Category Archives: Wales Coast Path

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.

 

A short walk along Afon Fathew and a stretch of the Afon Dysynni

Left: Map showing the footpath leading west from Bryncrug. The path turns left where it meets the Dysynni and wends its way past the Ynysmaengwyn estate. Source – Streetmap.co.uk. Right: Map showing the Afon Fathew from Bryncrug to the Dysynni. Source – Google Maps

A footpath runs along Afon Fathew (translating as River Matthew) from Bryncrug and then bears left where the Fathew meets the Dysynni.  This footpath used to form part of the Wales Coast Path, bringing walkers away from the coast, where they were blocked by the River Dysynni.  The path took them inland, crossing the river where the road crosses at Bryncrug before looping back to reach the coast again.  In 2013 the Tonfanau bridge was built across the Dysynni at the point where the railway also crosses the river at the mouth of the river, so this footpath has much fewer visitors than it used to.  The Fathew, a tributary of the Dysynni, is itself fed by streams from the hills on either side of the stretch of valley in which Dolgoch sits, including Nant Dolgoch, that flows over the Dolgoch Falls.

It was a warm day with a gentle breeze, but the sky was an incredibly light, almost invisible blue, and it was very hazy.  The scenery and surrounding environment are completely different from anything that I have walked recently.  The hills behind us looked pale, with pastel shades instead of the usually high-contrast bright colours.  It was an extraordinarily peaceful walk along a raised levee.  To our left, on the outward leg , were either empty fields filled with mauve grass and buttercups, or green fields full of sheep.  On our right was a margin of grasses and wildflowers between us and the the tiny, shallow river.  The Afon Fathew itself was idyllic, flowing lightly over a pattern of golden-brown stones, with shoals of tiny fish, the sound delightful.  Two herons were in a distant field, and both took off, looking wonderful, but aerodynamically improbable.

In the above photograph, one of the first pleasures was a field of Rough hawkbit in the foreground  (Leontodon hispidus) and feathery mauve Yorkshire Fog grass in the background Holcus lanatus).  Rough hawkbit spreads just like dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), with its seeds carried on the air in even the lightest breeze on a hairy pappus (Latin, meaning “old man”), some of which can be seen in the above photograph.  The “hispidus” in the name, meaning bristly, refers  to the protective bract that covers the buds before the flowers open.

Turning back to see the view behind, Craig yr Aderyn (Bird rock) looms into sight, the site of a two-phase Iron Age hillfort.

Water starwort (Callitriche stagnalis) often form clumps,with their roots embedded into the mud.  It is good for rivers, streams and ponds because it is a good oxygenator and provides shelter from the heat for fish, fish eggs, frog spawn, tadpoles, frogs and other aquatic species. Its Latin name is derived from the Greek  carlos and trichos, which translate as “beautiful hair,” referring to its hairy stems.

The fabulous Water crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis – a short-lived perennial, a good pollinator and an excellent oxygenator. Produces two types of leaves – submerged foliage with very fine feathery leaves and then, in late spring during flowering, floating three-lobed leaves.  Like the Water starwort it provides shelter for aquatic species.

Levee with central track flanked by Yorkshire Fog grass

Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo). One of several bedstraws, it favours open grassland, meadows, hedge-banks and is mainly pollinated by flies.  Flowers June to September.

The path takes an abrupt left where the Fathew flows into the Dysynni, a much wider river flanked by marshy areas, some full of short spiky Spiny rush reeds and sheep tracks, others filled with the tall, gently rustling Common reed.  Little snatches of bird song from the marshes hinted at a healthy population of nesting pairs amongst the reeds, including reed bunting.  The floodplain of the Dysynni gives a sense of great openness and space, with excellent views over the sheep towards Bird Rock.  The Dysynni is home to salmon and trout, and there have been sitings of otters, but no otters were out to play that day.

 

Spiny rush (Juncus acutus) is found in freshwater flats and marshes but is also saline tolerant and will grow in brackish and salt marsh environments.  It is pollinated on the wind, and spreads quickly.

