Category Archives: Vistas

A late afternoon stroll in the hills behind Aberdovey, with wildflowers

Monday at 4pm was looking dicey.  I started out in a light rain coat, because it was spitting fairly firmly and the sky looked ominous, but thankfully it stopped.  I rolled up my coat and put it in my rucksack, the sun came out, and we had no rain for the rest of the two and a half hour walk.  The combination of sun and cloud in the late afternoon made for some very nice contrasts in the scenery, and the wild flowers were splendid.  The foxgloves, which have been rampant for weeks, have truly come into their own in the hills behind Aberdovey, and were really rather spectacular.  Another terrific walk without another person in sight.  There were a lot of sheep and lambs around, the lambs now fairly stocky.  On the other side of the valley, cattle were grazing on the hillside.  We saw several tiny frogs in a narrow stretch of water where there had been tadpoles earlier in the year, and a couple of rabbits on the return leg of the journey at the top of the hill, and could here the larks singing.  Apart from the glorious views, the main source of interest was the wildflower population.

The foxgloves dotted around in the new green bracken provide lovely splashes of colour at the moment.

This is not in flower yet, but looks from its leaves and its spikes like wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia).  It should flower between July and September, producing creamy-yellow lipped flowers.  It is a member of the mint family.  It is drought tolerant, and is often found in coastal areas including sand dunes.

English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum)
A succulent acid-loving 5-petalled perennial, flowering from May to August.  Retaining water in its waxy leaves allows it to tolerate dry environments and poor soil and to survive drought conditions.  The leaves may turn red if it is exposed to a great deal of sun, a protective chemical response to sunlight, which can damage green chlorophyll.  To protect itself from wind-scorch, it grows very low to the ground.

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.

Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion/Epilobium angustifolium).
Also known as “fireweed” because it colonized burned and scorched sites, and “bombweed” due to its expansion on World war I and II bomb sites.  Heat from this type of site assists with the germination process.  It has rhizomes, so a single large patch can be one plant. Its seeds also establish themselves freely, each fitted with cotton-like ‘parachutes’ that carry them over long distances. The Latin “angustifolium” simply means narrow-leaved.  It is a biennial that flowers from June to September.  Its leaves are edible and have a wide range of uses.  For more on the multiple uses, see the Wikipedia page dedicated to Rosebay willowherb.

Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
One of my books says that the dark violet flowers have a hooked upper lip that in the 16th century was supposed to look like a sickle, so according to the doctrine of signatures, it was believed to men wounds from sickles and billhooks.  Although there were one or two isolated examples in verges, this perennial has creeping roots and in open grassland and on heaths usually grows in patches from June to November.  The Latin “vulgaris” means common.  They are pollinated by long-tongued bees.

A tiny frog, about 3cm long, in a very small stream where we had seen tadpoles earlier in the year.  There were several of these little amphibians, and they would have been completely invisible if they hadn’t hopped around, their damp skin catching the light.  It’s a lousy photograph, because I was trying to hold back some grass with one hand and steady the camera and focus it with the other, but you can just about make it out.

Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre)
Like most thistles, this has spiny protection both around its clusters of flowers and along its stem, and even has spiny leaves.  It looks fairly lethal to unprotected hands and judging by its proliferation, it is a good defense against being eaten by sheep, cattle and rabbits.  It was spread all over the hillsides, and it is easy to identify from a distance due to its distinctive form.  As its name indicates (“palustris” means of marshes), it prefers damp conditions and meadows, but seems to be doing well at the moment, even after the recent drought conditions.  It is biennial (flowering every other year), pollinated by bees and butterflies, and usually flowers between July and September.

Occasional white examples of the purple marsh thistle were dotted around.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxgloves are going mad at the moment, in verges, in amongst the bracken or as here, on disturbed ground.  They began flowering in early May, although they don’t usually appear until June, and flower until September.  The foliage is poisonous, which is probably why in Wales it is known as elves’ fingers or gloves, and in Ireland it is called fairy thimbles.

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.

This is tiny, just a few millimeters across.  I still haven’t tracked it down but will update this page when I do.

White foxglove (Digitalis)
The hills are covered in the distinctive purple spikes of Digitalis purpurea (“purpurea” means purple) at the moment, so the appearance of a single, pure white foxglove, near the stream in Happy Valley, was something of a novelty.

Afon Dyffryn Gwyn in Happy Valley.  Afon means river, but it’s more like a big stream. Dyffryn means valley, and Gwyn can mean white, fair or blessed.  The water is always beautifully clear.  In the shallow stretches by the ford, where the plunging track meets the valley floor, well-camouflaged fish can be spotted maintaining position in line with the flow, as below.  Most of them were about an inch long, but this one was about four inches.

