Zig-zagging up the Great Orme

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I hope everyone’s enjoyed this amazing summer as much as we have here in North Wales. It’s been glorious, but I seem to lose my blogging mojo when it’s hot and dry and tend to stray away from my local patch whilst it’s busy with tourists and holidaymakers. But the cooler days we’ve had recently have rekindled my enthusiasm for getting back out there and I’m planning to add a few more of our local trails to my repertoire.

September 7th-Great Orme

The Great Orme headland attracts a great many visitors throughout the year, particularly over the summer and in the school holidays. Most are drawn to the Summit, which offers fantastic views and other amenities, and choose to get there on the historic Tram; via the dramatic option of the Cable Car on the bus or by car. The more energetic, and those wanting to experience the wilder sides of this unique Country Park prefer to get there under their own steam and walk. There are a good few route options for doing that, including specific mapped and marked Trails leading you up, down and around the headland, including the one I followed today, the Zig Zag Trail or in Welsh, Igam Ogam.    

The Zig Zag Trail ascends, or descends the Great Orme between Llandudno’s West Shore and its Summit, or vice-versa of course. I hadn’t walked this trail in its entirety before, so decided to do it going upwards and consider my options for getting back down again based on how I felt when I got to the top. The official Trail Guide informs that ‘this historic trail gives easy access up the steep West Shore escarpment. It promises breathtaking views across the Conwy Estuary to Snowdonia and warns that the route is on steep ground. 

The first part of Zig Zag Trail marked by the fence posts

This morning was damp and showery, so having waiting for it to clear up I set off later than I’d hoped.

14.30  I parked on the road alongside West Shore. The strength and coolness of the wind blowing in across the sea caught me a little off-guard as I left my car; I was thankful I’d worn a fleece and even more so that my lightweight shower/windproof jacket was on the front seat where I’d left it a couple of days ago. I guessed it would be even windier higher up on the exposed sides of the headland, so anticipated arriving at the summit with hair looking like that of a wild woman, but probably not hot and sweaty. I walked up to where Marine Drive ends and where its old Toll House, now a private dwelling is located. A lovely spot to live, but the clatter of cars driving over the cattle grid not far from your living space and the metallic clunk of the gate closing behind people passing through to and from the pathway might get a tad irritating.

14:34 The view across the bay and the Conwy Estuary is always amazing, but today’s weather has made it spectacular. Low clouds coloured from dark steel grey to bright white hang low over the summits of the mountains, partially obscuring them and the Anglesey coastline. The tide was low and shallow water and exposed sand reflected back the light passing through the ever-changing cloud pattern above. It’s a cliché I know, but it really does look like molten metals, silver, mercury, steel, pewter all blending together and ruffled by the wind.

14:35 Looking towards where I am heading, I spot three goats lying down just below what I think of as the Butterfly Track. Contentedly chewing cud they’ve doubtless found the warmest spot catching any available sunshine.

A Herring gull momentarily hangs motionless over the edge of the clifftop, supported only by air.

14:36 Just before the Toll House I turn right, go through the metal gate and am on the path that will lead to the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail. The path begins as it will soon continue, with a series of zig-zagging steps. The views from up here are even better and people and cars are already tiny.

Turning to look down I spot a Kestrel hovering very close by and almost at eye-level. It’s flapping wildly trying to maintain a position, but quickly flies off over the headland. (I was disappointed that my one image of it was blurred, but no time to focus properly!)

At the top of the steps the path levels out and is edged along one side with a line of seats; all bear plaques commemorating people that once loved the views from here.

 And who wouldn’t admire the views there are from here?

If you were to carry on along this path, you would arrive at the Haulfre Gardens, but before you get to there you find the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail, tucked close to the side of the second little shelter building you come to. There’s an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Trail marker on the ground here too,  pointing back the way I’ve come.

14:46 I’ve been dawdling as usual, so have taken almost 20 minutes to get this far. It would likely have taken 10 minutes at the most walking at a normal pace. I think I’d better get a wiggle on when I read on the post that the Trail is 2 miles long and estimates two hours to reach the summit from here. But then the Trail Guide says the Trail is about 1 mile long and should take about 1½ hours. We’ll see.

14:48 The Trail immediately begins to climb, in the promised Zig Zag style, via a series of stone steps that vary in their length and incline. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and pause for breath if you need to and in places there are benches to have a sit down on.

14:53 It’s not long before I stop to look at that view again. The sky is darker now so it looks even more magical.

In places the track is dry with loose gravel making it slippery and other eroded areas where exposed rocks could trip you up. I’m glad to have my walking pole and that I’m walking up, not down. I don’t want to exaggerate though, mostly it’s in a perfectly safe condition, you just need to pay heed to where you are and take plenty of breaks to take in views and notice the wildlife.

15:01 Late August and early September is when patchworks of golden Dwarf Gorse and purple Heather light up some of the higher reaches of this headland, and seeing them before they are finished was part of the reason for walking this trail today. There is some of the coarser common Gorse in flower too.

Dwarf Gorse is a much neater, more compact plant than its common cousin.

Dwarf Gorse-Ulex minor

There’s not much in the way of wildflowers in bloom along the trail now, a sprinkling of Rockroses and the occasional dot of Scabious linger and there are a few later bloomers, Goldenrod and what I think is Calamint amongst the grass and gorse of the trackside.

15:03 Still climbing steadily

There’s a bench at the top of this flight of steps, the second one I’ve passed.

I check out the views from here; they are becoming increasingly extensive. The Trail’s less steep from here and a way-marker post directs you to the left.The way-marker posts for this Trail all have a narrow black band around them.

15:07 You can see from this view that the Trail is still going up and has begun to curve around to the left.

15:09 My first spot of Heather

15:13 A short distance to the right of the Trail there’s a stone wall that from a distance looks like a building. Making a short diversion to investigate I see it’s just a wall supporting or holding back ground that is at a higher level and is probably part of the farm wall noted in the Trail guide. I hadn’t expected to get this view over Llandudno town and Bay to the Little Orme from there. I’d be really bad at orienteering.

 

15:14 Back on track, it’s beginning to feel a bit ‘wilder’. The next section is narrower, edged with bracken and long grass and seeming to lead to a solid cliff-face.

Hawthorn trees, stunted and leaning over show this area is frequently exposed to strong prevailing winds.

A few sneaky invasive Cotoneaster plants are laden with bright shiny red berries, so tempting to hungry birds that will doubtless ensure its spread…

15:19 The Trail cuts up through the cliff and now the landscape opens up and the well-worn track wends around a rounded hilltop between domed bushes of gorse.

Near the cliff edge now the path straightens for a while and there are views across the sea. The low land on the horizon is Anglesey with the tiny Puffin Island off its tip.

Sheep graze up on the ridge above; there’s plenty of fresh new grass to keep them busy.

15:22 Continuing along the cliff the landscape changes again. There’s a long stone wall that looks like it bounds the long edge of small fields and what could be a hedge along the far side, maybe of gorse.

I spot a patch of paler purple amongst the golden gorse; this is Heather, or Ling. Looking closer I see the a little of the darker purple Bell Heather too, which is more prolific here on the dry heathland.

Dwarf Gorse with Heather

The Trail continues along the side of the hill and I see more wall going up and along the ridge. Is this the farm wall the Trail guide says is ‘above you and to the right’, I wonder.