Common reed – Phragmites communis

Male reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus).  Reed buntings prefer tall reeds and high grasses where their nests, near to the ground, are hidden, but they are increasingly found in farmland too.  Their song is described by one of my books as “cheep-cheep-cheep-chizzup” but and it can be heard rather more usefully here on the excellent British-Birdsongs website.  Reed buntings eat insects when breeding, but switch to seeds for the rest of the year.

Almost certainly female reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus).  This was a long way from me, and I took a photo on the off-chance that I would be able to identify the bird once I had enlarged it in Photoshop, which sometimes works well enough to enable  broad markings to be made out.

I had intended to walk as far as the woods of Ynysymaengwyn, but three enormous splodges of warm water landed on my head as I was approaching, so although I had waterproofs in my rucksack I decided to turn back, and had the benefit of different views on the return journey.  Sheep were scattered along the levee.  Sometimes they moved off, and sometimes I did.  They were far more curious and confident than hillside sheep, perhaps more used to people, perhaps less nervous because they had no lambs.  Some were standing in the river.  When I came to one gate, there was a young male bull, jet black, looking at me over the top of it, a lovely animal.  I opened the gate slowly and carefully and he stood back, but I still had to push gently past him.

(Acer circinatum) leaves and samaras (the latter, its fruits, often known colloquially as helicopters or whirligigs).  Vine maple (Acer circinatum) looks very like the standard sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), but it doesn’t grow as big, its leaves are attached to branches by reddish stems and its fruits are red and green.  In Wales, sycamore trees were traditionally used in the making of ‘love spoons.’

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), just about to bloom.  It has attractive feathery foliage (millefolium means “a thousand leaves”), spreads by underground stems, and is patch-forming. It is disease resistant, which can benefit neighbouring plants, and its small leaves prevent excessive moisture loss.  It was named for Achilles, who used it to heal the wounds of his soldiers, and it retains its reputation as a good cure for cuts and bruises.  It has a long history as a remedy for colds and fevers (as a tea) and for toothache (when the leaves are chewed).  Its leaves and flowers are used in salads in small quantities, it can be boiled as a vegetable and served with butter, and it can be thrown into soups and stews.  It has a slightly bitter taste.  Flowers July to October.

Elder (Sambucus nigra).  They are versatile plants, their flowers providing pollen for insects, the leaves popular with moth caterpillars, and the fruits eaten by a wide variety of mammals.  For human consumption they must be cooked, as all parts of the plant are poisonous when raw, but is popular for making tea, wine, cordial and preserves.  It has a distinctive scent and was thought to keep the Devil away.  It was also hung around dairies to keep flies away.  It is sometimes known as the Judas Tree, because Judas Iscariot is said to have hanged himself from an elder.

Red campion (Silene dioica).  A favourite of so many people, its bright pink face is instantly cheering, and there was a lot of it along the Afon Fathew section of the footpath.  Plants are either male or female, so two plants are needed for reproduction.  Flowers May-July/August.

Tutsan / Shrubby St Johns Wort (Hypericum androsaemum).  The name Tutsan is derived from the French toute-sain, “all health,” reflecting its use in herbal medicines, primarily the application of bruised leaves to cuts to help healing.  Androsaemum means “sap the colour of blood.” After flowering the plant produces oval red to black berries when flowering has finished.  It likes shady areas, particularly deciduous woodland where this was found just on the way back to the start of the walk. Flowers June to August.

I arrived back at Aberdovey just as the rain started in earnest, and just in time to take my clothes off the outside dryer!

