Summoned by sunset

Last night I saw the sunset reflected in an open window, and ran outside to get a better view.  From the field I could see a wide pink horizon.

sunset 1

I went up the hill, through the wood where a plump young tawny owl was lisping and hissing and then flew awkwardly off into another tree .

Once I was out of the trees I got an even better view and it was redder now over the Wormsley valley.  But my camera does not of course do it justice.

sunset 2

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Rhodri’s route

The many tributes to Rhodri Morgan, the former first minister of Wales who died suddenly on 17 May (aged only 77), have so far failed to mention his pioneering role in giving us the Wales Coast Path.

Rhodri had a caravan at Mwnt on the Ceredigion coast.  He loved walking there with his wife Julie, who is the brilliant Labour Assembly Member for Cardiff North.

In 2007, Jane Davidson, then Rhodri’s environment minister (now vice-president of Ramblers Cymru), first discussed the idea of the Wales Coast Path with Rhodri in his kitchen.  Rhodri was delighted with the proposal which he could see would be wonderful for Wales.  He gave it his full backing and funding—a bold and confident move during the recession.  It meant substantial new money for all the coastal authorities, via the Countryside Council for Wales, with match funding from Europe.  It was a massive exercise, and it would never have happened without Rhodri’s energy and enthusiasm for the project.

coast

The limestone cliffs near Raming Hole on the Wales Coast Path in Pembrokeshire

And his confidence was more than justified.  A year after the path was opened in 2012 it had brought £32 million to the Welsh economy, exceeding its costs many times over in one year alone.

WCP sign

The Wales Coast Path, enabling us to walk the shape of the nation, is one of Rhodri’s great legacies.  He was a good friend to the Ramblers.  It was a privilege to walk up Snowdon with him, and other Assembly Members past and present, on 12 June 2009 to celebrate the opening of Hafod Eyri on the summit.

Rhodri (L) on Snowdon

Rhodri (left) on Snowdon

And only a month ago he took the trouble to come, with Julie, to Ramblers Cymru’s council at Stackpole to engage in a lively conversation with Jane Davidson and answer questions from those present.  We heard of his firm belief in the value of walking for health and well-being; he told us funny stories and he urged us to keep up the campaign for paths and access, to ensure that local authorities fulfil their statutory obligations.

Rhodri and Jane

Rhodri and Jane in conversation at Ramblers Cymru council meeting in April

It is a tragedy that he has died so prematurely; he should have enjoyed many more years of walking those paths which he helped to create and defend and which give us all so much pleasure.

 

 

 

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The legacy of the Big Welsh Walk

The Big Welsh Walk (Taith Gerdded Fawr Cymru) took place in Ceredigion on Saturday 6 May.  I joined the 200 people taking part.  We could choose from walks of 15, 10 or six miles and I went for the 15-mile one.

We stayed at the Tynrhyd Retreat, a mile west of Devil’s Bridge which is a Walkers Are Welcome town.  I can thoroughly recommend Tynrhyd which was extremely welcoming and comfortable, and I was looked after by Ramblers Cymru staff who were organising the event.

Waymarking
I arrived on Friday evening and went out with volunteers Karl and Maxine to do some final waymarking for the walks, with signs to slow the traffic on the narrow lanes.  We ended up doing it in the dark.

IMAG1134

Maxine and Karl putting up a sign to encourage drivers to slow down for walkers

The next morning walkers began to gather from 7.30 am.  There were 80 people signed up for the 15-mile walk and we had to set off between 8 and 9 am.  I had never done a challenge walk of this kind before, I prefer to walk alone and at my own pace, but this was fun and different.  I started walking with three people from Llanelli, then we were joined by another group from Aberystwyth—and more.  In time some went ahead and others dropped back, so I walked with a variety of people through the day.

We were given a map, and there were four checkpoints on our route where we were ticked off.  The Brecon Mountain Rescue were on hand.  They stayed at Tynrhyd the night before and were great company.  They are amazing  volunteers who devote all their spare time to rescuing people, and it takes over their lives.  They are entirely funded by donations.

walk 13 mountain rescue

Brecon Mountain Rescue

It was cold and grey when I set off at 8.15 am.  Ceredigion Council and the Ramblers had done a fantastic job getting the paths in order for the event.  Ceredigion, being a rural area with a small population, has only a tiny paths budget and struggles to keep all the routes maintained.

We walked down into the Mynach valley where I saw a tree pipit.

Walk 2 Mynach valley

Mynach valley

Then we followed the river upstream.

walk 3 by Mynach

Beside the Mynach

We turned up a hill past the first checkpoint, through forestry and then into an area where trees had been felled.  It was a steep climb up and we failed to notice that the footpath went off to the right, so when we got to the top we were confused—as is so often the case with forestry.  Luckily Karl was on hand to explain our mistake and we put it right.

