Category Archives: Wildflowers

A proper seaside walk – the beach, the sea, the waves, sun and even a sandcastle

Sunshine, sand, sea and almost no-one on the beach but me.  Idyllic.  When I woke up this morning it was cold and grey, but by noon the day had clearly decided to fall in line with the weather forecast and blossomed into a glorious autumn afternoon.  I had stuff I needed to do but I was done by 2pm and drove to the lay-by on the road to Tywyn, opposite the line of houses on the other side of the Trefeddian Hotel.   A path crosses the golf course, wends its way through the dunes and drops you by the Second World War pillbox.  From there Tywyn is clearly visible in the distance.  The tide was out, just on the turn, so it took a couple of minutes to reach the water’s edge, although the roar from the waves had been clearly audible from the road.

The beach was spectacular, the damp sand reflecting blue sky and white clouds, with deep dips holding pools of water like liquid silver and white-topped blue waves thundering as crests broke, chaotic shapes forming and reforming.   The main strandline was up by the dunes, clumps of dark weed, but there were long strands of weed shimmering in the sunshine, some floating in pools some strewn along the sand.  I took a few photos and a couple of videos as I walked towards Tywyn, got wet feet, and generally had a great time.  It really was a spectacular afternoon.  A lady on the checkout at the Co-op in Tywyn, who also moved here from London, told me that the novelty lasted six months with her, but I really don’t see it ever wearing off for me.  Mind, I haven’t survived an Aberdovey winter yet.

Crossing the sand dunes.  Close to the beach they are stablized by marram grass.

The first and last photos are burnet roses, small and delicate, that are usually found in sand dunes. The pink petals belong to a blackberry bramble and the blue berries are blackthorn, also common in sand dunes.

Lovely shapes and light on the wet sand

Ecofacts. The shells are a limpit with a beautiful yellow shell, an elegant variegated scallop, a saddle oyster and a purple-black common muscle. An articulated crab claw has become detached from its owner. This was the first cuttlefish bone that I have found on the Aberdovey beach, beautifully laminated. Within the calcium-rich shell there are chambers that that fill with gas or water allowing the cuttlefish to rise or sink.

Here are two of the videos.  I am still trying to get the hang of this whole video thing.  The autofocus on the little camera that I use for video was having trouble today, unsurprisingly, and it was having trouble with the shifting light too.  And of course, it was absolutely not all the camera’s fault that these are anything but perfect.  This was my first time trying to video the sea, and the learning curve shows rather acutely!  Huge fun though, and I’ll get there eventually.

The lay-by to park for this stroll on the beach is at The Crossing, just where the A493 goes around a slow but definitive bend. It is opposite a very fine terrace of tall houses. The footpath is a track on the left of the lay-by and takes you over two stiles across the railway. You then cross the golf course to walk along the path through the dunes and down on to the beach by the Second World War pillbox, marked on the above map with a red rectangle.

 

A walk along the “Roman Road” to Picnic Island and beyond

If you are looking for a short walk with some lovely views over the river estuary and the hills beyond, this is a nice one.  If you want to go all the way to Picnic Island, a walk of just 30 minutes or so, you will need to be prepared to pick your way along some jagged rocks, but if you only want to go as far as the beach beneath the footbridge over the railway line, it’s a simple walk along well worn paths.  You can also turn it into a much longer 6 mile walk by crossing the footbridge and going up the hill and circling back into Aberdovey. I’ve added a PDF at the end of this post.  Patches can be a bit muddy after rainfall and on the rock this can be slippery, so suitable footwear is recommended.  Before you set out, check the tides.  You will need to avoid high tide, because part of the walk is cut off by water.  If you do find yourself returning along the path to meet with an unpassable section you will need to cross the bridge over the railway and return along the road, but this is a busy road with no footpath so is much best avoided.

The walk is all about beautiful views over the estuaries and to the hills beyond.  It starts in the Memorial Park at Penhelig.  Either go under the railway bridge or cut off that rather dangerous corner on the road by taking the private road in front of the houses known as Penhelig Terrace.  The Memorial Park is on the other side.  It is a lovely little park with great views over Aberdovey’s sea front.  It contains a memorial and a plaque in English and Welsh to mark the achievements of the 3 Troop 10, a group of German nationals who worked on behalf of the Allies during the Second World War, and who were stationed in Aberdovey for their training (which I have described on an earlier post).  There is also a little shelter, slightly unkempt at the time of writing, to the memory of Mr Richard Roberts “in recognition of his munificent gift for improvements at Aberdovey 1930.”