Late spring in the hills above Aberdovey

The hills behind Aberdovey are always particularly spectacular on fine day, with broad strokes of colour given a bright sparkle by the sun.  Eyes down, and there are wildflowers everywhere, tiny explosions of concentrated intensity.  It always astounds me how such delicate little things can stand up to their exposed position and the extremes of the weather.  Tiny pale butterflies replace the big, glossy garden species, and everywhere there is birdsong even though the birds themselves are often invisible.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chaemaedrys)

A patch of Wild Pansy (Viola Tricolor), also known as Heartsease

Wild Pansy (Viola Tricolor)

Heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis)

It is difficult to see what this is, but it may be a whinchat (Saxicola rubetra).  The colouring is right, with a flick of white at the base of the head (visible when I lightened the image in Photoshop), and its preferred habitat is open ground, moorland and mountain plains.  It is found throughout most of Wales, but is a summer visitor, migrating to central Africa.

Stonechat (Saxicola Torquata).  One of my books described its call as a metallic ‘whit sac sac’ which sounds like stones being smacked together.”  It favours low vegetation such as gorse and thickets.  I had never seen one before, so was particularly pleased to see it.

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus).  Double-brooded, appearing in early summer and then again in late summer.  Found in unimproved grassland and coastal areas.

Dune Pansy (Viola tricolor ssp. curtsii).  Favours dry coastal grassland areas.

Sea mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum)

 

 

 

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 🙂

A very quiet walk on the Aberdovey beach

My usual exercise, not daily but a few times a week, is a simple circuit from where I live, wending my up to the top of Gwlefor Road, down onto the the main road and back up Balkan Hill.  I do like to do a longer walk at least once a week, and yesterday I decided to walk down Copper Hill Street and see if the beach was busy.  The line of diagonal parking places in front of the Snowdonia Information Centre was almost completely empty, something I have never seen before.  In spite of the sun, the beach was incredibly windy and there was absolutely no-one there.  As I went along the beach, reaching and turning back by the WWII pillbox, there were a four or five dog walkers and a couple who were clearly walking all the way to Tywyn, but it was eerie how empty it was on such a bright day.  The warm wind was so strong that all my clothes were flapping, and on the walk back I was leaning in to the wind, pushing my way back along the sand.  The dry sand was drifting in great tendrils a few inches across the beach, very beautiful.  The strandline was dominated by huge numbers of rotting leaves, mainly oak and beech, with some ivy.  At one point along the waterline the water was completely black as the leaves broke down in the water.  There were a lot of dead jellyfish, probably a barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo).  It seems early, as they are usually a summer phenomenon, but last year I found one in mid-February.

 

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.

 

Day trip: Ynyslas and Borth in February

On a lovely day, quite unprecedented for February, I decided to go a bit further afield than my usual strolls on Aberdovey beach and go to Ynyslas.  I had been meaning to go for a long time.

Ynyslas carries with it the novelty of parking on the beach.  There is a nominal fee when the visitor centre is open (from Easter to the end of September), but it is free in the winter months when the visitor centre is closed.   The drive to Ynyslas from Aberdovey takes about 40 minutes via Machynlleth, and of course you are driving in a loop around the Dyfi estuary because Ynyslas is immediately opposite Aberdovey.  There used to be a passenger ferry between the two, which had been operated for centuries, but eventually became redundant when the railway was built and the roads improved to handle the growing number of cars.

Visitor Centre, Ynyslas

Ynyslas is a nature reserve, properly entitled the Dyfi National Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre and as well as the sand dunes and the beach,  includes the Cors Fochno raised peat bog, which is of international importance.  I have only been to Ynyslas once before, and then only very briefly when it was an exploratory mission tacked on to a visit to the terrific mill at Furnace (covered on a previous post).  The visitor centre was open then, and had stacks of books on tables for visitors to consult, information boards, and a good collection of relevant books, greetings cards and small toys to buy, as well as a coffee and tea machine.  Considerate to out of season visitors there is a big board outside, by the entrance, showing the layout of the nature reserve, with the paths clearly marked.

Out of season Ynyslas is virtually empty of bodies, just a few dog walkers in the dunes and rather more on the beach.  I decided to do the circular walk that leads through the dunes, out on to a stretch of beach, and then back along the mouth of the estuary to the car. The dunes are of particular interest because they demonstrate all the stages of dune formation and growth, and there are multiple types including both fixed and mobile dunes. There was not a lot to see other than marran grass at this time of year, but come the spring there will be all sorts of flowering plants and insects to see including wild orchids, mosses, liverworts, fungi, insects and spiders.

