation.  All the ancillary annexes to north and south of the main hotel building have been retained.

Detail of the top of the southern extension

Compare with the third and fourth photographs from top, where the same railway crossing is shown with a small building, the crossing keeper’s house, to the right of the gates.  As mentioned above, it was still standing in 1965 and looked as though it was in fairly good condition.  It’s a shame that it vanished at some point after that date.

 

A sunny Monday walk, avoiding the village

I was quite mad to drive into Tywyn at 10 to 4 on Friday, just as the tourist season was belatedly kicking off, and paid the price in the form of a short queue to get into the Co-Op (the first time I’ve had to queue) and the joys of dodging some truly execrable driving and parking in Aberdovey itself.   So on Monday afternoon, although its great that the visitors have returned, it was something of a relief to take the footpath from the top of Church Street down into Penhelig, avoiding the vehicular chaos in Aberdovey itself.  We walked through the Memorial Park and part way along the estuary, which was as stunning as usual, with lovely views, and people fishing and kayaking.   There was a heron on a sandbank, the first I have seen in the estuary, although a few years ago I saw one in a similar situation in Port Meirion so I suppose that they are happy in brackish waters when there are sufficient fish to tempt them.

 

We went up the first flight of steps to the road, and it was then a matter of walking down the road as far as the footpath that runs up past the Outward Bound centre.  This is not for the faint-hearted.  With the bridge from Picnic Island still closed, and now firmly boarded up to prevent access, it’s a hair-raising walk along the road, facing into the traffic piling in from the direction of Machynlleth.  Absolutely not to be attempted with children or dogs in tow.   The bright new Aberdovey welcome signs are up, the first time I had noticed one, although I suppose there must be one on the way in to Aberdovey from the Tywyn direction too.

The rest of the walk is very rewarding once the road is left behind, walking first along a bubbling stream for a short way, and then up through a wood behind the Outward Bound centre before emerging into the sun on the side of the hill overlooking the estuary.  The hills above the estuary are far more lush than the exposed slopes along the coast, with longer grass, and a lot more shrubs and trees, and the views over the estuary are spectacular.  Afon Leri has always been a remarkable landmark crossing Cors Fochno to the east of Ynys Las, but I hadn’t noticed a smaller, parallel canalized section of stream further upriver, Afon Clettwr, with a small bridge carrying the railway. There weren’t a lot of wild flowers to comment on, but there was a thistle absolutely swarming with bright orange Rhagonycha fulva beetles, some lovely bright heather, and bright red berries on Mountain Ash.

We circled back over the hill to Aberdovey, emerging behind the highest reaches of the village, where there was a lovely patch of lavatera in bloom.

A colourful patch of Lavatera overlooking the estuary

A busy beach, but the hills are still empty as lockdown relaxes still further

Another lovely walk on Saturday, along the beach, paddling in the sea, turning up into the hills past the cemetery, and along lovely footpaths until we emerged just above Aberdovey.  I was particularly tired after a restless night, so it was super just to drift along enjoying the sights and sounds.  There was an intensity to the light that reflected off the water, the dominating colour silver rather than blue, and anything in front of it was silhouetted.  How the weather changed on Monday!

This is the first time I’ve seen the beach with more than a couple of people on it.  It was something of a visual shock, although it is great that people are able to enjoy themselves.  A lot of second home owners are back too.  The ice cream shops were a bit chaotic, with very little distance between people in the queues, but I expect that that will be sorted soon.  Further along the beach, several people were swimming, which was a bit brave as the water was frankly very chilly.

Not just a sand castle, but an entire neighbourhood of sand castles.

 

 

Normally the jellyfish that wash up on the beach are Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulma) but today there were none.  Instead, there were several Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella), common in the south and west during the summer, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans.  The name derives from the dark brown markings that radiate from the centre.  These jellyfish are venomous, with stinging cells all along their tentacles.