You can also see the back of houses which I guess are on Tyn y Coed Road. As I said, even with a map and in a confined space I don’t necessarily know where I am!

It’s easy walking along here and really pleasant despite the continuing side wind.

15:24 Down below me I spot a little flock of sheep that are tucking in to a patch of what seems to be long green grass. Seeing them this close to the cliff edge with their heads down makes me feel a little bit nervous, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

15:25 As I’d stopped to look at the sheep I turned around to look back at where I’d come from. The view just keeps getting better. The patterns of sand and water are fascinating. I can clearly see the Conwy Estuary and can just make out Conwy Castle on the far bank of the river. The sun is shining on Deganwy.

15:26  The track continues wriggling along the clifftop, now curving through an expanse of Dwarf Gorse, some in flower and interspersed with the dark purple of Bell Heather.

Such a beautiful combination.

Dwarf Gorse with Bell Heather

15:28 A bunny out nibbling the grass pricks up his ears and turns slightly to watch me. He obviously doesn’t see me as a threat and stays put until I’ve passed by.

Another moody view of the clouded Snowdonian mountains across the Bay.

15:31 Towards the end of this flattish section of track along the cliff it starts to rise again. I can see where it’s headed as there are two people up on the rise that I assume are walking down. I realise that they are, or will be the first and only people I’ve encountered since I got onto the Trail. What a privilege having all this wonderful space and scenery to myself.

15:32 A rocky bit.

Down below I see that the flock of sheep I’d photographed grazing on the cliff edge a short while ago are on the move. Behind a leader they’re walking in an orderly line along a defined narrow track on the way up the side of the cliff, which must mean this is a well-used route. I am charmed by the sight and also can’t help but notice that they add another element into a pleasing intricate pattern of sand, water, groynes and rock.

Above me are more sheep. I focus on a ewe that has been given an interesting layered haircut and her well-grown chubby woolly lamb intent on grazing at her side.

Another view of the Bay with its ever-changing patterns of light and shade. The sun is still shining on Deganwy.

It’s also chosen a big green field to light up.

15:37 In front the far tip of the headland is just visible.

Looking back you could imagine you were on a wild and windy moor with views of far distant mountains. Perspective is a baffling thing.

A little further on more of the far end of the headland is revealed and I can make out the line of Marine Drive, the Toll Road, curving around it.

I’m a little confused here: there’s a sharp turn to the right, but is that  narrow gravelly track cutting steeply to the top of the cliff the way I should be going, or is it just a sheep track?

I take the track and stop half-way up for another look at the view. Although it’s all a bit hazy, I can see even further along the Estuary from here to Conwy Castle and just beyond.

Fascinating sky and sea.

15:43  I’m glad to see this I’m going the right way. 

I’m on heathland now and see more of the glorious golden gorse and purple heather I was hoping to see.

Sheep are pretty much everywhere, but I spot the first back-fleeced lamb I’ve seen today. I recognise it as a Herdwick, only because I know the lambs are born with black fleeces and they’re about a year old before the wool on their heads grows out revealing the white hair beneath. As they age their fleeces turn to a dark brown and then to their characteristic grey, but their heads stay white.

15:45 A nice view of the Little Orme and the distant Clwydian Mountains.

15:46 The track seems to disappear here and I hesitated before carrying on.

There’s another track to the right that leads to a wall with a stile, should I go that way?

I head that way and pass what must once have been a small enclosure, surrounded by now tumbled-down walls. They make an interesting foreground for a view.

I climb over the stile and walk down a narrow track that looks like it might lead to a farm or something.

15:54 Round the corner there’s a man with a dachshund dog standing looking at two goats in an enclosure. He told me this is indeed a right of way, but not the one I want. I need to go back and head for the cliff. I find the path.

15:56 Ahead is another view looking down over Llandudno Bay with the Little Orme on the left, Penrhyn Hill and the Clwydian Mountains again beyond Colwyn Bay.

15:57 High up, not quite at the top yet, but I spot the aerial planted on the Summit on the horizon.

16:01 The end of the Trail is in sight.

The gorse-and-heather mix is beautiful here.

A look back at the way I’ve just come

Just look at that sky!

So now I’ve almost reached the road that leads to the Summit.

The end, or beginning of the Trail is here, a little to the side of Bishop’s Quarry.

16:15 I walk up towards the Tram’s Summit station and cut across the track to the refreshment kiosk. Sitting at a bench with a cup of tea it’s time to consider how to get back to the car. The sun has disappeared now, it’s windy and quite chilly. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my walk but am not inspired to retrace my steps. I look at the Tram that will be leaving any minute now. I buy a ticket to go down on it.

Hot on a Hillside Trail

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July 7th – BRYN EURYN

Another hot sunny day. Not my idea of perfect walking weather, but I  wanted to see how the hill, or rather its wildlife was holding up under the scorching weather, in particular hoping there would be butterflies.

It was pleasantly cooler inside the woods, but the ground was bone dry, hard and at this lower end of the path scattered with shed Laurel leaves, often a sign the plants are short of water.

I stopped at the small scrubby patch, often an insect hot-spot. Hot it was, but not with aerial activity. The nettles have flowered and are beginning to set seed and I noticed many of their leaves have been ravaged by insects. That set me thinking about the battles going on all around me between plants and their attackers and some of the other roles that leaves play.

An insect-eaten nettle leaf with stinging hairs left in place

I like to see eaten leaves as it’s a sure sign there are insects about, but of course plants need their leaves to supply them with food, so many do what they can to preserve them. Nettles have particularly aggressive defences;  as those having had  painful encounters with them will testify. They’re not aimed at us specifically of course, rather at grazing animals. They have stinging hairs, every one tipped with a tiny glassy needle that breaks off at the slightest touch that is sharp enough to cut skin; simultaneously poison is squirted into the wound from a small chamber at the base of each hair. Ouch! Even nibbling rabbits avoid them as they have sensitive noses and find the sting as unpleasant as we do. Despite this, nettles are the favoured food of such insects as the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies: they simply chomp through the safe juicy parts of the leaf, going around the dangerous stings, leaving them neatly in place.

Nearby a more pacific Wild Privet shrub is blossoming. Harmless in itself, but spiders have built webs over their fragrant blossoms in hope of capturing unsuspecting nectar-seeking insects.

Sycamore leaves are already freckled with Tarspot-Rhytisma acerinum. Although it occurs on other trees too, including Willow and Eucalyptus, it is generally referred to as Sycamore Tarspot and by this time of the year it’s practically impossible to find a Sycamore tree without it. This common and widespread fungus doesn’t look pretty, but doesn’t seem to adversely affect the trees it afflicts. Looking at Tarspot I then noticed a leaf that was curled at an edge. I have no idea what had accomplished this neatly rolled cylinder, clearly some species of insect at some stage of its life, but it impressed me greatly.

The structure is tightly rolled, like a small cigar, secured along the long edge and open at both ends. There are ‘blisters’ on the leaf too, so I wondered if there may be a connection?

Leaves make perfect landing and resting pads for butterflies too. This bramble leaf had served as such for a Green-veined White butterfly that took off just as I’d focussed on it! You can just see it rocketing out of the top of the photograph.

A Speckled Wood was more obliging, pausing on an ivy leaf at ground level.

Another spider’s web, this time utilising an Ash leaf.