 

Fringe of pebbles between the dunes and the beach at Ynyslas

Where the path tips you out on the beach there is a big ribbon of huge rounded grey pebbles that lies between you and the vast, eternal vistas of sand.  You need to be a bit careful as they shift constantly underfoot.  Once safely installed on the beach there is tons to see, and it is quite different from the stretch between Tywyn and Aberdovey.  For one thing, there is a sense that you can see forever down the beach along Cardigan Bay.  It is a very wide, open stretch of beach, with the waves chasing each other up the sand in long white-topped lines for as far as the eye can see.

Ynyslas beach (click to enlarge)

Before the beach reaches the estuary, the sand is largely uninterrupted by the mass of small cockle, razor clam and tellin shells that scrunch underfoot on the stretches on the north side of the estuary.  Instead, there are occasional shells of a completely different character, and even the usual species like cockles are generally much larger.  Gigantic Icelandic cyprine and common otter shells are dotted around, big common whelks are a frequent sight and the pod razor clams reach their maximum lengths along this section of beach.  Of the smaller species the limpets were a pleasant surprise, as were needle whelks and acorn barnacles.  Some of the shells contained keelworm tubes (spirobranchus).  In the sand itself there were dozen upon dozen of sandhopper burrows.  I was surprised at how many articulated bivalves I found, both halves still connected, including well preserved cockles

The Icelandic cyprine (Artica islandica, also known as the ocean quahog) is particularly fascinating.  It has a dark brown periostratacum (outer skin of a shell) and lives so long that it is amongst the longest living of any animal – up to 500 years.  Amazing to think that an Icelandic cyprine shell could have contained a creature that was alive when Shakespeare was writing.  The oldest known, its age determined by counting growth rings, was 507, and was nicknamed Hafrún (c. 1499–2006) .  This example is 10cm (4 inches) from top to bottom.

Dog whelks (Nucella lapillus), which are lovely to look at and beautifully constructed along a spiral axis, are actually somewhat stomach-churning in their feeding habits.  Like all gastropods, whelks have a toothed tongue called a radula.  They use it to drill through the shells of other gastropod, and produce a chemical to help with the process.  Once the shell has been pierced, they inject other chemicals into the shell cavity to paralyze and liquefy their prey before extracting it through the hold in the shell.  You can spot the holes in shells on the strandline.

One of the whelks had keelworm (Spirobranchus) tubes.  These calcareous tubes are made by the keel worm with an open and closed end.  The open end allows it to put out tentacles with which it feeds on organic detritus, whilst safely armoured in its shell.  Like keelworm tubes, barnacle shells are also found on shells of other organisms.  There were several examples of acorn barnacles at Ynyslas, like the dog whelk in the above photograph, all in clusters because barnacles form colonies.

Sandhopper burrows (click to enlarge)

Sandhoppers (Talitrus salafor) are interesting too.  At around 20mm in length, they look rather like fleas, with their backs arched.  They live in burrows at depths up to 30cm and emerge at night to feed on the strandlines.  Although they live on the strandline they are terrestrial and cannot survive in the water so when the tide comes in they dive into their burrows, backfilling with sand to plug the passage and protect themselves.  They are targeted by some species of wading birds.

I found two nursehound eggcases, which I dutifully reported to the Shark Trust.  One of them was partially covered with what look like tiny shells, as well as some keelworm tubes.  I thought at first that the shells might the blue-rayed limpet (Patella pellucidum) but quite apart from the fact that they are the wrong shape, I cannot see any of the radiating blue lines that ought to be present if this identification were correct.  Perhaps they are very early on in the growth cycle.

The limpets are common in some areas, but I have never seen one at Aberdovey.  There were plenty on the beach at Ynyslas.  Like dog whelks they have a toothed radula, but they infinitely more friendly to other species.  They feed on algal spores left behind when the tide recedes, and in clearing patches of seaweed they create opportunities for other species to colonize rocks, increasing biodiversity along the seashore.

