Diaries from my Wonderful Walks in Wales
July 16, 2012
The Lovely Llyfnant
After the near drought and heat of Spring, the summer has brought the torrents !
Here, we have fared better than many areas, escaping the floods, and often having rain just overnight, with clearing skies and dramatic clouds by day.
Despite the common misconception, the rainfall figures inWalesare not very different from the rest ofGreat Britain. Our coastal plain, with its estuaries bordered by mountains, have relatively low rainfall. The wet westerlies blow in and over us, and drop their rain on the mountains beyond! The little areas on the edges of the estuaries enjoy a special micro climate. The Gulf Stream keeps the weather mild, and we get higher sunshine figures than many parts ofGreat Britain.
However, the last few days have brought the rain in bucket fulls, but today is wonderfully bright and sunny, with blue, blue sky and huge fluffy cotton wool cumulus.
The rivers and streams are full to bursting and the greenery is extra lush and luxuriant.
No better time to explore theLovelyLlyfnantValley.
A five minute drive north takes us to the mouth of the valley. The little river has cut a huge valley, often through deep gorges. The reason for this unusual topography lies in the structure. The stream follows a long fault line through theCambrian Mountains, and has exploited this weakness, cutting deep down through the rocks.
The access to the valley is through an unclassified single track road. There are so many of these secret valleys hiding in theCambrian Mountains. A few farm houses and cottages sprinkled along them, well away from the beaten track.
Still, after nearly twenty years exploring, I can sometimes find a new little idyllic valley.
I follow the north side of the valley first today, following the cycle trail up past my favourite little cottage. I fell in love with this the first time I found it! Just a rough track for access, through lush green fields full of buttercups and clovers. Perched on the edge of a deep coniferous forest, with a pretty chocolate box garden full of hollyhocks and roses. A little vegetable patch at the side, with neat rows of cabbage, salads and herbs, and even a little pig sty with picket fencing at the bottom of the garden!
The lush fields fall gently down to the stream, and a large old oak tree holds a well worn swing.
Like a set from a Famous Five story, this must be the perfect place to grow up, or revisit childhood dreams!
After saying hello to the pot belly pig in it’s little sty, we walk down past the oak tree swing (resisting the temptation to try it) ,then climb up into the forest. After the open pasture, the forest suddenly seems dark. The conifers were planted here, as in so many areas, and they soon shut out all other growth. The thick aromatic , bouncy layer of pine needles are great to walk on , but form an acidic mass which changes the nature of the soil below, altering both flora and fauna. There is very little that will cope with the acidity of the soil, and so most of the forest floor is bare. This limits the animal and insect life too. Now, in more enlightened times, these forests are being replace by mixed planting once they have been harvested for timber.
These are fairly old plantations, and through the years trees have succumbed to storms, and lie strewn across the forest floor .These create natural clearings where the light streams in and the undergrowth has re grown.
As we climb, we can hear the river tumbling below, and we get glimpses of the white water and the rocks. The noise grows to a thunderous roar, as we approach the first gorge. The swollen stream is squeezed into a narrow rocky chasm, crashing over waterfalls and cascading into the plunge pools. The air smells cold and damp and full of oxygen.
The path climbs high above the valley now, and in places the forest thins so we can see the wonderful views down the valley to the Dovey Estuary below. There are craggy, rocky outcrops which are favourite perches for the peregrines, which can often be seen wheeling above.
We also see a pair of Red Kites, hovering high above the trees, their forked tails immediately recognisable.
We drop down now, out into the open fields and wend our way into the pretty little hamlet of Glaspwll. A cluster of cottages, some perilously close to the tumbling river, each one with its own charm, and all with delightful rambling gardens. One or two larger houses, some timber framed, dating well back to the 1500’s. We could have easily walked back in time, the only clues that we may be in the 21st century are the odd telegraph pole, and an occasional vehicle!
Crossing over the river here, we are tempted to climb the extra three miles up to the magnificent waterfall, Pistyll y Llyn, which falls 480 feet and will no doubt be spectacular today. This is a real climb, over 650 feet above the valley, but the views are amazing and really worth the effort!
But regretfully time will not allow! Duty calls and we have to leave that for another day.
We make our way back along the South side of the valley now.
The scenery is very different here. We follow the road very close to the river so we can really appreciate its beauty. A combination of the rock type and the faulting has created some amazing features. The river bed is sculptured into fantastic bowl shaped hollows of all sizes. There are so many tumbling waterfalls and deep, blue-green plunge pools. The rocks form steep walls on either side of the river, covered with a thick spongy layer of mosses, vibrant green and glistening with water dripping through.
The river is crystal clear and sparkling in the shafts of sunlight . We spot the little Dippers, working their way up the river, diving into the water and walking along the riverbed to find their food. These clever little birds are fast disappearing fromBritain, so we are lucky to still have them here.
The conifer plantation does not extend to this side of the valley, so the vegetation is all natural. In the deepest parts of the valley only sessile oaks grow, stunted and twisted, from the rocks, their bark covered in thick, lush moss. Epiphytic ferns grow from all the crevices between the branches. The occasional Holly, Hawthorn and Rowan appear where there is a little more soil. These are really magical mysterious patches of woodland, where you expect to see a Hobbit appear round every corner.
As we climb higher out from the gorge where the soil is thicker ,we see beech , birch , alder and ash trees . These woods are a world away from the austere coniferous plantations we have just left. These are light and lovely , the soil rich with leaf mould , and there is an abundance of flowers and wildlife. This is where to see bluebells, primroses and celandines in spring, red campion, sweet woodruff, foxgloves and stitchworts later. They are the woods of childhood memories, sadly lost to most area because of pollution and the invasion of man. We are so fortunate to have this little time capsule, protected and preserved by inaccessibility.
The road meanders up and down meeting the river several times again, and then going higher giving us glorious views down the whole of this lovely hidden valley
We pass through the farm, where the dogs greet Oscar noisily. The Farmer wanders over to marvel again at my huge dog, admiring his massive paws and wide back as he would view a prize bull. We pass the time of day, and comment on the weather, before we say our goodbyes.
Then slowly walk down the hill, finally reach our starting point again.
The whole round trip, a wonderful two hours, and the Farmer is the only person we have seen. I return, refreshed and invigorated , as if from a long deep sleep.