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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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!