 

Ducks

As I returned towards the car I thought I could hear oyster catchers, but all I could see were ducks.  If you are a refugee from an urban environment, like me, you might associate ducks with the coarse quacking of mallards, but these sounded more like oyster catchers, with a a high-pitched peeping noise as you can hear in the video.  They were feeding in the marsh grasses in the muddy zone at the edge of the estuary waters.

The views from Ynyslas towards Aberdovey, as you round the corner from the open sea into the estuary, are breathtaking, particularly on a gloriously sunny day.  Beyond the town you can see down the Dyfi, a long peaceful arc of water flanked by low hills.

Aberdovey from Ynyslas

The BBC website has a good suggested walk beginning at Ynyslas, which goes further than I did and can take up to three hours.  The Natural Resources Wales website gives more information about what to see at Ynyslas, and it offers a number of suggested walks of different durations.  I plan to return to do the Cors Fochno walk, and to do another dune walk when there will be plants in flower.

I drove past the golf course into Borth for a quick stroll along the seafront, overlooking the pebble beach and rolling waves.  Now a seaside town, it used to be the main source of sailors for the local shipping trade in the 19th Century.

Borth

 

Video: The Dyfi Estuary at Aberdovey

This was a very windy late afternoon in mid December 2019, and I have been messing around in my software to figure out how to eliminate the intense sound distortion that ruins the sound tracks of many of my videos.  It is clear that I need a dead cat mic (charming name!) but it is impressive how well the software can compensate once the damage is done, leaving the gentle sounds of water on the seashore and the bright birdsong in tact.

 

The canalized section of Afon Leri and West Wharf Boatyard, Ceredigion

Afon Leri from the Panorama Walk behind Aberdovey, showing the railway bridge and the boatyard. The road bridge is between the two, but difficult to see in this photograph.

I have been fascinated by Afon Leri ever since I first visited Aberdovey some twenty years ago.  From my living room window it is an unwavering slender scar on the flat landscape to the east of Ynyslas.  From up on the hill its opening is clearly perpendicular to the banks of the Dyfi estuary, and one can see the bridges that carry the road and railway over the river towards Ynyslas, next to a small boatyard.  The river’s course across this topmost corner of Ceredigion is obviously canalized, an engineered artifice, but why?  What was its purpose?

Cors Fochno c.1790, before the route of the Afon Leri was changed. Source: National Library of Wales (where there is a zoomable version of this image)

The Leri rises at Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll below Pumlimon and passes through Talybont, (on the main road between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth) where it meets the Afon Ceulan before flowing behind Borth. The canalized section is 3.35km long and c.35m wide and runs from Ynysfergi in the south to Pont Leri in the north, crossing the low-lying Cors Fochno.  Cors Fochno is a Special Area of Conservation and one of the largest remaining examples of a raised peat bog in Britain, which started to form from c.5500BC.  Afon Leri now opens out into the Dyfi estuary at Pont Dyfi in Ynyslas.   Work on the canalized section had begun by 1790 when the above map was created by T. Lewis, marked as the Pil Newydd.

Excerpt from the above map of Cors Fochno showing the former course of the Afon Leri at far left.  The Leri begins at Borth and meanders along the coastline to the west of Cors Fochno up to the point where it emerges into Cardigan Bay at Aberlery (which means the mouth of the Lery).  Source: The National Library of Wales (where a zoomable version can be found)

In the early 19th Century local landowners and neighbours Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan and Mathew Davies of Cwmcynfelin were incentivized by the General Enclosure Act of 1801 to reclaim land from the bog in order to develop it for pastoral agrarian use.  Land reclamation would require the waterlogged land to be drained.  There was little recorded opposition from parishioners, and royal assent was granted on June 22nd 1813.  The land surveyor Charles Hassall saw the advantages of enclosing the 5106 acres but warned the landowners against contractors who were either duplicitous or ignorant of the task ahead.  His words were almost premonitionary as successive problems plagued the project.  Disagreements between land owners, contractors and commissioners, together with serious and ongoing financial problems, caused major delays.