A bit further on we came to a fallen tree under which we had to crawl, the only obstruction of the day.

walk 5 obstruction

Obstruction

Then we were out in the open again, and walked around the side of a hill with good views. I noticed that there was a much Molinia grass, looking very pale perhaps because of the lack of rain.

walk 6 landscape

Looking west towards Cwmystwyth

This brought us to the rim of Cwm Ystwyth, with a steep drop down to the valley which contains ancient silver, lead and zinc mines.

walk 7 cwmystwyth

The mines in Cwm Ystwyth

I discovered later that at this point I was overtaken by Ramblers Cymru vice-president Huw Irranca Davies, Labour AM for Ogmore, and his wife Joanna.  They had taken a day off canvassing to be with us, but I was concentrating on getting down the hill and didn’t recognise them as they flashed past.  Suzy Davies, Conservative AM for South Wales West, joined one of the other walks.

We came to the village of Cwmystwyth with a good view down the valley which was the next stage of our walk.

walk 8 nr cwmystwyth

Looking west down Cwm Ystwyth

We stopped for lunch by the river as we had by now been walking for nearly five hours.

walk 9 lunchspot

Lunch stop

A bit further on we came to a patch of beech wood and I heard, then saw, a wood warbler singing.  Consequently, because I had stopped, I was separated from most of those with whom I had been walking, but Paul Johnson from Hertfordshire stuck with me and was pleased to see the wood warbler.

walk 10 beechwood

Wood-warbler wood

The footpath by the river took us past the ruins of the old mansion at Hafod, and into the village of Pont-rhyd-y-groes and checkpoint 3.  Here we crossed the river and climbed another hill.  By now the sun was out and it was a glorious, warm afternoon.

After more ups and downs we climbed the last hill and I could look back the way we had come

walk 11 nearly back

and ahead to the conical Tyn-y-castell rocks close to our destination, with the slopes of Plynlimon on the right.

walk 12 tynycastell

We arrived back at Tynyrhyd soon after 4pm, so the whole 15.2-mile walk took just under eight hours.

walk 14 tynrhyd

A couple of days later I wrote to Ceredigion Council to thank them for all their work on the paths and to report the obstructed footpath at grid reference SN785 755.  I also pointed out that at GR745 763 at Rhos-tyddny the route was shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a dead-end restricted byway which becomes a footpath. We had been OK because we joined the road at a stile, but the track goes on to a locked gate which would leave riders and cyclists stranded.

Walk 1 locked gate

Locked gate on byway which is a dead end on the definitive map

I had a prompt response from Eifion Jones the public rights of way officer, saying that they would sort the obstruction asap.  The restricted byway problem was long standing, dating back to a Town and Country planning Act diversion in the 1980s which left no route for riders.  The council has it on a list of anomalies to sort out in the medium to long term.

Legacy
The Big Welsh Walk was a great success.  It has made many people feel happy at their personal achievement.  But its legacy is even more important.  It has shown the value of getting paths reopened and maintained so that people can enjoy them with benefit to local communities.  I am sure that many of those who came on the walks will return to Ceredigion.  The walks themselves should be published on websites, such as those of the Devil’s Bridge Walkers Are Welcome town and Tynrhyd Retreat, to encourage people to walk those routes and keep them in good order.

walk 4 waymark

We followed this path some of the way

The event can be repeated in future years in other part of Wales which struggle to get their paths in order, to help make that difference.

Five days later Huw Irranca-Davies secured a 90-second slot in the Senedd to speak most eloquently and concisely of all that is good about the Big Welsh Walk. You can listen to him here.

medal

All the participants received a medal

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Turtle dove returns

It is always a relief when the turtle dove returns to Otmoor in Oxfordshire. They are becoming increasingly rare, but fortunately Otmoor is one of the places where you can almost guarantee to see one at this time of year.  

You may well hear the purring as you get out of your car in the car-park.  Today there was one feeding next to the bridleway.

turtle dove

and then it flew into the oak tree, a traditional perch.

turtle dove 2

I was able to make a short recording which you can hear here.

It was also a joy to see newly-arrived hobbies darting over the wetlands and perching on posts, and cuckoos going back and forth. The warblers continued to sing prodigiously. There was a lone grasshopper warbler beside the path to the first screen, bursts of Cetti’s every so often, and scratching sedge warblers all over the place.  It’s all happening at Otmoor.

Young reed bunting

young reed bunting

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Dawn Chorus Day in Coed Rheidol

What better way to spend the morning of Dawn Chorus Day than watching wood warblers in a Welsh oakwood!

1 Coed Rheidol

Last weekend I stayed at Tynyrhyd Retreat near Devil’s Bridge for Ramblers Cymru’s Big Welsh Walk.  On the Saturday I did a fabulous 15-mile walk.   On the Sunday (7 May) I was up at 5.30 (a little late) to celebrate Dawn Chorus Day in Coed Rheidol national nature reserve.

