Category Archives: Nature

A walk up to Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) #1 – the route and the scenery


I have divided my Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) walk into two posts, of which this is the first.  The first focuses exclusively on the Iron Age hillfort.  This one looks at the walk itself, how to approach it, incidental information about the environment and views from all the parts of the walk that I did.  This has to be one of the most magnificent walks in the area.  You might want to drive on to the 13th century ruins of Castell y Bere if you have energy left afterwards.

Chough. Source and more details: RSPB

As well as a destination for some of the most fabulous views in the area, it is also well known as the nesting site of cormorants (the furthest inland nesting ground for cormorants in Wales) and red-billed choughs (the latter on the endangered list).  It is also houses a two-phase Iron Age hillfort.  The hill used to be inhabited by feral goats, which were introduced in the 1960s, but slowly died out.  In the more recent past the hill has been used as a quarry for road stone, but this has now been stopped.  Today it is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area.  As the birds nest on the north face, they are undisturbed by walkers, and climbers are only allowed to scale that face outside the nesting season.

Map showing the parking area and the footpaths up Craig yr Aderyn. Source: Protected Landscapes of Wales

Craig yr Aderyn is a highly visible local landmark in the Dysynni valley (SH643068).  A narrow road skirts its base, unfortunately not identified with a number on the Ordnance Survey map. If you are familiar with Happy Valley, where you can usually squeeze two cars past for most of the way, halve that.  If you don’t like reversing, this may not be for you.  From all directions, it is a single track road with occasional passing places, and I had to reverse three times for quite a way, once around some steep corners.  From the west Craig yr Aderyn is best approached along the road from Bryncrug; from the east it can be approached from the B4405 from Abergynolwyn or via the very narrrow road through Abertrinant.

There is a small grassy parking area by the roadside at the foot of the hill, sufficient for about six or seven cars, and marked on the map above right, but not shown on the Ordnance Survey map.  There is a farm gate here that opens onto a public footpath, a rocky farm track that starts off quite steeply before levelling out for a bit, although it inevitably rises again.  After about 10 minutes,  the track carries on beyond a gate across a field, just before which the footpath veers right, a grassy break in the bracken heading up the slope.  If you find yourself pondering whether to go through another gate once out of the car park, you have gone too far.  This fork is not signposted, just has a 2ft tall post on the right of the track to mark its presence, so look out for it.

The path up from the car park

The gate in front of a track heading over the field, and the small post at the centre right of the photograph, where you turn up onto the hillside.

The public footpath that leads from the track up the hillside

The path from here is good, but climbs a lot more steeply, and doesn’t let up much.  In winter it is likely to be very wet, as even in Monday’s high heat, after two very dry days, it was distinctly soggy in places. Don’t forget to keep turning round to enjoy the fantastic views.  There’s almost no sound up there except for the tiny birds that nest in the long grass, and some crows.

 

When you have been walking for perhaps another 15 minutes there is another fork, which is not signposted in any way, but is clearly visible on the ground as wide turf tracks that make their way through low bracken.  One track leads to the hillfort on Y Pallis Bach (the low stockade) and the other leads to Col Crag, the foot of a small crag that sits on the saddle that connects Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock) with the main line of the hill behind.

There’s a very well-timed bench at this fork in the path, dedicated to Nick (I don’t know who he was, but I love him), which is at the perfect point for taking a much-needed breather on a seriously hot day and admiring the views.  I flopped with enthusiasm.  Once you have enjoyed a slurp of water and enjoyed the scenerey, you simply follow the right hand fork beyond the bench to reach the hillfort, which you can see from the bench, or you can head left to go to Y Pallis Bach.  I do recommend the views from Craig yr Aderyn.

Thread your way up through the main entrance of the Iron Age hillfort, which is flanked by two great banks of local stones.  This is the second phase entrance (see my post about the hillfort if you’re interested).  Keep heading upwards for a couple minutes and you will very soon reach the summit.  Pause and enjoy.  The world is your thoroughly fantastic oyster – the whole of the western Dysynni valley rolls out before you, a truly astonishing sight.  Head a little way down from the summit, nearer to the edge, and the view is even better.   I plonked down on a convenient rock and was only sad that I hadn’t brought a picnic.  This has to be the ultimate picnic spot.  Next time.