Charles Hassall’s plan was to divert a number of streams that entered the bog to drain away spring floodwaters and build embankments along the Dyfi estuary to prevent salt-water transgressions.  He recommended an experienced contractor called Anthony Bower, who was employed in 1815.  Bower suggested that using the river Leri to drain water from the land was the most viable solution, but there were problems.  The course of the Leri ran along the far western edge of Cors Fochno and emptied a little further up the coast at Aberlery into Cardigan Bay.  It was insufficiently deep and fast-moving to serve as a drain for the bog, so Bower suggested that the best solution was to deepen, widen and straighten the river.  As Professor Moore-Colyer describes it:  “A sluice was to be constructed at the river mouth from which a main drain would run through the centre of the bog. This would be accompanied by a catchwater drain which would follow the course of the Lerry to the foot of the hills and then along the south-eastern boundary of the bog to join the River Cletwr.  By this means, Bower believed, water from the hills would be prevented from entering the bog while an embankment on the southern side of the Dyfi would preclude the entry of salt-water.”  Sluices and catchwater drains would be employed to control water levels.

In 1815, an alternative proposal was put forward by Griffith Parry of Penmorfa, and which carried an estimated cost of £10,000.  Griffith Parry had trained under the great engineer Andrew Rennie on the construction of the London Docks.   He also favoured diverting the Leri, but from the west end of Ynys Fergi in a straight line to Pont Afon Leri, and he too believed that deepening, widening and straightening the river was the solution, which he thought should be embanked with clay.  In addition, he suggested deepening, widening and embanking surrounding ditches and streams to improve the drainage potential offered by canalizing the Leri.

Gogerddan estate, the seat of Sir Pryse Pryse. Source: Parks&Gardens

Hassall died in 1816 and was replaced by co-commissioners Robert Williams of Bangor and David Joel Jenkins of Lampeter.  Williams was staggered by the estimated total cost of £30,000 proposed by Bowers which, with the widening and deepening of other existing drains, would absorb over 1000 acres, and would create a total landmass with a value of only £20,000.   Bower and Williams fell out over both this and more personal reasons.  For the next two years the parties vied for position, with Jenkins supporting Bower and Williams supporting Parry.  Parry’s plan eventually won out.  Contractors, to be paid £2500.00 in instalments, were appointed.  A final payment of £250.00 was to be withheld until two years after the project was completed, to provide insurance against post-completion problems. Additional costs, including raw materials, were provided by the Aberystwyth Bank after Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan provided security of £6000.00 for the loan,  the balance of the cash was raised by selling land on the peripheries of the marsh for over £2340.00 initially.  However, financial problems and disputes plagued the drainage scheme, particularly in respect of the contractors not building various elements to specification.   Williams resigned and in 1822 Richard Griffiths of Bishop’s Castle, with three successful enclosures under his belt, was appointed in his stead.  After the change in commissioner, the appointment of the surveyor Charles Mickleburgh of Montgomery, a new Act of Parliament in 1824, the chaos of further financial difficulties, escalating debts and a court case, the project was eventually completed by 1847, and a small  harbour was provided for the local shipbuilding industry.  It is difficult to see how the project could ever have seen a return on its investment.

Google map of Afon Leri

The above map from the 1790s, the Google map to the left and the Ordnance Survey map below show the former and present courses of the river. 

A road bridge, Pont Afon Leri,  carries the B4353 over the river at Ynys Tachwedd, connecting Ynyslas with the A487.  A small boatyard is located on the western side of the road bridge.  The Cambrian Coast Line crosses just to its south on a 7-pier railway bridge that was built in 1863.  The river is tidal along the length of the cut, and a footbridge over the Leri where the river meets the Wales Coast Path marks the boundary between the tidal cut and the non-tidal river.