WOODLAND TRAIL

Close to the junction of my Woodland Path with the Reserve’s Woodland Trail there are a few plants of Hogweed flowering. It was devoid of much insect interest at this time – occupied by just one feasting Eristalis sp. hoverfly. (I’m fairly sure it was Eristalis pertinax, but its diagnostic yellow tarsi were sunk into the flower petals.)

Hogweed has impressively large and interestingly-shaped leaves; this one was showing signs of having been nibbled and there are aphids dotted around on its surface. These plants often play host to great colonies of aphids that pierce the veins of its stems and leaves to feast on its sap. The aphids then attract insects that eat them, such as ladybirds.

Away from the peaceful confines of the shady wood and out onto the wider more open track I was soon distracted by insect activity. There’s not much about at the moment in the way of wildflowers, so what there is is in high demand. Wood Sage is both still flowering and beginning to set seed. The remaining little flowers of the plants close by were being visited by busy little Carder bees.

There are a whole host of different bramble species, which is possibly what accounts for them flowering and fruiting at slightly different times; a mercy at this time of year for insects seeking nectar and pollen.

Many bramble bushes are down to their last few flowers and are busy setting fruits. They may not come to much if we don’t get rain to swell them soon.

The enormous bramble here at the side of the track was positively frantic with insects this early afternoon. Hot sunny weather makes capturing images of insects tricky, they zoom around at high speed and bright sunlight reflects off shiny wings, bodies and white flowers. I saw more species here than I could catch, including a Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, Tree and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, Carder Bees and a few hoverflies. I managed to get a snap of a Honeybee, looking rather worn,

and an always-impressive Great Pied Hoverfly – Volucella pellucens

I would happily have stayed here for longer, but out in the open it was way too hot to stand in the blazing sun! Moving on along the trail there were very few flowers, some of the last are of Tutsan, but that too is also developing berries.

It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown butterfly out in the open resting up on a leaf, especially opening up its wings to reveal its upper wings, but I think this one had not long emerged as it was still slightly crumpled. It may well have been a female as males tend to be a darker brown and may not have the orange patch.

It was quite a relief to get back into the shade.

 

Another new, still-crumpled butterfly caught my eye; this one a Large White.

 

 

 

 

 

MEADOW

With no hint of a breeze to stir the air it felt even hotter out in the open meadow. The thin soil was baked hard, the grass browned to a crisp. There are some green stems amongst it; there’s some Knapweed, its few flower buds small and tightly clenched closed.

Goat’s Beard has kept some leaves, and green stems support its lovely big globular seedheads, or clocks. There are tiny yellow dots of a hawkweed/hawkbit in there too.

Goats-beard – Tragopogon pratensis

A lovely big patch of Lady’s Bedstraw grows under a network of collapsed grass stems. It too has retained surprisingly green stems and leaves.

More Meadow Browns were doing what Meadow Browns do – that is flitting about amongst the long grass stems and landing in line with a grass stem that renders them barely visible.

Two very small dark ones were feeding on a single plant of flowering Ragwort.

LOWER HILLSIDE/WOODLAND EDGE 

Too hot to consider hiking over the summit of the hill and down again to make a proper circuit, I got to the bottom of the hill by cutting back into the woods to reach the bottom of the Summit Trail. It was baking hot here too and although this is the cooler North side of the Bryn, it too is largely brown and very dry. I was surprised to spot a bird out here, hopping around in the grass and not too bothered by me watching it. I only saw it from the back, but could tell it was a young Mistle Thrush.

Greenery here is that of brambles, young trees, some grass and another stand of Rosebay Willowherb.

Knapweed is faring better here than in the small meadow and the first of its flowers are opening. Open flowers are sparse though and in high demand. Where 6-spot Burnet Moths lay claim to a flowerhead they settle in for a  good long time and are reluctant to share.

I was here hoping to see a Dark Green Fritillary, but on first sight of the dryness and lack of flowers, didn’t have much hope. Then lo and behold I suddenly spotted a large fast-flying butterfly head for the very Knapweed occupied by a Burnet Moth. It tried to land but the moth denied it access and it shot off again. Fortunately it spotted an unoccupied flower nearby and settled, though only briefly before setting off again.

Dark Green Fritillary – Argynnis aglaja

This part of the hillside, covered with long grass, brambles, gorse and pitted with rabbit holes is definitely off-limits for walking through, so no chasing butterflies! Best to stick to the few narrow tracks and hope something may cross your path. I did get a couple more glimpses of this gorgeous insect, but no more photo opportunities. I’m happy they are there and hope that there is more than one.

Last evening’s weather forecast promised sea mist over the Irish Sea and so it has come to pass. The whole landscape, including the Little Orme was veiled by it. It didn’t seem to being having much effect on the land temperature though.

Large Skipper-Ochlodes venatus

Peering around for the fritillary I did spot some Skipper butterflies. Several Small Skippers living up to their name, skipping  through the grass and a single male Large Skipper that kindly settled momentarily to pose on a grass seedhead.

And more luck as a Ringlet settled on a bramble flower. It didn’t settle for long either as it was dive-bombed by Bumblebees.

Ringlet – Aphantopus hyperantus

Time to get out of the sun. A passing glance at a Hazel tree on the woodland edge revealed a little bunch of ripening nuts, surprisingly not eaten yet by squirrels, and then a lovely fresh-looking Gatekeeper.

Back into the meadow on a different track I spotted the silken tent of a Nursery Web Spider, but no sign of its weaver.

Then a tiny flutter of a butterfly; a Brown Argus.

WOODLAND PATH

On my short-cut track back home, the sound of loud screeching drew my attention to a family of Jays up in the treetops; three together. One flew off, so I think it may have been two young ones demanding attention from a parent. One of those left in the tree wasn’t too happy though, you can see it has its crest raised.

Such pretty birds and a good note, albeit a loud one, to end a walk on.

 

 

Going Wild on the Beaches

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Rhos-on-Sea

Rhos-on-Sea has a small sandy beach protected from the worst of the elements by the piled stones of the breakwater wall.

Most of the time it’s quiet, with most beach-seekers opting for the bigger expanse of sand further round Colwyn Bay, but it can get busy on warm sunny days as it’s handy for the village cafés, shops and the all-important public loos. It’s popular too with some of the younger local Herring Gulls whilst the grown-ups are otherwise occupied with raising the next generation.

The nearby wooden jetty is a draw for those wanting to try out the gentle sport of ‘crabbing’ too.

But my interest in the beach is with other visitors, the opportunistic wildflowers that grow there, mainly at the back of the sandy beach pressed against the sea wall.

The line of small dinghies lodged haphazardly against the wall don’t get much exercise by the look of things, but they help give the plants a bit more shelter. There’s a nice spread of Wall Barley,

Wall Barley- Hordeum murinum

then more Wall Barley, touches of Dandelion and Groundsel surround a clump of Sweet Alison. This does have origins as a wildflower and it grows wildly around the Mediterranean, but is more familiar to us as a garden edging plant. This one is probably the offspring of such a one that has escaped the formality of a bedding scheme in favour of a wilder life.

There’s more Dandelion, past flowering for now, and a couple of clumps of Curled Dock. This is one of our two most common docks, whose narrower leaves with wavy edges make it distinguishable from the other more familiar Broad-leaved Dock, a much sturdier plant whose leaves we used as kids to alleviate the pain of nettle stings.