 

 

The beetle Rhagonycha fulva, common all over the UK from May to August.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica).  A terrible photograph, shooting into the sun.  I was convinced that this was a swift, because the forked tails didn’t look long enough, but the swift doesn’t have the big white breast. They are migrating birds, spending winter in southern Africa and returning to the north to breed.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) produces a beautiful perfume, particularly in the evenings to attract pollinating moths.  It climbs up and over hedges and shrubs and flowers from June to October, with petals that ivory coloured until pollinated by bees or moths, when they turn yellow.  The produce red berries following the flowering, during the autumn.

Another first for the year:  the beach at Ynyslas is covered in cars.

 

Early July dune flowers, more foraging

July already.  How on earth did that happen?  A sunny day today, and a welcome change from the recent wet weather.  The day before yesterday it wasn’t actually raining in the afternoon, although it had all morning, and the feeling of going stir-crazy after all the rain was immense, so it was a relief to go and see what else had come into flower in the sand dunes, which seem to be changing all the time.

 

The sea holly is just coming in to flower, one of my favourites (Eryngium marititinum).  There seems to be less of it in the dunes than in previous years, but that may just be an impression.  The leaves are a lovely silvery-blue colour and the flowers are a stunning powdery cornflower blue, forming little domes.  It loves full sun and dry coastal and rocky habitats.  Surprisingly, given its appearance, it is  a member of the carrot family.

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.

 

Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is new to me.  It has many small dark crimson flowers, each with five petals, on hairy stems.  After flowering, the fruit is a spiked nutlet that starts green and goes through deep purple to brown.  They hook on to the fur of a passing animal.  The ones in the dunes were courteous enough to have both flowers and nutlets on show.

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.

Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) is a spreading perennial up to 1.5m tall.  It colonized bomb sites during the Second World War and became known as “fireweed.”  It spreads both by rhizomes and by seed, so where it is found, it is usually widespread, and the the rhizomes mean that a whole patch may actually be a single plant.  Delicate Four-petalled pink flowers with white stamens that climb the stem go over first at the bast and continue to be in bud at the top, meaning that they may stay in flower from June to September.  Its leaves used to be used as in infusion to substitute for tea.

Before flowering, old man’s beard, or traveller’s joy (Clematis vitalba) looks just like clematis and is probably the next most widespread plant in the dunes after marram grass, hugging the lower lying areas.  It spreads over everything, and provides a natural protective home for the wild pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) that grows in the dunes.  The name old man’s beard refers to the hairy, air-born seed heads that appear in autumn and extend into winter.  The flower begins as a tiny, spherical white bud and bursts into lovely, starry white flowers with four white sepals and a burst of stamens.

Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is common in the area,  in the hills, fields, wasteland, and in the dunes.  It is poisonous to birds, horses and cattle, particularly when dry, but for some reason sheep seem to be immune.  It may be either biennial or perennial.  Although it can be mistaken for goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) from the flower alone, the leaves are very different.  Where goldenrod has long, thin leaves, common ragwort’s leaves are untidy, dissected and multiple-lobed.  Senecio is almost the only specie that can be used for food by the day-flying red and black cinnabar moth’s (Tyria jacobaea) caterpillar, striped bright orange and black, absorbing the plant’s poison as a defense against birds.  In spite of the fact that they can be seen between May and August, there were none on view that day.

Broad-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a French perennial that has colonized many other countries.  A vigorous scrambling plant that uses tendrils to colonize hedges and shurbs.  It was brought from France to Britain as a garden plant and has gone native.  The flowers are larger than most of the other pea family of flowers, up to 3cm across, with shades of dark pink and purple.

Marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) is very similar to the more widespread wall pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris), but grows in marshy areas, whilst wall pennywort grows, as the names suggests, out of walls (and is widespread in Aberdovey).  This particular marsh pennywort was growing out of the side of one of the drainage streams on the golf course.  It is less waxy and succulent than wall pennywort, as it doesn’t need to store as much water.  Both are edible as leaves in salads and as garnishes with much the same flavour.  The flavour can be variable, so although it tastes a bit like cucumber, it can be bitter, and a leaf should be tasted before picking more.