After a very lazy sit in the sun and loving the view, I retraced my steps to the hillfort.  I had an archaeological site plan for the hillfort and try to match up the plan with what is left on the ground.  As I came down I bumped into a lovely couple who had left their car in Dolgellau and were on a six night camping hike, looping back to Dolgellau at the end of their holiday.  Now that’s serious walking!  Very impressive.  They were looking for a way down the other side of the hillfort rather than retracing their steps.  I didn’t see them again, so perhaps they found a route.

Having sorted out the hillfort features to my own satisfaction, I walked below the bottom wall towards the west to have a look at the view from there.  It’s better from the top, but still very fine.  If you’ve chosen to go to Craig yr Aderyn first and afterwards decide to go to Y Pallis Mawr, you can take a short cut by crossing towards it following sheep tracks rather than going back to the fork in the official footpath.  The marsh symbols on the above map aren’t kidding, and there are big patches of beds of spiny rush (Juncus acutus) and a large pond surrounded by small birds enjoying a bath and a drink, so stay above the dark spiky tell-tales, following the sheep tracks, and you’ll hopefully retain dry feet.  You rejoin the footpath and find yourself at the foot of a smaller, more conical peak between Craig yr Aderyn and the main hill’s peak.  The public footpath stops here, but if you feel inclined to walk up to the high crag of the hill behind, be aware that it is steep and is a scramble over rocks alongside a barbed wire fence, with a fairly convincing drop immediately to your right.  It convinced me to give it a miss.

Instead, I turned to walk down the side the hillside where there is a huge rockfall, which I was guessing was the main source of stone for the stone-lined ramparts.  These are enormous chunks of rock, with a lot of bright white quartz in amongst the dull grey.  I rounded the base of the conical peak and returned back towards the footpath, heading down the hill to the carpark.  The views were just as good on the way back.  Bliss!

Craig yr Aderyn from Castell Mawr:

 

A relaxing stroll on the beach after a frustrating walk

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.

Stonechat in the sand dunes

Click to see the details of an amazing crush of shells, in a part of the beach that has an enormous amount of razor clam shells. Razor clam shells always give me real craving for Portuguese food!

 

 

Dyfi National Nature Reserve booklet

Whilst sorting out some stuff on one of my bookcases I found a bilingual leaflet/booklet produced by Natural Resources Wales giving details of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve, including walks and seasonal highlights.  It was free of charge, and I think I picked it up at the Ynyslas Visitor Centre.  The Dyfi National Nature Reserve includes the Ynyslas sand dunes, the saltmarsh, Cors Fochno, the 5000 year old peat bog and a wide range of wildlife.  It’s an excellent little publication, which I have scanned so that you can download it here.  The following shows the front and back cover, and the fold-out map.

The map shows the village of Furnace on the A487, which has the excellent and well explained remains of the Dyfi royal silver mint and charcoal blast furnace.  I’ve posted about it on the blog here, if you are interested in combining a visit to it with a Dyfi National Nature Reserve walk.

Video: A crush of goldfinches on a very wet late summer’s day

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.

White horses and honeycomb reefs at low tide – the beach at Sandilands (Tywyn)

After a walk along the Dysynni last week, I did a three point turn by the footbridge and drove back along the line of the railway.  Instead of turning left to head back towards Tywyn I decided to turn right over the level crossing and park up to see if I could reproduce the picture from the Cardigan Bay Visitor that I posted last week.    Unfortunately for that plan I had reckoned without the addition of a caravan park since the original illustration was drawn, and both the railway track and the village were completely hidden behind it.  On the other hand, the beach at low tide was a complete revelation.

This part of Tywyn is apparently called Sandilands, but is something of a misnomer.  There is certainly sand on the beach, but mostly it is a mixture of fine and coarse gravel, surprisingly harsh on the feet, with some swathes of pebbles around, all divided by wooden breakers.  I had never seen it at low tide, and was amazed to see that the sloping beach ended in huge green-topped rocks and lovely weed-filled rock pools with sand between them, with an enormous stretch of wide open sea on the other side.  The sea was splendid, with lovely white-topped waves chasing each other in, crashing on the rocks and pebbles and sounding just what a seaside should sound like.

There were quite a few people around, most large family/friend groups, but not so many that social distancing was a problem, and it was all terribly civilized.  I had really enjoyed having the Tonfanau beach all to myself, but it was also splendid to see people of all ages launching themselves into the waves and having a really great time.  The caravan park overlooking the beach takes the edge off the beauty of the place, but keep your eyes facing seawards and there is nothing to disappoint.

