Category Archives: Walks

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

 

 

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.

 

Walking above Aberdovey, returning along the beach.

With thanks (again) to Caroline for yesterday’s super walk.  We took the footpath at the top of Gwelfor Road towards Tywyn, which has some great views over the estuary and Cardigan Bay.  Young lambs were lovely to see, leggy and alert whilst their peaceable mothers grazed.  The walk emerges at the cemetery on the main Aberdovey to Tywyn road, which is full of gorgeous primroses at the moment.  A brisk walk back along a very windy beach was superbly fresh.

Passing some abandoned farm buildings in a sheltered dip surrounded by low hillsides, we stopped to look in detail.  Brilliant white quartz and black slate/shales and mudstone were arranged differently on both buildings, the contrast remarkable and rather beautiful.  Door lintels were made of wood, still in situ, and roofs were tiled with slate, although only tiny pieces of the roofs remained.  One of the walls of the lower of the two buildings had begun to fall outwards, and was propped up with vast buttresses.  An attempt to restore the upper building’s wall with breeze blocks was accompanied by a corrugated asbestos roof that is now disintegrated.  The thickness of the stone-built walls, the heavy buttresses, and the tiny slits for windows are all somewhat reminiscent of Mediaeval castle construction, as is its derelict condition.

Information about mermaid’s purses (egg sacks of small native shark species) can be found on an earlier post. This one, a cuckoo ray that I found on the beach yesterday (Leucoraja naevus), has been reported to the Shark Trust to contribute to their data collection project.