White stonecrop (Sedum album) has now spread over huge areas of the lower parts of the sand dunes, particularly near the road where the sand is mixed with soil, its succulent leaves forming mats, and its white star-like flowers clustering at the top of the short, slender stems.  Drought tolerant, thanks to the succulent leaves that store water.  Like Sea rocket (Cakile maritima) it has apparently benefited from the lack of people around, colonizing areas that would otherwise be used for reaching the caravan park, the golf course and the beach.

The perennial sea beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima) and the orache are side by side at the edge of the dunes, both huge clumps, both common at the edges of sand dunes. Sea beet has a tall, spiky clumps of flowers straggling across the top of the plant.  Sea beet is both drought and saline tolerant.  It is the wild version of a version that was cultivated in the Middle East for its roots and leaves.  Sea beet is easily confused with fat hen (Chenopodium album) and both are members of the Chenopodiaceae, but the leaves have very different edges.  Sea beet leaves have a smooth, untoothed margin, whereas fat hen leaves look more like orache, with a toothed margin.  Sea beet is a popular foraging ingredient, with smaller, younger leaves used in salads and bigger leaves spinach in a tiny amount of water for a few minutes, like spinach.  Squeeze out the water, return to the pan with some butter, and you have a much tangier version of spinach.  On my to-do list.

 

Artemisia absinthium or wormwood seems to come in a variety of forms, many with a lot more foliage than this, but there are a lot of photographs of it online looking just like this.  Small fdsfsfas of tiny yellow flowers tit on a network of silvery stems with silvery leaves.  I haven’t put it to the test, because I didn’t know what it was when I took the photograph, but it is the primary flavouring of absinthe, much beloved of Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries.

The last triumph of the day was the discovery of some field mushrooms and some baby puffballs.  I had the puffballs tossed in butter and added at the last minute to a slow cooker stew with French smoked sausages, onion, garlic, dried ceps, savoy cabbage and peeled baby new potatoes.  The puffballs were mushroomy but delicate, a real treat.

Orache – locally foraged greens that seriously improved three meals

When I finished my Eating Well During Lockdown series, I said I would only post a cooking commentary if it was based on ingredients that were locally grown or produced, and you really cannot get more locally grown than the Aberdovey sand dunes!

A few weeks ago, attracted by a large area covered with lovely Viper’s Bugloss on the edge of the sand dunes, spectacularly on the turn between pink and blue, we spotted a substantial clump of a green plant with distinctively shaped leaves, no flowers.  The leaves were robust and very slightly rubbery to the touch, because they are slightly succulent, and they had a faint shine on the upper surface, dull on the underside.  My friend Caroline thought that it was probably orache (pronounced “orac” or “oratch”), Atriplex patula, and after leafing diligently through a few books, that’s duly what it turned out to be.

So what is orache?  I had no idea, so a little research was necessary.  The photo above right shows as it is on the edge of the dunes, not particularly prepossessing, but as the photograph of the leaf shows, it is fairly distinctive.  It is an annual member of the Atriplex genus in the Amaranthus family, and is also known as saltbush.  Its leaves are edible and commonly used by foragers.  Edible does not always equate to delicious, but orache turns out to be both.  The salad leaves are only viable when young, because they become too tough, but they become a useful substitute for spinach when they mature.  Because they are succulents, retaining water in their leaves, and they live in a salty habitat, the water within the leaves is also slightly salty.  It’s worth remembering that when seasoning anything that you cook with orache as a component.  The roots are mildly toxic so should be avoided.  Atriplex littoralis looks similar but although it is not poisonous it has an offensive smell and tastes awful, so the two are easily differentiated.

When Caroline produced a glorious bunch of orache, having gone on a foraging expedition, I had a lot of options.  Now fully mature it was a lot greener and a lot larger, but retained its slightly rubber texture.  I immediately put the verdant bunch into a jug of water, to keep it fresh, and started plotting.

Caroline has been treating it both as spinach, wilting it slightly to serve as a vegetable, and using it raw in salads, and I also liked the look of the suggested orache tortilla-pizza on the Wild Food Girl website.  In the end I decided to use half of it for soup, some of it to replace spinach in my frequent mushrooms, dice courgettes, pancetta and spinach on toast, and the last of it to liven up a chicken rendang curry.  So here are three meals that I made with some of the bunch, with many thanks to lovely Caroline both for providing the orache and for expanding my horizons.