At the far end of the park let yourself through the gate and onto the Roman road.  The so-called Roman road is neither Roman nor, in modern terms, a road.  It is a path carved out of the local mudstone, a remarkable feat that even the Romans, accomplished civil engineers, would have found a difficult task without the help of explosives.  And why would they have gone to the trouble?  The nearest Roman military structure was Cefn Caer at Pennal, 11km to the east along the Dyfi.  There is no obvious benefit for a permanent stone-built pathway to Aberdovey, even if there was any sign elsewhere between Aberdovey and Pennal of a long-term Roman presence, which there isn’t.  My guess was that it was built in the 1860s, part of the works for the building of the railway, but again that fails to address the question of the purpose of such a track, given that there was a perfectly good coast road at that time.  In his description of the 6-mile walk, below, the author David Roberts, an Aberdovey resident, states that the track was built in 1808 for horse and carriage, but he doesn’t say where these were headed and why such a road would be required.  Even Hugh M. Lewis, who was born in 1910, and grew up and lived in Aberdovey was unable to shed any more light on the subject.

Whenever it was built and whatever it was used for, it is invaluable today as a ready-made footpath for walkers.  The path has two small bridges that cross little natural outlets for fresh water that pours down the hill into the estuary.  In these places the fresh water-loving gut weed grows, a livid, bright green that contrasts dramatically with the black stone and the brown seaweeds.  The estuary is incredibly peaceful on a sunny day as the tide retreats, the waters flat and sparkling, making a pleasant sound lapping gently at the rocks as they travel at a considerable pace to the west. The hills beyond, in Cerdigion, fresh and green, are the perfect backdrop.

The ubiquitous mudstone, into which the path is carved, slopes gently down into the waters, and is covered with some of the seaweeds that I described on my strandline walk, fascinatingly three types forming three bands as they approach the water, with those most equipped to survive out of the water for longest at the top, and the least drought tolerant at the bottom.  Sea oak is at the top, bladder wrack in the middle and egg wrack at the base. some of it remaining submerged even at low tide.  Unlike my strandline walk, where all the seaweeds had been detached from their rock bases, it was possible to inspect the seaweeds in situ, so I could see the holdfast with which they attach themselves to rocks, a surprisingly tiny little mass of highly tenacious material.

On the rock face above the level of the path, two plants in particular make the best of the most implausible nooks and crannies to grow: red valerian and sea thrift.  Both are drought resistant, saline tolerant, prefer sandy and low-fertility soils and need full sun, so are frequently found in south-facing coastal areas.  When the sea thrift goes over, which most of them have by late September, the fallen petals leave attractive skeletal globes. Watch out for sea thrift and red valerian in cracks in vertical planes of the rock to the left as you walk towards Picnic Island.  Where the rock splits it reveals trapped minerals that are often beautifully coloured providing a perfect canvas for the flowers.

At all levels above the waterline are a variety of lichens dominated by yellow scales (shown to the right), which is prolific, followed by black shields and map lichen.  Lichens are not single organisms but are symbiotic, depending for their survival on “photobionts” (algae and/or cyanobacteria), which provide them with the carbon that they need.  The photobionts use the process of photosynthesis to manufacture their own food source, whereas the fungal component of the lichens need an external food source.  This ecological strategy has obvious benefits for the fungus, which is essentially parasitic on the photobionts, but it is thought that the photobionts might benefit too, due to the provision by the fungus of a stable environment in which they can develop.  There’s a lot more information on the British Lichen Society website.

The Roman road runs out and is replaced by a well maintained footpath that runs parallel to the railway line, taking a route several feet above the estuary, again with wonderful views across the estuary.  At low tide the sands in the middle of the estuary are revealed, a shifting chiaroscuro of colours and deep shadows framed by the speeding waters of the retreating tide.  There is rich vegetation along the footpath – blackberry and rose brambles, ferns, berberis, purple thistles, red valerian, buddleia, holly, wild oregano and much more.   In autumn there are few flowers, mainly the last of the red valerian, but there is a profusion of red and orange berries.