The stream was being visited by cows and their calves, all calling to each other in loud, low, resonating voices.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
Beautifully-scented, honeysuckle has evolved to attract pollinating moths.  When the flowers go over, clusters of red berries replace them.  They flower from June to October.  This was was growing in a hedge by the side of the road leading up to the Panorama.  Lonicera is named for the German botanist Adam Lontzer (1528 -1586), and periclymenum is the term for honesuckle, derived from Greek.

Dog rose (Rosa canina)
Although similar in appearance to the bramble flower, the distinctive heart-shaped petals of the dog rose make it easily distinguishable.  It climbs through hedges and bushes, lending colour to otherwise unremarkable shrubs.  The white petals are often tinged with pale pink, as in this example.  After flowering a red rosehip is produced, and as well as being eaten by animals and birdds can be used to make rose-hip syrup, which has high quantities of vitamin C, and can be used to produce wine and liqueur.  It flowers from June to July.

The Afon Leri and the 5000 year old Cors Fochno peatland with the hills of Cerdigion rising behind.  A shame about the disfiguring wind farm on the otherwise undisturbed hillsides, but you can’t have everything!

View from the top of the hill across to the cliffs of Ceredigion, looking very beautiful under the gathering clouds

Wildflower information sources used in this post:

The Wildlife Trusts – Wildflowers
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/wildflowers

Grey-Wilson, G. Wild 1994. Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe.  Dorling Kindersley

Fletcher, N. 2004. Pocket Nature Wild Flowers.  Dorling Kindersley

Spencer-Jones, R. and Cuttle, S. 2005.  Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland.  Kyle Books

 

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).

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.

Aberdovey Beach with elegant fashions and tall masts, c.1900

A vintage postcard in the Valentine series.  I go and have a look at eBay and Etsy every couple of months to see if there are any new and interesting vintage postcards available.  This was the only one that has appealed to me since I finished the vintage postcard series in mid March.  The reverse of the postcard was entirely unmarked, so I have no official dating information but the smart women’s outfits of long skirts and well-fitted blouses, suggest the the turn of the 20th Century.  The postcard speaks for itself.  You can click on it to see a bigger version.

 

An extraordinary combination of sun and mist

Yesterday was a truly extraordinary weather experience.  I sat on the decking in the sun all afternoon, working my way through a number of books, loving the heat.  But looking out over the estuary all morning and afternoon, it was bizarre to think that the sun could penetrate anywhere, because it was impossible to see beyond the folly on Pen Y Bryn.  The first photograph was taken at noon.  The water was quite invisible, and Ynys Las and Ceredigion were just a figment of the imagination.  I checked regularly, because it was fascinating, but there were almost no perceptible changes until well into the late afternoon/early evening, when the second photograph was taken at just gone 4pm.  The sand banks are visible, and Ynys Las can be just about detected, but Ceredigion is still shrouded in mist.  The temperature was diving at this time, really chilly.

 

Aberdovey sand dunes and sunshine in mid-April

I set out for my usual exercise circuit today.  Walking down Gwelfor Road towards the sea front, it was lovely to see so many wild flowers providing a colourful display.

Instead of turning left at the bottom of Gwelfor Road, past the Neuadd Dyfi, through the tunnel and left along the beach to return up Copper Hill Street, I found myself turning right into the sand dunes and walking in the direction of Tywyn.  I am so glad I did, because it was a lovely walk.  In the sand dunes the story was quite different from the hedges and verges of Gwelfor Road, with only occasional dots of colour in an otherwise attractive but fairly unvarying selection of shades of green over the powdery ivory sand, dominated by marram grass.  Marram grass is super.  It casts spiky shadows, sways so elegantly in the breeze and carves out perfect circles in the sand.  The occasional dots of colour came mainly from small dandelions, daisies and, to my great surprise, huge and simply stunning colonies of violets.  Peacock and red admiral butterflies kept me company, and there were plenty of bumble and honey bees.  The dandelions were doing a particularly good job of keeping the bees and butterflies busy.  Little meadow pipits erupted out of the grass, taking to the sky with much angry peeping.

Walking back along the beach, countless dead jellyfish, a translucent myriad of opal colours, had been washed up, but there was not much else of interest on the strandline.  The sparkling sea, however, was a wonderful almost Caribbean blue, very clear.  In spite of a strong and slightly chilly wind, it looked untroubled and still.  Very peaceful.  A single white fluffy cloud interrupted the endless flat blue of the sky.  The wind had built up thousands of little sand ramps, raising shells and pebbles on customized, sloping plinths, utterly fascinating.  A pied wagtail stayed a few jumps ahead of me for maybe 15 minutes.

There was no-one in the dunes, there were very few people around on the vast sands and as I walked along the silent shop fronts and turned up Copper Hill Street there was no-one else visible.  Oh for a salted caramel ice cream 🙂

Reminder that the clocks go forward tonight

The clocks go forward tonight, Saturday 28th /Sunday 29th 2020.  It is easy to lose track of this sort of thing at the moment.  Enjoy the lighter evenings, always something to look forward to.  Sunset was at around 7pm tonight, so it will be 8pm tomorrow.  Even under the current circumstances, it’s a bit of a silver lining.  The last few days, so incredibly sunny and warm, were astonishing for March, and the promise of things to come.