The West Wharf boatyard at Pont Afon Leri has a history dating back to the 19th Century.  Here’s the description from the Coflein website:

Afon Leri from the hill behind Aberdovey, showing the boatyard by the Pont Afon Leri road bridge

Remains of timber-fronted quay on the west side of the entrance of the river Leri constructed by the railway company. The northern end of the quay frontage is degraded and the quay material has been washed out from behind the piling. The section in front of the boatyard has been repaired and remodelled to accommodate a modern boat lift. Sales particulars dating to 1862 reveal that short section of wharf already existed close the road before the coming of the Welsh Coast Railway. The wharf was part of the land holdings belonging to Issac Ll. Williams Esq under the Geneur’rglyn Inclosure Act. The railway company subsequently undertook the development of the wharf to act as a landing point for a new steamer working the Aberdovey ferry. The paddle steamer ELIZABETH started service on 24 October 1863, the day that the railway line between Aberdovey and Llanwyngwril opened on the northern side of the opened. The vessel was to operate every hour and to charge 6d per head for the crossing. Maintaining the service was extremely difficult as the ELIZABTH was frequently stuck fast on the Dyfi sandbanks. On 5 July 1867, George Owen, the Cambrian railway engineer reported that if the railway line to the north side of the Dyfi could not be fully opened soon, then the wharf would need to be piled. The line subsequently opened in August 1867. The ferry’s use of the West Wharf might have ended then, but the railway inspectors required more work to be undertaken on the tunnels. Whilst passengers were taken round by road, goods continued to be shipped across the Dyfi by the tug JAMES CONLEY. The use of the ELIZABETH on the route was abandoned and the vessel sold in 1869. In 1893, it was proposed that that the barges transhipping slate from the Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway would be charged for using the railway company’s West Wharf. Two years later, in May 1895, Mr I Hughes Jones, owner of the East Wharf sawmill proposed the transfer of the business to the other side of the Leri. This was accomplished soon after April 1896 when a new railway siding was opened to service the transferred sawmill. Also in 1896, is appears that the Hafan Sett Quarry (Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway) were still proposing to use the wharf, as they contacted the railway company with regard to installing a level crossing for the tramway. It is likely that the piling for the wharf was extended around this time to facilitate these new developments. The saw mill continued to occupy the wharfside through to the First World War.

Today the boatyard is still a functioning business, offering boat storage, slipway launching and repairs and has a 16-ton slipway hoist.

The Ceredigion Coast Path follows part of the course of the canalized section of the river, and intersects with the Wales Coast Path just east of Borth where the canalized stretch of the river begins, as shown on the above map.  The Ceredigion Coast Path website has more details, and for those wanting to walk the Leri, there’s a good outline of how it can be approached by Ben Fothergill on the UKRGB website.  An official walk across Cors Fochno can be found on the Natural Resources Wales website.

View of the Afon Leri as it approaches the Dyfi estuary. Photograph by Chris Denny (under Creative Commons licence).

Afon Leri from the footbridge where the tidal section of Afon Leri meets the non-tidal section. Photograph by Nigel Brown, used under Creative Commons licence.

Afon Leri in the mist, seen from Aberdovey

Main source for this post and a lot more information, particularly about the financial problems, land sold for financing the drainage, and allotments of land to the poor, with my thanks:

Walking from Aberdovey towards Tywyn along the beach

Yesterday’s walk along the beach was extraordinary.  I had intended to park by the cemetery, but by accident parked opposite the row of houses at the foot of the road from the Trefeddian Hotel, crossed the golf course and emerged from the dunes at the Second World War pillbox.   The sun was hazy and incredibly pale, but at the same time reflected off the wet sand, creating some beautiful colour and light combinations.  I walked for far longer than intended, and it nearly became a case of walking into Tywyn and getting a bus or taxi back to my car!  Instead I retraced my steps, and because of the light it was like doing an entirely different walk.  It was lovely to see a pair of oyster catchers, obstinately refusing to do anything other than stand, preening in the sun!  They are in the video at the end of this post.