Wednesday’s soup became an orache-and-asparagus-with-a-few-leftovers soup, because I had a pack of six small asparagus tips that were hiding at the back of the fridge and needed using up fairly imminently, but the orache was dominant.  Other odds and ends were an inch of courgette (how, I wonder, does anyone end up with a leftover single inch of courgette?); 2 small Maris Piper spuds, very finely sliced to help it break down quickly; the floppy outer leaves of a little gem lettuce; half a purple onion, roughly sliced; three spring onions, chopped; the edible parts of the tops of two leeks; and some mint.  The main ingredient, by far, was orache.  I put all of it in a saucepan and tossed it to heat through in some butter for between five and 10 minutes, added water to cover, added some chicken stock and simmered it for another 10 minutes.  Once the potato had broken down I lobbed it into the food processor for a few minutes, in two batches.  I then put it back in the pan, re-heated it slightly, stirred in a big dollop of crème fraîche, a big squeeze of lemon juice, heated it through again gently and poured some of it into a soup bowl to serve.  Heavenly!  The orache tastes a bit like something between curly kale and spinach, full of personality, with bags of flavour released by the cooking process.

On Thursday I made mushrooms, pancetta, courgettes and orache on toast, with a poached egg on top.  The mushrooms and courgettes are fried in butter until the begin to brown. The finely chopped garlic is added with some fresh thyme, and after these are stirred in, some flour is sprinkled over the top to take up the fat from the pancetta and thicken the liquid.  It is stirred into the mixture until it is invisible, and heated for a few minutes to make sure that the flour is incorporated and cooked through.  At this point, a little water goes in, accompanied by the orache, chopped parsley and a few turns of the pepper mill. I also like to add a slosh of sherry at this stage.  When the orache begins to wilt, some cème fraîche is added and reduced, and when the orache is fully wilted the mix is served on a piece of toast with a poached egg on top.  The basic formula is a favourite, and of course it can be varied endlessly.  In the photograph, the wilted orache can be seen either side of the egg, a very dark green.

Yesterday, Friday, I was cooking a sort of ersatz chicken rendang curry, but using yogurt instead of the usual coconut (which I detest).  Also added into the mix were aubergine chunks, fresh green chilies and mushrooms.  I left it in the fridge overnight to develop the flavours.  When I slowly reheated it tonight, Saturday, I added a good handful of the last of the orache 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, when it was simmering very gently.  It was an excellent addition, giving real balance to the rich sauce, with more than enough flavour to stand up for itself against the heat of the chili, and providing some much needed greenery as a contrast to the orange-coloured sauce and the bland solids.  In the photograph, the bright green leaves are coriander, but underneath them, the dark green wilted leaves are orache.  To complete the happy extravaganza I had a piece of garlic and coriander naan bread (not home-made).

Orache is a great plant for cooking if you like curly kale, spinach and similar flavours and textures.  I changed the water in the jug ever day, and it remained super-fresh.  Finally, I chopped and simmered the stalks with some chicken stock, leek and onion to make a well-flavoured thick soupy base for a future soup or stew, and froze it down.  The aromas as it simmered in a covered pan were wonderful.

Wild flowers in the sand dunes, a week on

As occasionally happens, I wrote this and then forgot to hit the Publish button, mainly because I meant to do more work on trying to find what the hawkweed-like plant actually is.  These photos were take on on the 20th June, just one week on from a previous visit.  If it ever stops raining, which seems doubtful right now, I’ll go and see what’s there now that we’re into early July.  Hopefully the sea holly will be in flower soon.

Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) is a perennial grass, reaching up to 120cm tall, each leaf touch and rolled, sharply pointed.  Ammos means sand, philos, loving in Greek; arena is latin for sand.  It is one of the most important sand-stabilizing species, forming large clumps with matted rhizome roots that help to prevent sand dune drift. They attract the Shore Wainscot moth (Mythimna litoralis), whose larvae feed exclusively on Marram, and the L-album Wainscot (Mythimna l-album) whose larvae feed mainly on Marram. The leaves were once valuable in local craft activities, woven into mats, used to make barn roofs, and to produce fishing nets.