Dandelion and Curled Dock-Rumex crispus

Sea Mayweed-Tripleurospermum maritimum

 

There’s some Sea Beet here, but much more further along, so I’ll get back to that. By far the most prolific plant though is Sea Mayweed, which has the odd flower open but although it’s leaves are pretty, it’s not at its best yet.

There’s another Mayweed too, the Pineapple Mayweed, so named because it’s supposed to smell of the fruit when it’s crushed.

Pineapple Mayweed-Matricaria discoidea

More Curled Dock, silvery-grey leaved Fat Hen which is not flowering yet and Shepherd’s Purse with the distinctive heart-shaped seed capsules that give it its common name.

Curled Dock, Fat Hen and Shepherds Purse

And to finish this section a nice group photo featuring most of the aforementioned main characters.

At the far end of the beach, there’s a change in character. The sand thins  gradually petering out, and the now stony ground offers an opportunity for other plant species to stake a claim. I find it amazing that any plant can survive the harsh conditions of any beach, let alone one as exposed and seemingly hostile as this one. Some like the Sea Beet and the Curled Dock are perennials and look tough enough to have staked a permanent claim.  Others appear at first sight to be small and fragile, although looks are often deceptive and some, like this White Clover should surely be somewhere more lush and grassy?

Growing through the clover in my photo above are bits of a plant I like very much, the Buck’s-horn Plantain, named for the shape of its attractive leaves. This one is a toughie, and is found on disturbed ground and on rocky sites mainly near the sea, but it may be pushing its boundaries a bit here.

Bucks-horn Plantain-Plantago coronopus

There’s a sprinkling of Annual Wall Rocket plants

Annual Wall Rocket-

and a straggly looking Cat’s-ear, one of the few hawkbit-hawk’s beard or otherwise dandelion-flowered hawk-something that I think I know.

Cats-ear-Hypochaeris radicata

There’s more ferny-foliaged Sea Mayweed

Sea Mayweed

more Curled Dock

Curled Dock

and another one of my favourite toughies, the pretty Common Mallow.

Common Mallow-Malva

There’s more Wall Barley too.

And some impressive specimens of Sea Beet. I’m surprised this doesn’t get fashionably-foraged for one of our trendier local restaurants – it’s the plant from which our cultivated beets originated, so does have edible roots.

Behind the now empty buildings it grows prolifically.

Speaking of the buildings, I stop and wonder what will happen to them. They are very much a local landmark with an interesting history. An impressive pier once stretched out into the sea from this point and the buildings, including the iconic octagonal one, originally served as a toll both and entrance building for passengers embarking on steamers that docked here. There have been a few subsequent changes of use since the council finally bought the pier and demolished it in 1954. Many people seem to particularly remember the café once located here.The  walls on this beach side also form part of the sea wall, so perhaps partly for that reason their continuing presence was secured last May when it was added to the Grade II list of buildings.

Looking towards the old pier buildings

Leaving the beach there were more little plants to see on the paved areas at the side of the buildings and on the steps leading up to the front of it, so maybe this area is not included on the council’s weed hit list.

Against the pink-painted wall

Sow Thistle, Rocket & Chickweed

and from a crack in the paving

Pineapple Mayweed & Wall Barley

and growing across a drain grille was this White Stonecrop

White Stonecrop

THE PROMENADE

From here I walked back along the Prom; this view is taken looking back  along a section I’d already walked along   

Promenade Rhos on Sea

and this is going forward showing the embankment. Quite unusually I thought, it had been allowed to grow long, so was sprinkled with patches of buttercups, red clover and flowering grasses. It’s uncut state is probably more to do with council budget cuts than as an aid to wildlife. I’m sure it’ll be neatened up before the start of the official High Season.

Buttercups and Plantain

Red Clover

Several plants have colonised the huge piled up rocks that provide extra sea defence, including a Sycamore tree which is currently flowering and  visited by Bumblebees. Despite the sunshine and the flowers on offer, admittedly not a great selection, there were very few insects about. I saw perhaps half a dozen bees and one White sp. butterfly.

Sycamore flowers with Bumblebee

The daisies have been spectacular here this year.

Daisies by the sea

To finish, almost home I spotted another couple of little gems tucked in against walls on the street

Wall Speedwell

and two tiny pink-flowered Cranesbills

 

 

The Place for Wheatears,Pipits & Chough

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April 25th – Great Orme 

A bright sunny morning prompted me to leave early for the Great Orme today, giving myself time to walk at least part of the way up to the summit and arrive on time to do my shift in the Wildlife Trust shop. Bearing in mind that wherever I walked up from I would have to walk back down to later on, regardless of what the weather may be doing by then, I decided to park in the layby just beyond St. Tudno’s Church. It was much fresher up here, still sunny and clear but a strong breeze made it feel cool.

view from half-way up looking down onto St Tudno’s church

13:05 From here at the bottom of the steep slope, there are obvious short-cropped grass trails that lead off in various directions including up to the cable car station and the Summit Complex, where I was heading. Walking at a good speed it may take 10 minutes to get up to the top if you’re reasonably fit, or a bit longer if you stop to admire the views behind you or need to stop for breath on the steepest part nearer the top. Of course you all expect by now that I would take longer, as I would inevitably find things of interest that I would need to stop and photograph.

Either side of the tracks the hillside is lumpy and bumpy, with hillocks and hollows clothed with long tussocky grass and bushes of dwarf gorse; perfect terrain for the Meadow pipit that I was hoping to see. Birds foraging here are often well concealed, suddenly appearing and disappearing like this Magpie, one of a pair out hunting.

Sometimes they leave flying off until you’re almost on top of them, as this Jackdaw did.

Fond as I am of the Corvids, the unexpected sight of this elegant male Northern Wheatear was a lot more exciting.

Northern Wheatear-Oenanthe oenanthe- Welsh: Tinwen y Garn

and the excitement was doubled when a more softly plumaged female popped up onto the top of a hillock.

Absorbed with the female wheatear a distance away, a Meadow pipit popping up onto a hummock close by me took me by surprise, but a sighting at last and some photographs! It was hunting and I was pleased to get a pic of it with an insect in its beak.

Meadow pipits, in common with the majority of basically brown birds don’t get much of a write-up in the bird books. They’re mostly described as something like ” a small, brown, streaky bird, the most common songbird in upland areas, where it’s high piping call is a familiar sound’. Perhaps because of their lack of glamour we take them too much for granted, as according to the RSPB, ‘Meadow pipit numbers in the UK have been declining since the mid-1970s, resulting in this species being included on the amber list of conservation concern.’

Meadow Pipit- Anthus pratensis- Welsh-Corhedydd y Waun

Meadow pipit with insect

It’s strange that we  give such high praise to the similar-looking Skylark and the not-dissimilar Song Thrush and are so dismissive of the pipits. Is the bias based on the fact that the latter sing delightfully and pipits not so much? For sure our hills and uplands would be lonely without them, so perhaps we could appreciate them more and enjoy them at every opportunity.

There are little wildflower treats hidden down in the grass like this pretty violet.

13:25 As usual I’d been led astray by the birds and had to put a spurt on and get to the top in time to start my ‘shift’. As I said earlier it was breezy on this side of the Orme, but crossing the top and starting down the other side I was suddenly fighting to make progress against a continuous very strong head wind! Checking the wind gauge inside the visitor centre it indicated it was blowing in from a North-north westerly direction, so it felt cold too despite the sunshine. I anticipated selling more hats and gloves!

