Diaries from my Wonderful Walks in Wales
July 16, 2012
Ynyshir translated from the Welsh means ‘LongIsland’.
Named after the elliptical crag of rock that the house was built on. This is technically a ‘Roche Moutonee’, or hard lump of rock resistant to the passage of a long since melted glacier, shaped like a huge sheep, prone, with its back to the wind.
The rock acts as shelter from the prevailing winds, and provided the stone from which Ynyshir was built over 500 years ago. The rock was hewn from the hillside, to create a hollow, then the house was built nestling into the quarry face, like a lamb snuggles to its mother for protection.
Ynyshir feels like a haven; safe, solid, protected; connected to the earth .
It once was the center of an estate of over 2000acres, embracing most of the south side of the Dovey Estuary and even extending across the water to the opposite shores. A boathouse still existed until 10 years ago, which housed the small boat that used to ferry people across to the farm opposite.
Over the centuries, the land has been parceled off with the building of large houses within it.
The last big change came in the late 1960’s. William Mappin , of the Jewelers , Mappin and Webb, was the last person to own Ynyshir Hall as a private house.
There were still over 1000 acres of the estate left. The position on the estuary had made this a very popular shooting area, and the Hall was ideally placed as a shooting lodge. This was one of the reasons QueenVictoriavisited.
However, Mappin was an avid birdwatcher and nature lover.
He would never allow any hunting or shooting on the Estate, and was determined to preserve it for posterity.
When he died in 1966, he handed over the Estate to The RSPB, so that it could be protected for ever.
Now the Ynyshir Reserve is one of Britain’s finest.
We have always worked closely with the RSPB, and now our guests join in with their special events, and they arrange guided tours just for us.
So often, I have awoken early and listened to the first birds greeting the dawn, and I have always wanted to experience the Dawn Chorus in all its glory, ‘in the field’.
So , this year when Dick Squires, the Head Warden at Ynyshir, volunteered to take a special tour for us, I was thrilled!
When my alarm rang at 3.30 am I wasn’t so sure!
Armed with torches, we crept out of the Hotel so as not to wake the less intrepid, into the dewy fresh air of gardens. Climbing through the woods like the famous five looking for adventure, to meet Dick Squires at the information center.
Here we stood, just above Ynyshir’s gardens, looking down over the mere, still in almost darkness. A crescent moon hung above the deep indigo blue mountains , shedding a pale silver light, reflecting on the still water below.
The lack of ambient light means that the stars and moon are so much more brilliant, the perfect quiet lets us catch each note of the birdsong.
A soft pink glow became visible behind the purple mountains, and the concert began!
The Robin’s tuneful trilling was the first to break the silence. He sang a virtuoso solo for several minutes, before a blackbird just below us started in sweet competition.
The Redstart, usually the first to sing, joined in very quickly, and then the plaintive notes of the cuckoo from the trees behind us.
By now , the dawn was breaking, the pink glow spreading over the whole sky, illuminating the mere below. A family of Mallards gliding slowly through the shimmering water, shattering the reflection of the silver moon still clearly visible in the ever brightening sky.
Reluctantly, we left our vantage point to meander down to the woodlands, stopping each time a new voice joined the chorus of song.
As we wandered through the woods , the Chiff Chaff, the Pied fly catcher, the whinchat and the tree pipit all added to the choir. We moved silently so as not to break the magic spell, feeling like intruders in an enchanted forest .
The cool , damp dawn air surrounding us like a cloak, the wildlife oblivious of our intrusion, greeting the rising sun, and busy in their preparation for another day.
The soft green moss springy below our feet, thin shafts of light beginning to penetrate the trees we stood, still and silent, listening intently , identifying each song in turn and hoping to glimpse the songster through the lovely lime green new foliage of the native oak, beech and birch. The wood warbler, and willow warbler adding their delightful contribution as we stand.
Wending our way through the woods, the trees begin to thin, past the hawthorn bushes , laden with heavy perfumed blossom , we catch our first glimpse of the Dovey estuary. Out of the trees, the sky is already lighter, a shade of pale turquoise dotted with puffs of pale pink clouds.
Out towards the salt marshes we can see the whole stretch of the river as it winds and widens towards the sea. The path now edged with tall reeds and yellow flag irises, the salt marshes stretching away with theCambrian mountainsstill dark and breathtakingly beautiful beyond.
To the west we can see over the wider stretch of the river mouth across to Aberdovey, its houses catching the pale rays of the rising sun. The craggier outline of Cader Idris to the north softened by whispy, misty pink lined clouds.
As we stand in awe of this beauty, we see a tiny reed warbler darting within feet of us, and hear the raucous call of theCanadageese .
Walking back along the edge of the saltmarshes, we pick out the high pitched sawing call of the sedge warblers, and see the sand martins dipping and diving into the reedbeds.
In just over an hour, we have witnessed the wonders of Natures own Symphony. Each song adding and building to a wonderful crescendo.
Allowing time to learn and recognize each distinctive pattern of notes.
With the help of our wonderful Tutor, Dick Squires.
As the sun strengthens, we climb back through the woods, catching a glimpse of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and make our way to the Marian Mawr hide hidden in the trees, so the panoramic view when we enter takes us by surprise.
Below us the stretch the salt marshes, dotted with wide meres, the water glass like in the still air. The Dovey river winds and snakes through the pale reeds bordered by large sandy banks.
Now we see the Canada Geese, strutting and honking, the Shovelers bustling and busy , and a Mallard appears from the reeds, followed by four duckling, waddling and dipping in the still water.
A huge grey Heron, improbably elegant in flight, swoops down towards the water, and a fracas erupts with a Canada Goose.
A flash of white in the distance on closer inspection is a pair of lovely Little Egrets.
Then, in the distance, on the river bank, we spot a dark shape moving in and out of the water. An otter looking for her breakfast.
We watch this spectacle in perfect silence, with Dick just adding a whispered commentary. We hardly dare to breathe, so as not to break the spell.
Only when she disappears from sight can we bear to tear ourselves away.
For all of us whose lives are madly busy, it is so therapeutic to just sit in perfect tranquility, and wonder at Natures beauty.
We make our way, slowly silently and reluctantly back.
Our minds full of the wondrous sights and sounds of the Joyful June morning.
Back to lovely Ynyshir, still only 7 am!
The rest of the world only just awakening.