 

 

An idyllic circular walk today; Aberdovey via Happy Valley

My sincere thanks to Caroline for introducing me to a glorious walk today, new to me, and for the great company.  The light was wonderful, the air pure, the breeze fresh and the scenery, from distant vistas to hedgerows a few steps away, were a delight.  The larks were singing beautifully on the top of the hill, and we witnessed a bird of prey, no more than 15ft away from us, capturing a rabbit or something equally substantial.  The spring lambs were tiny, leggy, ridiculously endearing.  On the entire walk we only saw two other people, a couple who had come up for the day from Shrewsbury.  Here are a few photographs to celebrate a super day, and what a sublimely great feeling it is to feel that winter may be, at long last, in slow albeit intermittent retreat.  Click on any of the photographs to see the full-sized image.

The Panorama Walk on the August Bank Holiday 2019

I have just realized that this post from August 2019, last year, was still in Draft status, so I’ve hit the Publish button.  A lovely day, a superb walk, part of the Wales Coast Path and it seemed a shame to waste it.  Also, given that it’s early March right now, it’s a really rather nice reminder that the summer will eventually return :-).

To enjoy the Panorama Walk using Aberdovey as a starting point, turn into Chapel Square, go straight up Copper Hill Street, take the second turn on the right, which takes you into Mynydd Isaf. At the top of the road turn left and follow the road to a junction, and turn right, following the Wales Coast Path signs. From there follow the single track lane all the way. You can walk or drive. The path is clearly marked. You will cross several cattle grids, and if you are driving you will need to stop to open a gate at one point.  If you are driving you will need to keep an eye open for passing places and when you reach the end of the metalled road you can either park and do the walk to Bearded Lake, or turn around and go back. You can also start from a Snowdonia National Park car park in Happy Valley, but it’s a steeper climb.  Look out for wild flowers and insects in the hedges and verges.


Video:  the solitary harebell at the end is amazing.  It is unimaginable how anything so delicate on such a fragile stem can stand up to the wind buffeting it around like that.  The camcorder work on the rest of it is a bit wobbly.  It was a very breezy day in exposed parts of the walk, and I haven’t got the hang of taking a tripod around with me.  Holding the camcorder level in a strong breeze, particularly when panning, is something of a challenge, but the video combines quite a nice contrast to the still shots above.

 

Photographs today of Tal y Llyn, Llanuwchllyn and Bala

On my travels today I was lucky enough to see some remarkable weather.  Things started out with a sky so blue and a sun so yellow that the colours seemed almost fantasy-land.  The grass was white-topped and scrunched under foot when I left the house, and the air was so cold that it froze my breath.   It was a challenge, after turning right at Bryncrug and heading towards Tal y Llyn, to keep my eyes on the road, because the scenery was so glorious as it emerged from its icy white lace.  Tal y Llyn itself was simply spectacular, mirroring the sun-lit south-facing slopes in a near-perfect reflection.  At this time of year the contrast between sunny colours and black shadows is dramatic.

Tal y Llyn

As I approached Llanuwchllyn, which sits at the foot of Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) and according to the Visit Bala website means “Church at the top of the lake,” there were fascinating horizontal bands of cloud sitting above the ground and beneath the hilltops.  On the south-facing slopes these were against bright hillside colours and blue skies.  On the north-facing slopes they sat above trees and fields still spiked with frost, the sun so bright that the sky seemed silver against the darkness of the hills.  My lovely Canon digital SLR (known for reasons lost in the mists of time as Josephine The Second) turned out to be impossible to get to in a hurry, so I used the little Sony that I keep in my handbag.  It struggled desperately with some of the lighting conditions, but I have posted the photos anyway because they do capture something of the magic.

 

 

These strands of white mist presaged, to my surprise and dismay, a tediously dreary fog.  Ahead of me a car was just a ghostly shape, and beyond that any other vehicles were a mere suggestion.  The lake was invisible.  I had been expecting to stop and take photographs of another beautiful mirror image, another spectacular vista, but beyond the road that runs along its north bank there was nothing but a dense veil of unvarying, damp, impenetrable murk.  In the picture below, where I pulled the car over, I am standing at the water’s edge.  Normally the lake would stretch out as far as the eye can see, contained within a sloping valley, very beautiful.  Today even the seagull floating only a few feet away from me was seriously blurred and ill-defined.

When I quite suddenly re-emerged into the sunshine, the impact was rather like stepping off an air-conditioned plane onto the top of the mobile steps in a very hot country – a moment of pure sensation and a blissful sense of mild disorientation and very pleasurable surprise.