Last Thursday we were treated to a remarkable sight over the Dyfi estuary – a bank of pure white cloud that sat over Ynyslas and moved forward towards the water, eventually dispersing into wispy strands before clearing completely.
Nearly every walk I’ve done around Aberdovey has been a riotous success, but on Saturday it all went slightly wrong in spite of the stunning sunshine. I was trying to scope out a route to another hillfort. I had already made the mistake of crossing a footpath through a field that turned out to be very boggy, so ended up with soggy socks and damp jeans, before turning onto a single track road for a couple of kilometers. Its hedges were so high that I couldn’t see much of the scenery and when I turned onto the footpath it was so overgrown with brambles that it was a struggle to get anywhere. There were a few nice flowers, including toadflax, lots of honeysuckle and a few late foxgloves, and a couple of damselflies and dragonflies, but otherwise it was just a fight against the increasingly vigorous thorny tendrils so eventually, when they were knee-high and seriously impeding progress, I gave up. Fortunately I was in jeans rather than my usual shorts, which saved my legs, but it was disappointing. There’s another approach that I’ll try on another day. I decided to return home, stopping first at the beach outside the crush in Aberdovey itself, parking up opposite the cemetery.
As I crossed the dunes and walked across the grey pebbles down onto the beach, the sight was rather bizarre – facing towards Aberdovey it looked as though several lines of humans in the distance, in silhouette, were moving in slow motion towards me. It was slightly eerie, shades of zombie invasion movies. Fortunately, they were just out to enjoy the sunshine, like me. There was a vintage RAF propeller plane overhead. Many thanks to Hugh Tyrrell for responding to my request for information about it. He says that it is a restored Avro Anson from Sleap airfield in Shropshire, painted in D Day colours. It is owned by a aviation enthusiast who takes passengers for local trips. This time he was further away from home and was probably flying back after visiting Llanbedr. It was a really marvellous sight, with a very distinctive engine sound. An elegant visitor and a contrast to the super-fast jets that we often have roaring overhead around here, also rather fascinating in their own particular way.
Two weeks ago, when the weekend’s occasional fluffy white clouds darkened ominously into a single charcoal mass and the skies opened and the temperature plunged, there were so many goldfinches landing in the cherry tree that they couldn’t all fit on the bird feeder. I’ve never seen so many of them, and it suggests that the entire community is larger than I had realized. Usually there are up to four or five of them, and on rare occasions six.
Eight of them were clinging on with grim determination, and occasionally a ninth and even a tenth managed to find a foothold, but soon fell or was seen off in a flurry of feathers. Others sat in the tree and waited for opportunities. There were frequent fisticuffs. Whilst harmony reined, there were occasional little sounds from the birds, but when another tried to gain a foothold the noise was raucous and discordant. Although the birdfeeder was like that all day, the video below was taken during a brief pause in the rainfall. It catches some of the fun and games, taken from indoors, so minus any of their communication. Duration 1 minute and 20 seconds.
I was looking, as usual, for something else entirely when I stumbled across this advert on the Welsh Newsapers online website, in The Cardigan Bay Visitor. It dates to June 30th 1894. It picks up on an 1892 story in another publication and repeats it with what feels like a distinctly self-satisfied air. There’s nothing much to add to it, I just thought that people might like to see it. You can click on the text to enlarge it to a readable size, but the text is also copied out in full below the image.
“ABERDOVEY AS A WINTER RESORT. We have just heard of Aberdovey as being a splendid winter resort, and it is considered by eminent medical authorities to be a friendly rival to Torquay. Aber- dovey faces full south, and the high hills behind completely shelter it from the cold and boisterous North-east, North, and North-west winds. Now we have all heated of the “Bells of Aberdovey,” and almost every school girl who has “spanked on the grand pianner” has learnt to play Brinley Richards’—or was it some other musicians ?—composition on the much-tortured instrument which is supposed to simulate the harmonious tinkling of those famous Welsh Bells. But have we all heard Happy Valley, about two miles from Aberdovey ? Have we taken those walks to the legendary Bearded Lake and Arthur’s Hoof? Then the long, long miles of the sands of Aberdovey, so rich in shells and pebbles, what a splendid promenade they make. Now all you non-fashionable people whose purses are not sufficiently long for Bath, Bournemouth, and Torquay, hie you to Aberdovey for the winter, if you shrink from the idea of the Continent on account of the recent cholera out- breaks. You will find plenty to interest you; and the golf ground is said to be one of the best in the United Kingdom. Hotels are not extravagant in their prices, and apartments may be obtained at very moderate terms. SELF AND PARTNER, in Sala’s Journal, November 19th, 1892.”
You can check out the original page at
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!
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.
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]
Hard back book, 10”x 6.5 “, pp. 158, 34 B&W half tone images, appendices of old timetables. Map of Cambrian Railways.
Cambrian Railways A Souvenir – 1895 [ebook]
Bbooklet, 9.5”x 6.5”, 40pp superb black and white photographs, adverts Cambrian services, coloured map of railway on back cover.
Locomotives of the Cambrian, Barry and Rhymney Railways. By M. C. V. Allchin, self published 1943 [ebook]
Welsh Mountain Railways 1924 [ebook]
Booklet 7.25”x 4.25 50pp. inc. covers, two maps, 16 black and white photographs tipped in, not paginated.
Snowdon and the mountain railway, by anon. (“E. W.”) Woodall, Minshall & Co. nd. But c1900. [ebook]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.