Category Archives: Walks

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!

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).

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.

 

 

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)

 

 

 

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.

Another visit to the Bluebells in the hills behind Aberdovey

I couldn’t resist going back for another look at the bluebells before they go over.  I cannot remember ever seeing anything quite so stunning.  That plunging hillside, absolutely covered in a massive sweep of bobbing blue heads, was just beyond description, and also beyond any attempt to capture its glory in a photograph. It was a breezy day, with some sun and a lot of cloud. It was quite cold, and there was no hanging around, but I was lucky to arrive at the bluebells in a good spell of sunshine.  The verges, hedges and fields on the way there and back were also full of interest and pretty things.  A fairly short walk, about an hour’s round trip, perhaps a little longer, but so rewarding.  As well as a Pied Wagtail, a Small Copper butterfly and some various beautifully lyrical but invisible song birds, surprises included a field of horses (sheep and cattle are what one tends to expect at the top of a hill) and a rabbit bouncing down the road.

Two rather fuzzy photos show a Pied Wagtail and a Small Copper.  Both were quite a long way away (as was the rabbit at the end of this post).  They were right at the limit of my lens.  It’s a good all-round lens but blurs edges at its full range, so apologies that these photos are particularly clear.

Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarellii), pied meaning simply “of mixed colours.”  Frequently found near sources of water and in open country, particularly near farms.  Their diet is made up of insects, mainly flies, and those venues provide plenty of insect life.

The Small Copper (above) likes to feed on the Common Sorrel (below).  There is Common Sorrel dotted around all over the area, maturing to red flowers, but it is not particularly thick on the ground, so it’s good that there’s enough to support the Small Coppers.

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is dotted around the field of the area.  It flowers from May to July, and its tight clusters of blooms are red when the flower is mature.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), a member of the dead nettle family.  Apparently it smells strongly of blackcurrant.  In beer-making, and before hops were used instead, ground ivy leaves were used to add flavour to beer.

Red campion (Silene dioica), one of those summer-long flowers that is seen all over the country in the summer and seeds like crazy, so will continue to bless a location with its presence for years to come once it has been established.

Common vetch (Vicia sativa).  This was native to southern Europe and became established all over northern Europe when it was introduced as a fodder crop for livestock.  It is a member of the pea family, and makes its own nitrogen, making it a good fixer of nitrogen in soil.  The leaves, engagingly arranged in opposing rows, have needle-like tips.  I love the vetch.  Its delicacy, its vibrant colouring and the parallel symmetry of its leaf arrangement are beautiful.

 

The biennial foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) can be found just about anywhere throughout the summer, and look as though they were custom-made for bees.  Amazingly versatile, and they will take almost any soil and any light conditions and they seed themselves like mad.

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in flower.  During the winter, the seed-heads provide a good source of food for birds.  A very beautiful field right on the top of the hill is chock full of ribwort plantain, buttercups and daisies.

Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris) with distinctive leaves and cream-coloured bell-like flowers clustering along the stem, like tiny floxgloves.  I had never seen it before, but it grows all over this area, in verges and rocky niches and I love the disc-shaped leaves that have the dip, or navel, that gives the plant its name.

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens).  Splendid colour, pure sunshine.  We used to hold buttercups under our chins when I was a child, and the more yellow the reflection, the better you were supposed to like butter.

I am not sure about this one.  Possibly a scabious, but I should have paid more attention to the leaves.

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).  The latin word Hyacinthoides derives from the name of  Prince Hyacinthus in Greek mythology.  Hyacinthus was the lover of the god Apollo and died when hit by a discus when the two were playing quoits.  When Hyaninthus died, the god Apollo wept, and his tears spelled the word ‘alas’ on the petals of the hyacinth flower that sprang up from the prince’s blood.  Non-scripta simply means unlettered and and is used to distinguish the Bluebell from other species in the genus.

Walking across the hill behind Aberdovey to check out the bluebells

A friend and keen walker told me that there were bluebells still out in two choice spots that I knew of from a previous walk, so in spite of lower temperatures and a fairly stiff breeze, a walk up the hill seemed to be in order, starting a few minutes walk from my house.  The wild flowers are lovely at this time of year, splashes of bright colour against the rich green of hedges and hillside.  The view of the canalized section of Afon Leri, about which I have written here, was particularly good, a long straight slice across 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.   Bardsey island was visible, lying to the west of the Llyn Peninsula, both of them visible as subtle blue silhouettes.  The sea looked striated, with layer upon layer of colour.  I heard my first cuckoo of the year, a soft, musical sound in the valley below.  I’ll fill the gaps in the plant identifications below when I am reunited with my excellent wildflower books next week, and I’ll add the latin names at the same time.

Gorse

Cow Parsley forming an attractive hedge

Foxglove

Hawthorn

Strawberry clover surrounded by ribwort plantain leaves

Bird’s Foot Trefoil

Bardsey Island

Bluebell field

Bluebells in an oak wood

Speckled Yellow Moth – (Pseudopanthera macularia)

Bluebell

Wall Brown

 

Another Aberdovey beach walk, nothing special, but so nice to get out

Walking along the beach seemed to be the safest of all the outdoor exercise options yesterday, because the beach is so huge that it is easy to avoid other people doing their similar constitutionals.  The Panorama walk is probably the next safest option.  I would love to do the walk along the estuary and back, but for a lot of that walk there would be incredible difficulty in keeping a safe distance if one met someone coming the other way.

I wanted to take a photograph on the sea front to match up with a vintage postcard, so I opted for the beach.  I was breaking in a new pair of shoes, and was fully armed with blister-treating gear, but happily they were spectacularly comfortable.  The light was particularly beautiful.  Looking over the estuary, the clouds were gathering over Ceredigion, as they so often are.  Looking north up the coast, the sky was completely clear, an endless unblemished ceiling of pure blue.  There was nothing much to see in the dunes.  The evening primroses are in flower, and are dotted all over, but there is nothing else in bloom at the moment.  The very high strandline trailed along just in front of the sand dunes, and contained an unusual number of small crab remains but nothing else of note.  There were a few jellyfish washed up, as usual for this time of year.  The tide, on its way out, had clearly been remarkably high, nearly reaching the long row of steps that run along the top of the beach along the front of the car park, with a pool of water left behind by the retreating tide also showing how high the tide was.

Common evening primrose

Sea holly

Beautiful colours on a crab claw

After the yellows and blues of the dunes and the beach, it was fun to walk back up Balkan Hill, where lush green dominated, and the gardens were full of yellow falls of laburnum and wonderful lilac-coloured rhododendrons.  Even the verges were on full alert, with a lovely display of colour.

Red Valerian

Fuchsia magellanica

Speedwell

Common Stork’s-bill

Sea Mayweed