Dune Brittlestem.  Psathyrella ammophila.  I often see these toadstools in the sand dunes, and these were two of a dispersed cluster of seven that I spotted, plus some very tiny ones. They have very dark brown gills. They grow at the base of marram grass, but in the absence of any other type of plant life.  Over time the cap begins to turn upwards, as shown here.  Apparently not poisonous, but has a very unpleasant flavour.

Sea bindweed (Clystegia soldanella) is a member of the convuvulus family.  The lovely pink and white striped flowers look like field bindweed, but are much bigger, and the kidney-shaped, slightly fleshy and waxy leaves quite different.   They spread from a rhizome that not only helps to fix them in the sand, but helps them to gather water, and helps to fix stabilize sand dune.  This was part of a fairly vast network very near the top of a very exposed sand dune, on the sheltered side.

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae).  Lovely blue-back wings and bright red spots make this very easy to see when it is moving around in a flower.  There are two types of Five-Spot Burnet as well (Zygaena trifoli and lonicerae).  The rear wings, hidden hear under the forewings, are red with a black fringe.  They particularly like bird’s foot trefoil but can be found between June to August in most grassy areas and sand dunes, although I don’t recall seeing one in the dunes before.

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias).  An upright perennial that inhabits sand dunes and rocks.  The tiny yellow flower is protected by large greenish bracts.  It has slightly succulent evergreen leaves that march up the stem and which, like all succulents, minimize water loss.  It’s poisonous.

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum).  Well adapted to grassland, scrubland and sand dunes, it spread along the ground, its flowers sometimes slightly upright.  The leaves are distinctive, growing in whorls around the slender stems.  The flowers form in small branches of clusters.  Apparently it gets its name because it was used to stuff mattresses.  In Germany it is called Mary’s bedstraw because the Virgin Mary was supposed to have given birth on a mattress of bedstraw.  They have a slight aroma of honey, but when dry they small of hay.  It was used in cheese making in the past, as it contains an astringent that curdles milk.

The pyramidal orchids that were dotted around earlier in June, had spread widely through the lusher parts of foliage at the base of sand dunes, and were easily spotted.

Hawkbit, Hawkweed? They are all so similar that it’s impossible to tell, even with photographs of the underside as well.

Sea rocket (Cakile maritima).  An annual member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae Mustard) family, which is happy in very barren areas, and can grow in unprotected sand, colonizing large areas if left undisturbed.  They combine succulent leaves that retain water with long taproots which search for water deep beneath the surface.  Flowers can be lilac, pink or white.  It does not object to being buried in sand for extensive periods, and its seeds can float unharmed on the sea.  The leaves, stems and flowers are edible and are rich in vitamin C but have a very bitter taste, so if using the leaves in salad, they are best used young.

Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre).  An evergreen perennial that forms mats with strong stems and short, thick and waxy succulent leaves that retain water.  It is drought tolerant, and is perfectly happy in inhospitable sand dunes and rock cracks.  Not poisonous, but not edible.

I always like to walk up Balkan Hill on the way back home, because the verges are an excellent mix of escapee garden plants and true wild flowers.

Gardeners will be very familiar with Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), which has a small, pretty flower and red-tinged leaves, but is ruthlessly invasive.  Fortunately it pulls out very easily with the root attached, but it spreads like crazy.  The leaves are slightly scented.  The name geranium derives from the Greek word Geranos, “crane,” referring to the long, beak-like carpels.

Dove’s Foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle).  An annual member of the geranium family, with explosive seed pods that spreads widely on wasteland, verges and sand dunes.

Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum).  A common garden weed, as it spreads both by seed and rhizomes, giving it a great advantage.  It likes the damp, and in this case sits  where water runs down the side of the road into a drain.  the “hirsutum” in its botanical name refers to the tiny hairs on the stems.

A typical mixture of feral garden flowers growing along the edge of the road on Balkan Hill, with hydrangeas in a hedge growing outwards over a patch of evergreen Brachyglottis/Senecio, an import from New Zealand, attractive to gardeners because of its lovely silvery green- grey leaves.