A fork in the path offers a choice.  The left fork leads up to Picnic Island and the footbridge over the railway into a lay-by and, 100m down the road, the continuation of the walk for those who want to pursue the 6 mile option.  Picnic Island is not an island, just a small promontory cut off from the hillside by the railway, but it has wooden seating and is a pleasant green area with excellent views south over the estuary.  It’s original name is Bryn Lestair (obstruction hill).

The right fork leads down steps to a small pebble beach, and the continuation of the Roman road for a short span, before it runs out again.  The beach was the site of a shipbuilding business, some of its walls still surviving, but the site was largely destroyed by the railway.  From the beach, facing the sea look left and you will see that the Roman road resumes.  Follow this for a short distance and then it’s a matter of picking your way down the rocks to the beach, and along the foot of the retaining wall behind which the railway runs.  This is invariably wet, with hillside water pouring from under the wall.  There were almost no shells on the beach sections, only very fragmented muscles and barnacles.  The barnacles were on loose bits of slate, so they were probably detached from rocks elsewhere and brought in on the tide.  This is probably because the waters are brackish, combining freshwater pouring out of the river Dovey and salt water coming in on the tide.

On the other side of this small beach is another promontory with views over the estuary and east towards the Georgian Trefri Hall with its own island complete with crenellated folly.  Before it was painted mustard yellow it was my favourite house in the area – that wonderful location, those stunning views, a private tidal beach and that super folly!  In 2016 it came on the market and was featured in an article on the Wales Online website – for sale for a cool 1.7 million pounds.  Rather more than I had in my piggy bank on the day.

The walk back into Aberdovey is simply a matter of retracing your footsteps.

If you are interested in the 6-mile walk that takes you up into the hill behind the estuary, here’s a PDF to download:  6 mile circular walk Picnic Island and hill.  It is the BBC Weatherman Walking map and guide by local resident David Roberts (eight pages with photographs).  I haven’t done it yet, but it looks splendid and it’s on my to-do list.

The Panorama Walk on a sunny day

Yesterday was the perfect autumn day, with blue skies, a golden sun and a light breeze.  Idyllic.  I took a shoulder bag with a bottle of water and my much-loved camera and headed up to the top of Aberdovey, walking past Tyddyn Rhys Y Gardair Farm and turning on to the Panorama Walk, part of the Wales Coast Path.  It was one of those days that makes you feel good to be alive.  The walk has many beautiful views, with contrasting landscapes to north and south, over Happy Valley and the Dyfi Estuary.  It’s a very popular walk along a metalled road, which after about a 45 minute walk turns into a good track for the walk to the Bearded Lake.

I set out in the ugliest but most comfortable hiking trainers ever.  They are designed for road work and tracks, not rough terrain, and as hideous as they are, they are seriously suited for the job.  It was never my intention to go as far as Bearded Lake / Llyn Barfog, and I only walked to the turn off for the Happy Valley car park, about an hour each way if I hadn’t stopped to pick blackberries at the start and end of the walk, as well as stopping frequently to take photos. In the event it took  me two and a half hours there and back.  I am up to my ears in DIY and had done a couple of hours in the morning and wanted to be back in time to do another batch in the afternoon.  The bliss of living just 2 minutes from the start of the walk means that I can just drop everything and go.  The circular panorama walk that takes in Bearded Lake is next on my list, but the walk to the end of the road and back was absolutely stunning, simply wonderful.   I had it almost to myself.  I ran into two small groups of walkers, and a lady who was giving her daughter a shoulder-ride, which looked like hard work, and four or five cars passed me, but other than that I was in splendid isolation.

The blackberries are in the fridge.  My father is coming to visit, so I have bought dressed crab from Dai’s Shed and some inch-thick lamb chops from the Aberdovey Butcher, and we are having the chops with a blackberry sauce, whatever vegetables he brings from his garden, and sautéed potatoes.  I find spring lamb fairly tasteless, but the big flavourful lamb at this time of year is delicious.

Panorama Walk

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.  From there follow the single track lane all the way.  The path is clearly marked.  You can walk or drive.  You will cross several cattle grids, and if you are driving you will need to stop to open a gate at one point.  Other than that, 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.  If you are walking, don’t forget to look behind you at the views over Cardigan Bay and the estuary, and do look out for wild flowers in the hedges and verges.   You can also start from a Snowdonia National Park car park in Happy Valley.