Category Archives: Seaside

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 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.

 

Tywyn History Trail leaflets 1 and 2

I was in the Tywyn Co-Op last week and spotted these two leaflets in the leaflet holder by the tills.  Do pick one up if you’re there.  Each of them consists of a fold-out map of Tywyn – Walk 1 is The Old Town and Walk 2 is The Seaside.  The map is numbered, and brief details are given about each of the numbers, so that you can do a self-guided tour.  Introductory paragraphs also give a short overview of the origins of Tywyn and its development.  In something this size (A3, printed on both sides) not a huge amount of detail can be included, but it’s a great starting point for getting to know Tywyn a bit better, and a good jumping off point for future research.  Devised and published by Tywyn and District History Society, their production was partially supported financially by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The image below is a scan of part of Walk 1, to give a flavour of the leaflets

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.

 

Aberdovey beach with the clouds gathering, wild orchids and good company

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

Thank goodness for my friend Caroline who came round to drop something off yesterday afternoon.  I was not at my best with a stinging eye infection, and when she asked if I wanted to accompany her on a walk I felt so grim that I wasn’t at all sure it was a good idea, but I was so fed up of being stuck in the house that I simply grabbed my sunglasses and bag, and went with both gratitude and relief.  As it happens, the salty breeze did my eyes a power of good, and by the time I returned to the house, things were amazingly improved.

As we walked down the hill, maintaining diligent social-distancing, which we did for the entire walk, the weather looked iffy.  Although there were a few white fluffy clouds and some blue patches, the sky was dominated by deep blue-black monsters that were edging closer all the time.  We were lucky – it didn’t rain, and even though the wind got up it was relatively warm.  We started off with an ice cream each from The Sweet Shop, and then headed to the beach.  The lighting was stunning, with the sun blazing intermittently through gaps in the clouds, and the colours were wonderful.  As we threaded our way back towards Aberdovey through the sand dunes, the wild flowers were stunning.  The highlight was probably the wild orchids, which Caroline knew where to find, but there was so much else to see too.

Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella), with deep green, loosely funnel-shaped leaves that are fleshy and retain water.  A member of the convolvulus family.

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).  I had never seen one before, but apparently it is one of the most common of the wild orchids, and can be found on just about any calcareous soil, including any sand that contains at least 1% CaC03 (calcium
carbonate) by weight.  Insanely pretty.

Lesser centaury (Centaurium pulchellum)

Lesser centaury (Centaurium pulchellum)

Female stonechat (Saxicola torquata).  There were a pair of them, a male and female, very vocal and jumping from bush to bush, presumably trying to draw attention away from their nest.

Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare).  The flowers change from pink to violet as they mature. There were lots of them in the more open ground near the car park, which fits in with their preference for dry open spaces, sand and disturbed soil.

Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre) are succulents, their leaves retaining moisture.

Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Woolly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum)

Common restharrow (Ononis repens).  The flower looks like a member of the pea (vetch – Fabaceae) family, but the leaves seemed all wrong.   It is in fact a vetch, creeping along the dune floor with small hairy leaves.  According to the Wildlife Trust website, “common restharrow has extremely tough, thick roots that spread in a dense network and, during the days of horse-drawn cultivation, could stop (‘arrest’) a harrow in its tracks.” Apparently, when eaten by cattle it taints dairy products. The roots are reputed to taste like liquorice when chewed.

Unidentified at the moment, but when it flowers matters might become clearer.  It may turn out to be Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale)

Sea rocket (Cakile maritima), a member of the mustard family.

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias).

 

Video: For absent visitors deprived of the sea at Aberdovey

A little video (four and a bit minutes), to bring back the sounds as well as the sights of the seaside at Aberdovey.  The crystal clear waters of the estuary and the sea peaceful under a clear blue sky on a very peaceful May day.  Whenever I was absent from Aberdovey for long periods, long before I moved here, it was the the sea that I most missed, so I put this together for regular visitors who may be missing it as much as I did.

 

 

Walking in the Aberdovey sand dunes

One of my favourite local short walks is a simple stroll through the dunes one way, walking or paddling back along the beach.  I was actually hunting for wild orchids, which I was told grow there at this time of year.  Although I was unsuccessful, it was a lovely walk, the dunes empty of any signs of human life.  The evening primroses had run mad, creating a landscape filled with deep yellow, and there were plenty of other wild flowers to enjoy and I found some wild fennel that made a lovely addition to a stock for the skate that I cooked a few days later.   A couple of days later, a friend sent me some photographs of orchids that she had taken in the dunes, so they really are there if you look in the right place!  The beach was particularly idyllic.  A lone man was swimming in the sea, and I was paddling up to my shorts in the warm water.   My orchid-finding friend commented that in all the years she has lived here she has never seen the sea so intensely blue, and this year it does indeed have all the luminosity and saphire beauty of the sea at Cornwall.   There was nothing much on the strandline, except for a whole spider crab; it is more usual to find their component parts.

Common Evening Primrose in all directions.

 

Common restharrow (Ononis repens).  According to the Wildlife Trust website, “common restharrow has extremely tough, thick roots that spread in a dense network and, during the days of horse-drawn cultivation, could stop (‘arrest’) a harrow in its tracks.”  Apparently, when eaten by cattle it taints dairy products.  The roots are reputed to taste like liquorice when chewed.