4:50 Finished for the day I retraced my steps along the trail back down towards where I left my car. On my own time now I was free to take my time and paused to admire the view over towards the Little Orme and beyond. The post tells you that this is the way to The Town (Llandudno).

A closer view of the Little Orme shows its intact, non-quarried side which was deliberately preserved to present a much prettier view to visitors and residents of Llandudno.

A little further on there is an interpretation panel that reminds you that this is the ‘Historic Trail’ and informs that 800 years ago you would have been looking down onto one of perhaps three villages established on the Orme, whose inhabitants would have grown crops and raised animals to eat or trade. I was hoping the wheatears may still be around and I was in luck – I soon spotted a female.

The sun was lower now, creating shadows and highlights and the wind, stronger now, rippled across the long silvered grass, creating a magical almost alien landscape. In amongst it I realised there were more Wheatears, another three birds.

All Wheatears spend winter in tropical Africa, heading northwards via Spain in the spring. Those that breed in the British Isles sometimes arrive on our coast as early as late February, but mainly during March, with males arriving ahead of females. They move inland to  breed.

GREENLAND WHEATEAR

It is possible that the birds I saw here today belong to another race, known as the Greenland wheatear, which arrives a little later in April. Many wheatears make a refuelling stopover in North Africa, but as the Greenland wheatears fly furthest, they need to put on more fat before leaving and spend longer at stopovers. They have a long journey ahead to their breeding sites on the other side of the Atlantic. From Britain they fly northwest across the sea, via Iceland, until they reach the Arctic tundra of Greenland and northern Canada. By June they will have started to breed there.

Wheatear & Meadow pipit

Whichever they were I was appreciating some lovely views of the two males and two females foraging together in the long grass, using the little hillocks as look-out platforms to survey the ground around them for likely prey.

Female wheatear

Then a distraction; a black bird flew in that I may have dismissed as a Jackdaw had it not called out. This was a Chough. It had landed somewhere behind a particularly hillocky part of the hillside, which is also pitted with well-disguised sunken craters. You have to watch your footing if you risk going off the proper trails.

Landscape pitted with sunken craters

I walked carefully until I spotted the bird, almost up to its beak in the long grass.

It had its back to me, eventually turning enough to show its diagnostic curved bill and legs, these are bright red in an adult bird, but this was a juvenile so it hasn’t quite got that far yet and its are more of a dull orange colour.

Chough, Red-billed chough – Pyrrhocorax

It didn’t stay for long before taking off, but it’s always a treat to see them at all, especially this closely.

Making my way back to the main track I noticed this rock, a little island rising out of a sea of grass and heather, it was almost totally encrusted with white lichen and embellished with mosses.

There was a lovely patch of violets growing in a grass-lined crater too.

I spotted two Wheatears perched on the top of a gorse bush; a male and a female. The birds spend most of their time on the ground, travelling in hops or runs on the ground, so it’s quite unusual to see them perched up higher.

I couldn’t have asked for a prettier picture than a handsome male Wheatear perched amongst golden-flowered gorse.

I liked the two images below too; perfect records of the birds’ exact location!

Two males together on the short turf of the trail

And one last image of a nicely posed one on his own.

17:16 Walking on down I spotted three bunnies on high alert, in poses that could have come straight out of Watership Down.

Rabbit-Oryctolagus cuniculus

 

 

But then I saw the new Peter Rabbit film during the Easter holiday too and thought this one, which I think may be the ‘big bunny’ of a previous post, may have seen it too – he’s got Peter’s pose to a ‘T’.

 

 

And wouldn’t you know? After all my efforts to find a Meadow pipit, there was one posing on a rock almost in front of my parked car!

It flew down to the ground and looked back over its shoulder at me as if to say

“what kept you? I’ve been here for hours waiting for you!”

It allowed me a couple of photographs, then took off, leaving a lone Jackdaw to patrol the layby edge for his supper.

On the way down I had to stop just past the church as these little Goldfinches fluttered down onto the bare ground of a bank where they must have spotted food potential.

The views were stunning as always; good today as the mountains were more clearly visible than usual and the clouds above added to their drama.

17:45 The view of the Conwy Estuary was stunning too, the sun was hitting the castle perfectly so it stood out from the trees, you can clearly see the road bridge that takes you across the river to the town and there were boats on the water….. the perfect scene for a painting.

The view of the sea meeting West Shore wasn’t bad either.

 

 

On a Perfect Spring Day

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April 19th – Bryn Euryn

Today was the middle day of the three consecutively warm sunny days that tantalised us with the notion that Spring had truly arrived, and judging by the activity here today it had a lot of our wildlife fooled too. The sky was clear and that almost-unbelievable shade of deep blue, the birds were singing and best of all, it was warm!

WOODLAND PATH

A few metres along the Woodland Path of my patch is an untidy-looking stretch, divided by the narrow path, where missing trees have opened up the canopy, letting in the light and warmth of the sun. Somewhat mysteriously, it holds great allure for diverse species of insects, some of which at certain times can be found here in surprising numbers. At the right time on the right day, ten minutes spent in this  ‘hotspot’ can be as productive as two hours spent ranging over the rest of the site.

11:44 Today I was here at the right time to see a surprising amount of insects. Most prolific were hoverflies in all shapes and sizes from big and bulky to teeny-tiny and dainty.

Syrphus sp.

There were few flowers here for nectaring upon, so that wasn’t the attraction for the majority of the hoverflies; I caught just one on the tiny flowers of Dog’s mercury. There were dozens of this small black and yellow striped species here, all very fresh and shiny and mostly basking on the sun-warmed leaves of brambles and nettles.

One side of the ‘hotspot’ is open to sunlight, clear of trees but sheltered by those standing behind it and by large shrubs of laurel and holly on either side. A large tangle of bramble fills the gap in the vegetation and is the only barrier between you and the Expressway below at the bottom of an almost-vertical slope. (Only joking, there’d be plenty of trees to stop you if you fell!) On the other side is a large patch of nettles, the aforementioned Dog’s mercury, more bramble and a pretty patch of periwinkle, all growing through a ground-covering of ivy.

A lone Tree bumblebee flew in, visited a couple of the periwinkle flowers then stopped to bask on a last-year’s half-eaten bramble leaf. I think it was a male (no pollen baskets) and was looking a bit the worse for wear. He seemed to have a burden of mites and I wondered if exposing them to warm sun might dislodge them. I’ve seen birds do that.

A smaller bee caught my eye as it came to rest on an ivy leaf. I didn’t realise what it was until I saw my photograph, then was excited to see it was a Hairy-footed Flower Bee, this one a male and my first record of this species here.

Hairy-footed Flower Bee – Anthophora plumipes (male)

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (m)-Anthophora plumipes

A species common and widespread in much of England and Wales, especially in towns, cities and villages. Often nests in the soft mortar and exposed cob of old walls, but occasionally will nest in the ground, preferring bare compacted clay soils. Flies from late February to mid-June, and is particularly partial to Lungwort (Pulmonaria) flowers.

Males and females look very different from one another: the female resembles a small, black bumblebee with orange-red hairs on the hind leg and a rapid-darting flight; she’ll  often approach a flower with her long tongue extended. Males are mostly brown with a dark tail (fresh specimens are gingery). Cream markings on face distinguish it from all bumblebees.They are often among the first bees of the year to emerge and often hover in front of flowers and when pursuing females.

