Category Archives: Wildflowers

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

 

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 🙂

An idyllic circular walk today; Aberdovey via Happy Valley

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

The Panorama Walk on the August Bank Holiday 2019

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

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


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

 

The woodland walks at Ynysymaengwyn

Ynysymaengwyn late 18th Century mansion. Source: Commando Veterans Association

I went over to Ynysymaengwyn today to take some photos for the article I’m writing about the history of the Ynysymaengwyn Estate.  Although it is now a caravan and camping site, it used to be the biggest landholding property in the area, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I.  It is best known for its 18th and 19th Century history, when it owned most of Tywyn and Aberdovey, the fortunes of which were inextricably tied with those of the estate.  A splendid house was built in 1758 by the widow Ann Owen, and this was still standing together with a ballroom wing, a servants’ and administrative, kennels, a dovecote and kennels, as well as a vast kitchen garden in the 1960s.

When the last owner of Ynysymaengwyn signed the buildings and the remaining 40 acres of the estate over to Merioneth council, and it was then handed over to Tywyn Town Council, it fell into increasing disrepair it was decided that the buildings should be disposed of.

Only very few remnants of the buildings remain, but some of the woodland has been preserved as a series of very beautiful short walks.  I’ll write up full details of what is left of the original estate when I post the article, but in the meantime here are a few photos of the walks.  The snowdrops today were absolutely stunning, the walk down the Dynsynni was beautiful with the reeds rustling in the breeze, and the views across the hills from the Dysynni were wonderful.  The birds were all amazingly tame, and even a rabbit hopped across the path in sublime unconcern.

If you would like to visit, and I do sincerely recommend it, the surviving portion of the estate is open to the public as a woodland walk, with access to walks along the wonderful Dysynni river.  Just drive through the gate posts on the A493 and head down the short lane, watching out for a left turn that will take you into the carpark. In the bottom left hand there’s a map that shows you three woodland routes, the longest of which takes 30 minutes, but you can lengthen this by doing a section of the Dynsynni.  Take a bag full of bird seed with you if you like bird life – the wild birds are borderline tame, and all expect to be fed, and yell vociferously if you stand there looking at them and don’t provide sustenance!

Here’s the address:
Ynysymaengwyn Caravan & Camping Park
The Lodge, Ynysymaengwyn
Tywyn, Gwynedd
LL36 9RY
See the website for directions:
https://www.ynysy.co.uk

 

Short walk along the Wales Coast Path from Tywyn to the Tonfanau footbridge

It was such a lovely day again that I decided to walk the short stretch along the road that runs along the side of the railway from Tywyn to the new Tonfanau Bridge over the river Dysynni.  It forms part of the Welsh Coast Path, which follows long sections of the 882 mile Welsh coastline, with some unavoidable detours inland.  Until recently one of these detours was where the Welsh Coastal Path met the river Dysynni at the point at which it opens into the sea.  Here it was necessary to divert inland along the Dysynni as far as Bryncrug, returning on the other side of the river to rejoin the coast, an admittedly very attractive detour of some eight miles.  In January 2013 this all changed when a new 50m bridge was installed to link the two parts of the Coast Path.

The bridge is of an unusual design, formed of twin crescent-shaped sides of white tubular steel.  It is a type known as a Vierendeel bridge, named for its inventor, the Belgian civil engineer Arthur Vierendeel (1852-1940), defined by vertical trusses, rather than the usual diagonal ones.  This creates rectangular rather than triangular spaces between the trusses.  Most Vierendeel bridges are in Belgium.  The bridge cost £850,000 and was funded by the Welsh European Funding Office, Traac, the Countryside Council for Wales and Gwynedd Council.  It was installed  on the 16th January 2013 by Jones Brothers of Ruthin.  It is the largest span for a Vierendeel truss footbridge in the UK.  It takes pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.  The Tonfanau Bridge takes its name from the nearby village of Tonfanau, which has an interesting history in its own right and will be discussed at a later date.

Section of the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (OL23 Cadair Idris and Llyn Tegid) showing the Wales Coast Path, and the start and end point for the short walk between Tywyn and the Tonfanau footbridge over the Dynsynni. Click to enlarge.

The Wales Coast Path (Llwybr Arfordir Cymru – www.walescoastpath.gov.uk) opened in May 2012 and extends between Chester in the north to Chepstow in the south, following the line of the coast wherever possible.  The route between Aberdovey and Tywyn goes along beach for four miles, but becomes more complicated when it reaches Tywyn.  The map to the left shows the Welsh Coast Path as a line of green dotted diamond shapes.  For those who want to walk this short section, I have marked my starting point in the car park on the sea front in Tywyn and the location of the bridge itself.

In Tywyn you can either walk along the sea front on the promenade or on the walkway that runs the length of the promenade at beach level.  The path then goes on to the extended promenade lying between residential housing and the sea.  This gives you excellent views of the sea, but blocks views of the hills.  Part way along is a turn off between the last of the houses and a mobile-home park.   This is a small lane that crosses the railway.  From there you either walk along the small road that leads to the footbridge or through the fields.  Here, there’s nothing but the raised track of the railway to be seen to the west, although the sea can be clearly heard, but the views to the east are absolutely terrific.

We have been incredibly lucky with the weather recently.  It has generally been cold, and there have been frosts in the village, but the sunshine so late in the year has been a splendid treat.   There were lots of dog walkers out today, everyone making the most of the weather whilst it lasts.