I was intrigued by what looked like huge boulders made of coral.  When I stooped to touch one, it was clear that these rock-like structures were made of sand, and consisted of fine walls dividing thousands of tiny tunnels. The beach is full of them, and they are really very lovely.  After a rumble round the web I found that they are Honeycomb worm (Sabellaria alveolata) colonies.  The reef structures resemble honeycomb.  The colonies form on hard substrates and they need sand and shell fragments for tube-building activities.  They manufacture the tubes from mucus to glue the tiny pieces together.  When the tide is out the worms retreat deep into the tunnels, but when the tide covers their reefs their heads protrude and they feed on micro-organisms in the water, including plankton.

Because there are rock pools, it is possible to see various seaweeds in their natural habitat floating freely in the clear water, a lovely kaleidoscope of colour.  In the pools themselves there were lots of tiny fish, which can be seen in the video.  On the actual rocks (rather than the honecomb worm reefs) there were limpets, barnacles and various sea snails, none of which we have in Aberdovey due to the lack of rocks.   Of course there are none of the shells that Aberdovey’s beach has in such profusion, because they get broken up on the rocks and pebbles but, together with the pebble beach at Tonfanau, it’s super that there are three such contrasting beaches such a short distance apart.

I had a lovely long paddle, and would have loved to have had a swim, but even if I had gone in with my denim shorts and t-shirt, I had no way of drying myself off.  Next time for sure, and I’ll start to keep a towel in the car!

Looking to the north, beyond the caravan park and the breakers, the beach was quite, quite empty. That too is a walk for another day, but it must be a really peaceful way of walking up to the Dysynni.

The video below captures some of the contrasts of the beach – people swimming and enjoying the waves, lovely coloured seaweeds in rock pools, sections of empty sea with waves chasing each other onto the beach, and that fascinating honeycomb reef.

A short walk along the Dysynni broadwater, August 2020

Last week I had already walked along Tonfanau beach, but was nowhere near ready to go home on such an unexpectedly sunny day.  The BBC weather website, which I checked just before I left the house, was promising storms so I had cancelled my plans to go hillfort hunting.  Although my walk started out with most of the surrounding hilltops sitting under large clouds, they eventually cleared and the sunshine was glorious.  So instead of going back to my car, parked by the Tonfanau footbridge, I turned along the footpath that wends its way along the southern banks of the broadwater and the river Dysynni, and I am so glad I did.  By the footbridge there were a couple of families with kayaks, all having a good, peaceful time, and a little further on there was a lady with two small boys swimming between the shore and a sandbank.  One of her sons announced with great satisfaction that that the water was “as hot as a bath.”  But the further I walked, the emptier it became, and eventually it was just me and the birds.  And what a lot of birds there were!

 

A mellow walk where the river Dysynni meets the sea – with oystercatchers

My walk last Tuesday, the only sunny day last week, took me back to Tonfanau.  Tonfanau railway station was added to the Cambrian Line to service the Tonfanau Army Camp, which opened in 1938 and was finally closed in 1973 after a 6 month stint as a refugee camp, before being demolished sometime in the 1980s or 90s.  The camp extended both sides of the railway line, reaching the beach to the west and spreading part way up a slight slope to the east.  I have posted about the camp here.  When Tonfanau was at its height as an anti-aircraft training facility, with emplacements of enormous guns along the field at the top of the beach, it would have been anything but a peaceful place to go for a stroll.  Today, however, it is probably the most quiet stretch of seaside in the Aberdovey and Tywyn areas.

The reason for the lack of human presence, other than fishermen some way out at sea in waders, is certainly because the beach is uncompromisingly uncomfortable to walk, sit or lie on.  Apart from a few isolated islands of sand or gravel, it is a pebble beach running down a shallow slope into a rocky foreshore.   Footwear is required.  This, together with the complete absence of gift shops, public toilets and ice-cream stalls, makes it undesirable for most families, and there is rarely any more than a handful of people there even at the height of the tourist season.  This makes it a very good retreat for sea birds, which line the water’s edge at a very safe distance from anyone who might be walking along the stony beach or investigating the rock pools.  Oystercatchers, terns and various types of seagull are all in evidence at this time of year.