5 Coed Rheidol sign

I took the bridleway through Tyn-y-Castell Farm, stopping to look at siskins in a conifer on the way, and then walked along the side of the valley before plunging down into the oak woods.

4 Coed Rheidol

 

The place was alive with wood warblers, and I was able to watch them, only just above eye level.  There was a particularly vociferous and active male (I assume) and I could see how much of the song is made on the wing as he flitted from perch to perch, round and round, every so often coming back to the tall, dead stem which provided an excellent perch right in front of me.

Wood warbler

Wood warbler

On previous occasions I have strained to catch a fleeting glimpse of a wood warbler after hearing its song, so it was a real treat to have this display.  It was hard to tear myself away, but I headed on down the steep hill to Rheidol Halt on the Vale of Rheidol railway line, between Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge.

3 Rheidol Halt

Rheidol Halt

 

I crossed it and continued down the steep hill, still accompanied by the song of wood warblers and other birds, to the River Rheidol in the bottom.

2 Coed Rheidol

I returned the same way, and the wood warbler was still at his station, whirring merrily. I managed to record his song here, a lovely memory of my first proper encounter with wood warblers.

6 Tynycastell

Tyn-y-Castell: my path went to the right of the peak and down into the valley

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‘We underestimate the power of walking’

So said Tegryn Jones, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Officer, who was the after-dinner speaker at Ramblers Cymru’s Council meeting at Stackpole last month.

It was a good message for the Ramblers.  We are at the heart of enabling people to walk and are in a strong position to influence policy on access.  We lobby to keep paths open, we fight damaging path-changes, we press for more freedom to roam and we do practical work to reopen and improve paths.

In Wales there is a more positive atmosphere for all of this than in England, because of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Sunday grassy bridge

Grassy bridge, Stackpole

This act has seven goals: a prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language, and a globally-responsible Wales.  Paths and access are deeply relevant to most of these.

The act requires a Public Services Board to be established in every local authority area; the board must produce a local Well-being Plan to deliver the seven goals. Since public paths, open spaces and public access are highly relevant to their delivery and the local authority is represented on the Public Services Board, councillors can have a direct input, to argue for more money for access.

In Brecon Beacons

In the Brecon Beacons

Today (4 May) there are elections for the unitary authorities (which are also the highway and access authorities) throughout Wales.  When the dust has settled, it is well worth writing to councillors to ask them to ensure that the protection and promotion of public paths and open spaces feature in the council’s forthcoming Well-being Plan as important contributors to the achievement of the well-being goals.

Of course, they should also press for adequate funding to maintain the public-path network in accordance with the council’s statutory duties.  All this should chime with the Welsh government which wants its act to be implemented to the benefit of Wales’s residents and visitors.

Big Welsh Walk
This Saturday Ramblers Cymru is holding the Big Welsh Walk at the Tynrhyd Centre, Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth, with walks of two, six, ten and fifteen miles.  A number of Assembly Members are expected to come, and I shall be there to enjoy the splendid countryside and to walk with them.

BIg Welsh Walk

In anticipation of the event, Ceredigion Council and Ramblers’ volunteers have worked incredibly hard to get the paths in good order, demonstrating that a good path-network benefits tourism and the local economy.

The Big Welsh Walk is an excellent way of demonstrating the power of walking.  We underestimate it at our peril.

Repairing replacing boardwalks Llanddona sea wall. 2014

Ynys Mon Ramblers’ Silver Slashers replacing boardwalks at Llanddona sea-wall, 2014

 

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Wandering in White Wood

I make a point of visiting White Wood above the double Dart valley on Dartmoor at least once a year in the spring.  Ever since the late Ian Mercer told me that wood warblers breed here I go to listen for them.  This year I was about two weeks earlier than usual, with the advantage that the leaves were not out so birds were easier to see.

It was a lovely sunny day and my friend Hil Marshall and I wandered down the track from Venford reservoir, watching and listening.

6 Sharp tor

Sharp Tor from the track to the wood

There were countless willow warblers, and then we saw a redstart and a tree pipit, which confirmed itself with its flight song.

1 tree pipit tree

Tree pipit country

We entered the wood with its ancient oaks, small at first, then larger as you get deeper in.  The track entices you on.

1a track

The wooded slopes of the Dart valley showed through the trees; we felt as though we were in the canopy.

2 Dart valley through trees

The Dart valley through the trees

About halfway along the track we heard wood warblers whirring, and then we had a fleeting glimpse of one.  The song is breathtaking.  We kept hearing little bursts of it as we made our way through the wood.

3 wood warbler trees

Where the wood warblers were

Further on the slopes were covered in mossy rocks.  Hil saw a pied flycatcher but I missed it.

4 mossy rocks

Mossy rocks

I went back the next day, determined to see a pied flycatcher—and I did, near the western entrance to the wood where I have seen them before.

7 pied flycatcher trees

Flycatcher spot

It is a most splendid place.

5 the pipeline route

The track through the woods

 

 

 

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