Another little bee came to rest on a nettle leaf, this one I recognised as an Ashy mining bee and another male.

Ashy mining bee – Andrena cineraria (male)

Ashy mining bee (m)-Andrena cineraria 

A distinctive and obvious spring-flying solitary bee. Females are black, and have two broad ashy-grey hairbands across the thorax. Males emerge well before the females. They look similar, but their thorax is entirely covered with less dense grey hairs, and there’s a pronounced tuft of white hairs on the lower face. Species has a single flight period each year from early April until early June. Nests are constructed in the ground; entrances are surrounded by a volcano-like mound of excavated spoil; often in dense aggregations in  lawns, flower beds, mown banks and in field margins.

And where there are mining bees there are those who would prey upon them….. Bee-flies: quirkily-cute in appearance but not good to know if you’re a hard-working mining bee; they’ll spy out your nest-hole and craftily kick their eggs inside with those long legs, then later their hatched larvae will feast on yours.

Wasps were out on the prowl too; I didn’t get a clear enough image to tell if this was a German or Common Wasp – the latter have a distinctive anchor mark on their face; this image is a bit fuzzy.

12:07 I could have lingered longer, but birds were singing, I’d been serenaded by a Song thrush and a Robin as I stood watching insects, Blue tits twittered on all sides and I was keen to see what else was happening.

Bluebells are beginning to flower and offer nectar to those that can reach it, there’s also Greater Stitchwort and lots of Dog Violets. A male Orange-tip butterfly raced past me over the bluebells and through the trees, clearly on the trail of a female and not stopping for an instant.

Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea

There are masses of glorious glossy golden yellow lesser celandines shining in the sunlight too.

I stopped to admire the celandines lining a section of the path and not at all concerned by my presence, a Blue tit perched above me and began to sing.

Beneath him dozens of shiny new flies arrived to bask on soft sun-warmed new bramble leaves.

There’s one special spot I know where Wood Anemones light up the woodland floor like fallen stars, turning their faces to the sun

and another where those of the shamrock-leaved Wood sorrel shyly hide theirs.

Over the boundary fence, the formidable thorny boundary hedge of gorse and blackthorn is softened now with their fragrant gold and white blossoms.

I heard a bird singing, a short loud burst of notes that I thought at first was a Wren, but it wasn’t quite right. I’d forgotten that another tiny bird, the Goldcrest also has a disproportionately loud song, remembering when he broke cover and flitted about in shrubbery in front of me. He wasn’t going to oblige me with a photograph, much too busy! So I stood gazing upwards for a while – you can’t get too much beautiful blue sky…

… or pretty blossom, can you?

WOODLAND TRAIL

12:58 There’s another hotspot around the junction of my Woodland Path with the reserve’s Woodland Trail, this one for birds. Here there is a territory of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff so there is the possibility of hearing if not seeing both species here. Today I was lucky; I heard the Blackcap’s song as I approached and walking slowly and as quietly as I was able I spotted him. He continued to sing but moved restlessly through the branches as I got nearer then flew off across the other side of the track.

While he sang from behind foliage over there I watched a pretty female Tawny mining bee feast on Blackthorn blossom.

Then the Blackcap came back to where he’d started, so I think perhaps his red-headed mate may be on their nest somewhere close by.

This gorgeous gorse is below his singing tree. It would make a safe place to nest and the flowers would attract insects for dinner.

I had heard a Chiffchaff singing nearby too but was pleasantly surprised when he appeared, continuing his song while flitting about amongst the twiggy branches searching for insects.

13:21 Further along the trail I spotted a flutter of orange – a lovely fresh Comma butterfly  basking on dry leaves at the edge of the path. As I watched it moved, (look away now if you’re squeamish) onto a thankfully dryish dog poo deposit. I had to take the picture as it nicely presented its underside showing off the distinctive white mark for which it is named.

The disturbed ground of the pathsides supports some of the ‘weedier’ wildflowers like dandelions which provide important nectar when there’s not much else in flower.

You’d be very unlucky not to hear and see a Robin singing along here, there seems to be one at regularly spaced intervals. They sit and watch out over the track then dart out to pounce on any potential prey they may spot. This one had been singing but stopped to watch me.

I waited to see if he’d start singing again and was distracted by a bird whistling loudly. I scanned around searching for whatever was making the sound, one I didn’t recognise at all but that sounded to be being made by quite a large bird. After a few minutes the whistler appeared and to my amusement turned out to be …. a Great Tit! Of course it was, one of the basics of birdsong recognition is ‘when you don’t recognise it or haven’t heard it before, chances are it’ll be a Great Tit’; they have an incredible repertoire of sounds to call upon. I was thankful to him for keeping me in that spot though, as this gorgeous Greater Spotted Woodpecker flew onto a tree trunk literally right in front of me.

The Woodpecker stayed there, keeping a watchful eye on me. This bird is a female and is holding something small in her beak, so I imagine she has a nest nearby and was unwilling to reveal it. I moved away quickly, thanking her for the photo opportunity as I did.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are about the same size as Starlings. Their plumage denotes their age and sex. Juvenile birds have red foreheads that are replaced by black as they moult in the autumn. Adult males then have a red nape while females have no red on their head at all.

 

The Lesser Celandines have been late flowering this Spring but are glorious now and more prolific than I’ve seen them before. It’s not just the flowers that are prolific, so too were hoverflies and Bee-flies seemed to be everywhere.

Approaching the entrance to the meadow another Robin, which looks as though it is singing, but was actually ‘ticking me off’, let me know it didn’t appreciate my disturbing it.

THE UPPER MEADOW (ADDER’S FIELD)

The grass of the meadow was cut back hard last autumn and so far there’s not much happening there yet, but the grass is beginning to grow and the cowslips are starting to come out. They’ll be later on the more exposed ‘downland’ side of the hill.

Another Bee-fly settled on an exposed rock in the pathway, fluttering its wings rapidly and making flicking movements with its legs as they do when depositing their eggs, but there was no sign of a mining bee nest anywhere near, so not sure what it was doing.

Summer Rainfall Prediction:

If oak is out before the ash, there’ll be a splash ; if ash is out before the oak there’ll be a soak…

Keep the brollies handy, looks like ash is furthest on so far….!

Wriggling across the still-damp ground on the way to the Summit Trail was an earthworm. Double jeopardy came to mind – exposure to warm sunshine and hungry birds; foolish worm.

Last year I noticed spots along the trail here where Mining Bees were making nests. having seen a few about today I kept an eye out for more signs of their activity and spotted these little ‘volcanoes’, evidence of their presence. I waited a while but no bees showed, so I don’t know which species had made them, but I think maybe Tawny Mining Bees.

THE SUMMIT

It was cooler and breezier up here. I walked carefully, hoping there may be Small Tortoiseshell butterflies basking on the bare earth of the path, but not today, although I did see two busily chasing one another at speed as they disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

The mountains and the distant Conwy valley were veiled by a misty haze.

The blackthorn is smothered with blossom and looking beautiful. It will be interesting to see how much of it gets pollinated and develops as fruit this autumn. Sloe gin comes to mind.

