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Diaries from my Wonderful Walks in Wales

February 16, 2012

February Diary  2008

 

After the torrents and floods of January, February has arrived with brilliant sunshine and blue, blue skies.

The first two weeks have been glorious, with temperatures soaring and everyone flocking to the beaches.  Oscar and I decided to do the same, making our way to the pretty village of Aberdovey. It feels like midsummer, the temperature reading in the car an amazing 18 degrees! The contrast from a few days ago is amazing, the sky and sea today are a deep , clear blue, and the Dyfi estuary shows shades from pale azure to deep turquoise.

 

Aberdovey always seems to get the very best of the weather, often sitting in sunshine when the clouds gather inland. The rainfall doubles from here to Machynlleth, and then doubles again up in Corris, just a mile or so away, but almost 100 metres higher.

 

The town is bustling, the shops doing a roaring trade, the cafes spilling out onto the pavements. The sun is glinting on the sea, the little boats bobbing in the waves below the harbour wall, and the colourful houses shine with sugared almond shades.

 

There are children fishing for crabs off the rocks, the beach is full of families making sandcastles and even sunbathing.

 

Aberdovey was made famous by an old music hall song called ‘The Bells of Aberdovey’ based on a legend that there once was a kingdom called  Cantre Gwaelod,  with several villages in a very fertile plain out to the west of the coastline in what now is Cardigan Bay.  These were inundated by the sea on a very stormy night in 490 AD , when the sea defences were breached; and the legend has it that when storms rage, the bells of the old church can still be heard.

It seems that these old legends often have some roots in fact, as theCardigan Baycoastline shows several very peculiar features that prove the shoreline has changed dramatically over the ages.

At very low tide, across the estuary in Borth, the ‘petrified forest’ can be seen. This is a dramatic sight, as the beach is covered with vast tree stumps, and huge logs, proving that there was once a forest where now is sea. The trees date back over 5000 years.

Also along the coastline there are several long pebble causeways or ‘Sarns’ extending at right angles from the   beaches out to sea, said to be the remains of the sea defences of these villages. The largest of these is Sarn Gynfelyn , which extends nearly seven miles from the beach at Wallog , just south of Borth. All the causeways seem to meet at a large very shallow patch of the sea bed , strewn with large boulders that look very like old foundations. This may well be the remnants of the town ofCantre Gwaelod, from where King ‘Longshanks’ is said to have ruled his rich and fertile land.

 

Even today, the beaches here change on a daily basis. Today, walking north along the beach, the evidence of the very high spring tides is all around. The dune slacks are filled with water, and the flotsam and jetsam left by the sea. Oscar enjoys a paddle in the mini lakes, and still tries to drink the water in the vain hope that it isn’t salty.

The waves have cut deep into the dune system this year, cutting down some of the paths which once followed the edge of the dunes. But already Nature has begun to repair itself, and the wind is blowing fresh sand against the eroded cliff.

It is amazing to watch the dunes shift and change over the years. We have been walking here and Ynyslas Dunes for over 18 years now, and we have seen new dunes grow and old ones change in character.

The coastline is a very hostile environment, with every possible hazard to plant growth. Sea air full of salt, drying winds, and constant shifting sands with hardly any nutrients . Yet plants still manage to take root and thrive. The first plants normally to take root , on the sands close to the sea are the sea rockets and prickly saltworts. These have thick fleshy leaves, which store every drop of available water, and are amazingly resistant to salt. They are great opportunists- flourishing very quickly when conditions are favourable, flowering and producing seeds. So if they are inundated by storms and dried out by gales , their seeds lay dormant for the next window of opportunity to happen.

 

The other remarkable plant in our dunes is the Marram grass. This is really the building blocks of the whole dune system. The grass thrives on being buried, and produces new shoots to the surface. The roots of the Marram grass can extend  over twelve metres upwards and sideways. By doing this year after year , it binds the sand together to create larger and stable dunes.

Gradually , the colonising plants create a fine soil, and more delicate plants can follow. The main dune systems here have huge varieties of beautiful plants, such as wild orchids, marsh hellebore and ladies tresses, which are a delight especially in Spring when they are all in flower.

 

We wander through the dunes and alongside the golf course, venturing a mile or so northwards towards Tywyn. Even a few hundred metres from the main sea front, we leave most of the people behind. It seems only the dog owners venture that far.

The sea breeze is lovely and cool, making us realise that it is still February!

The huge white cumulus clouds make the sky look even bluer.

 

The breeze is stiffer now and beginning to bite a little, so we turn and re trace our steps to the more sheltered sea front.

Time for a home made Aberdovey ice cream, and back home!

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