Field Rose (Rosa arvensis)

White stonecrop (Sedum album)

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Common Fumitory (Fumaria officilanis)

Wild fennel

Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) in a sea of marram grass

 

Walking in the hills above the Aberdovey coastline

A lovely morning, with the usual lyrical voices and occasional bickering of goldfinches in the cherry tree.  I always know when the bird feeder is running out of nyjer seeds, because the occasional squawk that signals a rare dispute slowly rises to an embattled ongoing staccato cacophony of discordance,  as the goldfinches jockey for position and fend each other off in a great colourful swirl of wings and feathers.  When silence falls it means that the bird feeder is empty, and that now sounds completely unnatural.  Fortunately I refilled the feeder only a couple of days ago, and harmony currently reigns.  For a sample of their more melodic song, try listening to the recording on the Bird Song UK YouTube site.

It was a good start to the day, which I needed.  I went out a few days ago to find that someone had driven into my car and dented a door.  I might have taken it in my stride a couple of months ago, because I have no great faith in human rectitude, but in the middle of all this chaos, with everyone talking about how people are really pulling together, it really upset me that no-one left a note.  Nothing to be done of course, apart from wishing that sticking pins in wax dolls is a real thing.  I did, however, find that it truly lifted my spirits to get out of the house and into the hills to walk off the pervasive melancholy and sense of disillusion.  Fortunately, this particular walk would have challenged anyone to remain down, and it was delightful.

This is the longest walk I have done so far this year, and it was a joy.  It had a bit of everything:  The hills, the stunning views over the coast to the north and west, a beautiful farmyard pond, streams, valleys, wind blowing in the trees that sounded just like a waterfall, marshy flatland, sand dunes and the endless, beautiful beach with peat beds, sand drifts forming amazing shifting patterns and the walk back up Balkan hill with wild flowers in the verges.

Foxglove (Digitalis, meaning finger-like) has gone mad this year, with vast purple plumes dotted around hills, verges, hedgerows and gardens.  Some are in full flower, others are just coming out, and all of them combine to provide a marvellous array of colours.  In the 18th Century digitalis was found to have an impact on the heart and research has proved it to be useful in fighting heart disease.  Foxgloves flower from June to September, so there is plenty of time to enjoy them.

The photo above shows Pond Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus) forms little networks of leaves and flowers on top of still water.  An aquatic white version of the more common yellow land-based buttercup (also Ranunculus).  The leaves are rounded and divided into lobes.  On a pond, they look like tiny water lilies.  Unfortunately this photograph is over-exposed, so the flowers are difficult to see properly.

Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), which is in the same family as dandelions (Asteraceae) is common around Aberdovey, and is a frequent colonizer of wasteland.  Growing up to 150m in height, it is easily distinguishable from other members of the Asteraceae family due to its rather untidy, seaweed-like leaves.  It is the food-plant of the orange and black striped caterpillar of the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae), which may strip its leaves completely.  It can be poisonous for livestock.  A biennial, it flowers from June to November, and the caterpillars start emerging in June, so if you know of a patch of common ragwort, it is worth watching out for the lovely looking caterpillars and the stunning red and black moths that follow.  It flowers from June to November.

Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) grows in ponds and marshes, and loves to have its roots wet.  There were only a couple in flower, but it should soon be a fairly spectacular sight.  They usually flower between May and July/August.  the Yellow flag iris is supposed to be apotropaic, something that wards off evil, but it often has a bad reputation for being somewhat evil in its own right, spreading so energetically that it colonizes whole areas, frequently becoming a thorough pest in garden ponds and lakes in parks.  Its rhizomes (root system) spread out sideways and form dense masses that are really difficult to eradicate.  In the wild, although they are wonderful to see, they can oust other wild species from the same habitats.

The Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), also known as milkmaid and lady’s smock, is a member of the Brasicaceae (cabbage) family is found in damper areas such as river banks, reed beds, saturated marshland and damp pastures.  The young leaves are edible and have a slightly peppery taste, that also extends to the flowers.  It has a relatively short flowering period, from April to June.

Peat beds, that look like rock outcrops, on the beach between Tywyn and Aberdovey. When you find a bit that has come loose, it is rich, black and dense, highly consolidated.  Near to and when the day is dull it is ebony black.  In the sun, slightly damp, it reflects the sunlight and looks silvery.

Common or Large-flowered Evening Primrose (Oenothera erythosepala) is a lovely flower, smothering the sand dunes at the moment, but whenever I walked in the dunes the flowers seemed to have gone over, with none in flower.  The answer to the puzzle is that the flowers open just before sunset and and begin to wilt by noon the next day.  Their appearance is early this year, usually not flowering until June, and they last until September.

A rather fuzzy photograph of a silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus).

Ivy-leaved toadlfax (Cymbalaria muralis), once confined to southern Europe, was poking out of one of the walls on Balkan Hill in various places and crawling along the stone surface on long, red stems.  They are thought to have been introduced into England first in 17th century and were so prevalent in Oxford that they became known as the Oxford weed.  The leaves are edible and taste similar to watercress.

Another wall-inhabitant is Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) with its distinctive leaves and cream-coloured bell-like flowers clustering along the stem.  It flowers from June to September.

It is the longest walk I have done this year, and I enjoyed it so much.  The emptiness of the hills is always, with or without Covid-19, something really rather special.  A superb walk, a lovely day.