Blackthorn – Prunus spinosa

The path back down to the Woodland Trail felt almost bridal with falling petals showering down onto the ground like confetti. A pretty way to end this account of a lovely walk.

Little Orme

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April 5th

I’m home for a few days and feel the need to catch up on what’s happening here before setting off again at the weekend. I decided to head for the Little Orme, the best place I know locally to see a great variety of wildlife in a short space of time. Spring is generally late arriving this year and usually comes even later here than to other more sheltered sites, so I hoped I wouldn’t have missed too much.

The blend of habits on this limestone headland make it special, if not unique as it provides for the needs of diverse species of birds from House sparrows to Chough and Fulmars and it supports some lovely lime-loving wildflowers. The human influence on the site is most evident in its dramatic reshaping by quarrying, there is also a farm with some enclosed fields and sheep that are allowed to range freely. Houses butt closely up against its Penrhyn Bay boundary and it is rare to come here and not see people out walking. Today I noticed that someone has hung a bird-feeder up in a small tree just inside the site. There was a Great tit and several House sparrows taking the seed on offer, but not surprisingly they were seen off by Jackdaws.

It’s the Easter holidays, so as I’d expected there were a good few people here, families enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, the usual dog-walkers and a few dog-less ones too. 

There were people clambering on the rock beside Angel Bay. Below them a trio of Herring gulls set up a raucous racket. I couldn’t be sure what had set them off, but maybe they were objecting to people invading their space.

On a rock jutting out into Angel Bay another pair sat calmly, heads turned towards the group of grey seals down below them, some of which were also making a bit of noise.

They were a lovely little group of adults with their young ones. Some were trying their best to relax while others were restlessly in and out of the water. At least two more were swimming around out in the bay.

Grey seals

Grey seals slumbering

A single Guillemot was also cruising around on the water but didn’t stay visible for long, soon diving and swimming away underwater hunting fish.

Guillemot

When I first entered the site I was surprised not to see or hear Fulmars on the high cliff that usually has several pairs nesting, or preparing to nest on its ledges by this time. There were one or two flying around the cliffs nearer to the sea though, so I set off up the steep path to the old quarry field to see if there were signs of nesting there.

Fulmars are distinctive in flight holding wings stiff and straight out

I’m sure this upward slope gets steeper each time I climb it! I have to remind myself it wasn’t built for walking up. Back in the days when quarrying was in full swing there were rails from its bottom end up to what was a quarry face; trucks were loaded with stone then lowered down and returned empty using heavy-duty winding gear – the remains of which still stands as a monument to past industry at the top of the track. Care is needed when using this track, it’s slippery when wet and dry, especially going down.

Steep slope of old quarry truck-run

Remains of old quarry truck winding gear

I was pleased to have a few excuses to stop for breath to photograph celandines and primroses nestled down amongst the dead stems of grass and fronds of bracken. There were daisies on the grassy slopes nearer the top, one with a fly sunbathing in its centre.

One of the limestone specialist plants, the Carline thistle still holds it shape perfectly, seedheads still intact, although it is completely dry and colourless.

Phew! Finally at the top. I walked around the cliff edge, not too close as I could see that the winter weather has further eroded away the softer layers of soil and loose stone that covers the bedrock.

Signs of recent erosion

Two Fulmars sat quietly in a sheltered recess in the cliff-face. I’m fairly sure they were a pair as they were sitting close together and occasionally touching one another, I’m loathe to say affectionately, but it did look that way!

Fulmars

Fulmars are noisy birds though and it wasn’t long before something set them off. I imagine their spot is a good one and probably coveted by others, so will take a fair amount of defending.

They have a visitor who clings onto the rock nearby and stays for a while despite being squawked at. Perhaps the noise was by way of a greeting.

I was surprised it managed to cling on with those flat webbed feet. It was a lovely view for me though, they are such pretty gulls to look at. Shame about the raucous voice and the habit of snorting out salt water and other debris down their tubular noses!

Another bird made several close aerial passes but didn’t stop. I left them to it; seems like they’ve got enough to contend with.

I take the ‘short-cut’ scramble up the rocks to reach the higher level of the cliffs: not the recommended route, especially for grandmothers encumbered with cameras in hand that should know better! I got there unscathed though and enjoyed a good view back down onto the quarry from the top.

View down into the former quarry

I was heading for the outcrops of the headland used as nest sites by the Cormorant and Guillemot colonies, although I suspected I may be a bit early. I like the view over to the Great Orme from here; it looks like an island.

TREASURE IN THE GRASS

Although grazed by sheep and rabbits and exposed to the worst of the elements here, wildflowers can be found tucked down in the turf particularly around exposed rock. I spotted this little patch of white flowers, which on closer inspection turned out to be two different species. I couldn’t name either, but very kindly Suzanne posted a comment and suggested the  tiny one with red-tinged fleshy leaves may be Rue-leaved saxifrage and the bigger more droopy one with fine stems as Common Whitlow grass. I will go back and get some better photographs of the little treasures.

180405-LO (76a)

Common Whitlow grass-Erophila verna

I disturbed a flock of Jackdays that had been foraging in the clifftop grass. In my picture the buildings on the top of the hill in the background are on the Great Orme Summit.

Looking over the edge of the cliff for signs of my target birds I saw what I thought were Cormorants until I saw the raised crest of one and realised they were Shags.They were far below me, so the quality of the image is not great, but you can see what they are from it.

There were no signs of either Cormorants or Guillemots on this side of the cliff so I carried on walking towards its other more easily visible side. I hadn’t gone far when I spotted a bird flitting about between rocks near the edge; a handsome male Northern Wheatear. It was slightly below me behind a bit of a ridge, so partly hidden from its view I managed to watch it for some time with out disturbing it.

CORMORANT COLONY

As I’d thought it was a bit early for the Cormorants to have begun nesting, but there were a a few birds hanging around on the cliff.

Two birds higher up on a ledge definitely have their breeding plumage – the white patches on their thighs is clearly visible. They also have white heads which is more unusual amongst the Cormorants we usually see here. They were adopting some strange poses too, but may just have been making the most of a warm spot.

Cormorant or Great Cormorant- Phalocrocorax carbo

I went back down the hill following the paths to complete the circuit of this side of the headland. I realised I hadn’t met a single sheep out on the cliffs when I saw the first ones with lambs still in the field.

The gorse is coming into full golden bloom now and as always I couldn’t resist stopping several times to inhale its gorgeous uplifting scent.

 I heard a Robin singing and did spied him framed by prickly branches.

Picking my way carefully down the rocky slope past the sheep field I heard a Greenfinch singing from within the tangle of shrubby vegetation. Tauntingly close by, I stood and searched for a while but couldn’t pinpoint him. It was good to hear him though; as I said in the most recent post about the Great Orme, Greenfinches are not that common nowadays.

The hawthorn tree that marks the junction of paths going up, down or on towards the Rhiwleddyn Reserve, is still without leaves but green with lichen. It’s a lovely tree, having a perfect full rounded shape and spreading evenly in all directions; unusual here where the hawthorns are mostly forced into some weird and wonderful shapes by exposure to the strong winds.

The slope going down safely negotiated, I walked towards the way out, stopping only to debate whether to walk through the man-made ‘gorge’ that leads through to another way in/out at its far end. It can be a good place to spot Stonechats, which I hadn’t seen today, but there were quite a few big puddles of water and it looked muddy, so I gave it a miss.