The views along the beach are splendid.  After the recent heavy rain the Dysynni charges at high speed through a surprisingly narrow mouth into the sea, fascinating to watch, and you can see it and hear its roar on the video at the end of the post.  This understated but impressive meeting of the Dysynni with the sea is marked as Aber Dysynni (mouth of the Dysynni) on the Ordnance Survey map.  The sea itself makes a lovely sound on the rocky foreshore and gravel, drawing the gravel back as it retreats, and colliding with the rocks as it advances.  Above the sound of the sea and wind are the musical voices of sea birds.  As you walk along it, the beach curves around a long corner promising more of the same untroubled vistas over an empty beach, rolling white horses and, in the distance, the Llyn peninsula.  Behind the beach, looking east, are views of the major summits of Tonfanau and Foel Llanfendigaid, as well as the smooth green slopes of the hills between them

I started out walking along the top of the small “cliff” that runs along the top of the beach.  It is only a couple of feet wide, drops only about eight foot or so above the beach below and stops where the publicly accessible land meets the fence of a farmer’s field after about 10 minutes of walking.  It offers a terrific view down onto the beach, there are always some interesting wild flowers, and it is well worth doing if you are sure of your footing.

I then executed a controlled skid down a bit of the “cliff” that had collapsed into a sloping mound of earth, a quick way down onto the beach, and headed for the rocks.  The lush green seaweed  is glossy and lustrous, a great contrast to the darkness of the rocks in the bright sun.  The overall effect was delightful.  Water trickles through the multiple channels formed by the rocks, crossing the glistening gravel in a way that is quite unlike the sea flowing through channels in the sand at Aberdovey.

Someone has been having fun making pebble patterns in the sand and fields. Like most abstract compositions, it gives a curious sensation of something clearly created in the present taking on the character of something completely timeless.

Yellow Horned-Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Small-spotted catshark eggcase (Scyliorhinus canicula), one of the smallest of all the mermaid’s purses.  There were two of them, one right at the top of the beach and the other in the field behind the beach.  They are so lightweight when empty that they travel on the wind.  For details on the subject of eggcases and the Shark Trust, see my earlier post.  The photos of the two eggcases have been uploaded to the Shark Trust Great Eggcase Hunt page.

I walked out onto a spur of sand to watch the oystercatchers, getting as near as I dared.  Unlike the video that I posted the other day, when what they were mainly concerned with was preening, today they were actually hunting for food and treating shells to merciless beak treatment.  Trying to get a little closer I scared them into flight, and they congregated a little distance off on a few rocks, looking very striking.

Oystercatchers at work

I’ve pulled a muscle in my shoulder, so the following video is not quite as steady as it might have been, but don’t miss out on the oystercatchers.  They are sublime.  The fast-moving water coming out of the Dysynni and churning into the sea is also truly impressive.  The Dysynni originates in Tal y Llyn lake, makes an abrupt turn northwest at Abergynolwyn and then resumes a parallel course to the Tal y Llyn valley in the neighbouring valley.  It passes the Ynysymaengwyn estate, finding its way through extensive reed beds, and emerges into the Broadwater, making its way around the low sandbanks before being funneled into the narrow channel into the sea.

Video: Oystercatchers on the beach near Tonfanau station

After walking up Tonfanau to see the Iron Age hillfort I went along the road to Tonfanau station, crossed the tracks and passed part of the old military camp to go down to the pebble beach.  It is an excellent place for watching the oyster catchers, and I was lucky to find some pottering around at the water’s edge, amongst the small rocks.  Oystercatchers are lovely to look at.  Their bright orange beak and pink legs make them stand out from any background, whilst their black and white plumage is particularly distinctive when the birds are in flight.  They make a piercing peeping sound, which can be heard here on the British Birdsongs website.  Oystercatchers feed on molluscs that the find on rocky shorelines, which they open by stabbing the sharp beak through linking muscles, and then hitting on stones and rocks to break them up, sometimes audibly.  The video below shows a pair of them on the beach at Tonfanau.  Duration:  1 minute, 33 seconds.

Due to the difficulty of walking on pebbles and the discomfort of lying on them, together with the rocky approach to the sea that challenges bare feet, there are rarely many other people there.  Whilst Aberdovey was simply packed, there were only a handful of people along that stretch of the sea, two of them fishing in waders, quite a long way out.  Walking back to the Tonfanau bridge over the Dysynni as it opens out into the sea, the path is flanked either side with verges full of wild flowers at the moment.

 

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.