Looking down into the ‘gorge’ from the path above, I stopped to listen to a Blackbird singing from a small ash tree growing down there. They have such a wonderful laid-back, tuneful and fluent song that is so easy on the ear.

Several Jackdaws were more intent on foraging for their supper.

A rotund little Dunnock singing his pretty little song from amongst the tangle of bramble stems at the side of the steps finished off my walk perfectly.

Dunnock

Weather: Sunny but cool

Birds: Herring gull; Fulmar; Guillemot; Cormorant; Shag; Carrion crow; Magpie; Wood pigeon; Jackdaw; Blackbird; Robin; Greenfinch (singing); House sparrow; Dunnock; Great tit; Wren; Northern Wheatear

Insects: Very few; too cold for butterflies

Wildflowers: Alexanders; Gorse; Primrose; Common Daisy; Lesser celandine; Carline thistle (dried); Common Whitlow grass

Wild in Eastville Park

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April 1st 2018

Two days ago I had boarded a train at Colwyn Bay in sunshine to arrive in Bristol four hours later in pouring rain. In these Isles we expect April Showers, but to time with my visit here to the South-West rain had been predicted for no less than 11 days straight! For the past two days the weather had done its best to fulfil that prediction, then lo and behold, this morning it gave us a reprieve and blessed the morning of the first day of this new month with welcome sunshine. Quick to take advantage of the opportunity to escape the confines of the house, my son and daughter-in-law bundled their respective visiting mothers and two daughters into the car and drove us all to Eastville Park for some fresh air and exercise before the rain swept back in.

River Frome looking downstream

We approached the Park along Broom Hill, parking at the side of the road just before the turning signposted to Snuff Mills.  Leaving the car we crossed the road bridge over the River Frome, then after a short way turned right onto the path alongside the river, which is a  section of the Frome Valley Walk. (The entire walk is 18 miles long and follows the river from the River Avon in the centre of Bristol to the Cotswold
Hills in South Gloucestershire.)

WICKHAM GLEN

This initial part of our walk follows the river through Wickham Glen; there is woodland on the far bank and on the path side it passes by Wickham Allotments. Following the recent heavy rain the river was full, and its fast flowing waters muddy brown. The path was wet and stickily muddy in places, but the sun was shining, there was fresh new greenery and birds were singing; the perfect Spring morning. Against the far bank a Mallard Drake dabbled next to a piece of disintegrating black plastic that looked like the remains of planting pots, possibly blown there from the nearby allotments.

An Alder tree stretched branches bearing cones and catkins out over the river.

Alder – Alnus glutinosa

To continue along the Frome Valley Walkway from here you would follow the signpost in the direction of Frenchay and Snuff Mills. We were heading for Eastville Park though, so turned right to cross the historic Wickham Bridge, a lovely medieval stone bridge which is Bristol’s oldest bridge and reputedly used by Oliver Cromwell, It is now Grade 11 listed.

Wickham Bridge, looking downstream

River Frome flowing downstream from Wickham Bridge

The river falls dramatically, more than 50 feet, between Frenchay Bridge and Eastville Park which made it perfect for operating water mills. There were once six mills along this stretch of the Frome Valley, most of them working as corn mills. Now all that remains as evidence of their presence are the weirs.

River Frome looking upstream from Wickham Bridge

eastville park

Eastville Park is a large Public Park that extends over some 70 acres of land, and is located just to the east of the M32. The land was originally agricultural land of the Heath House Estate owned by Sir John Greville Smyth of Ashton Court and was purchased from him by the Council for £30,000 in 1889 in order to provide a ‘People’s Park’ – a green space for those living in St Philips and the eastern suburbs of the city, where social and environmental conditions were poor.

Creating the Park was a huge undertaking begun in 1889 and taking around five years till 1894, to complete. Existing hedges were taken out, boundary walls repaired, paths laid out and a hundred seats installed. Wisely, existing mature trees were retained and walkways were lined with further plantings of limes, horse chestnuts and fast-growing London planes. Interestingly, the grass areas were managed by a mixture of sheep grazing and mowing, a common practise at that time that is still used today in some Nature Reserves.

A narrow footbridge crosses over water

then leads past the impressive Colston Weir. There have been recent reports of an Otter being sighted here.

Colston Weir

Not a pleasant thought in such a beautiful place, but this drain cover reminds that the Frome Valley Sewer follows closely alongside the river before finally ending at the Bristol Sewage treatment works at Avonmouth.

A pleasanter sight was a clump of White Deadnettle, although it had clearly taking a bit of a battering as its petals were torn and its leaves mud-spattered. Before the flowers appear the plant looks a little like the Common Nettle, but a closer look shows there are no stinging hairs hence the ‘dead nettle’ in the name. The lack of sting is also thought to have brought the plant’s other common name of White Archangel.

White Deadnettle, White Archangel – Lamium album

We heard a Wren and watched it as it flitted around in vegetation very close to the water. Another Alder tree gave me the opportunity to get a closer look. The tree’s flowers are on catkins which appear between February and April. Alder is monoecious, that is both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male catkins are yellow and pendulous, measuring 2–6cm. Female catkins are green and oval-shaped, and grouped in numbers of three to eight on each stalk. Once pollinated by wind, the female catkins gradually become woody and appear as tiny, cone-like fruits in winter. They open up to release seeds, which are dispersed by both wind and water. The small brown cones stay on the tree all year round.

THE LAKE

The lake was added as a feature a few years after the Park was opened. It was dug out in 1908 and 1909 from an existing water meadow with labour provided by ‘unemployed applicants’, under the Distress Committee’s Labour Bureau. It was constructed to a Serpentine plan, a design made popular by the famous landscape gardener, Capability Brown. The intrigue of its shape is such that wherever you stand on its edge, you can’t see the lake completely; there is always some part snaking out of view. Nowadays it is considered to be one of the best public park lakes in the country. 

The lake is not just attractive for people to look at, it’s presence also draws in a good variety of species of birds. First to attract attention was a flock of noisy Corvids that flew into the trees to left of the lake.

At first I wondered if they might be Rooks as there were a good number of them, but a closer look made them Carrion Crows, maybe juvenile, non-breeding birds.

There’s a densely planted small island in the centre of the widest part of the lake, and as we passed a little brown bird darting in and out from a tree branch reaching over the water caught my attention. Clearly a warbler, it was either a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler, most likely the former, but either way my first sighting so far this year.

If I hadn’t zoomed in on the warbler I may have missed a rare treat, despite his jewel-bright colours– a Kingfisher! It was quite a distance away and was sitting perfectly still on the branch of a willow tree, intently studying the water below. 

What a beautiful bird!

After a moment or two it changed position, moving towards the end of the branch to scan the water immediately below, his long dagger-like beak pointing down, preparing to dive.

It dived so fast I missed it! I caught the splash as it entered the water, then a split second later it was back up on a branch with a sizeable fish clamped in its beak. It sat for a few seconds more, jiggling the fish a little to secure its grip, but it clearly wasn’t going to eat it there and then: Kingfishers always consume fish head-first. Perhaps it intended to enjoy its meal somewhere less public, or maybe it had a mate that needed feeding; the birds’ first clutch of 6-7 eggs is usually laid late in March or early in April.
Either way it took off carrying its prize in the direction of the river.

KINGFISHER – Alcedo atthis

UK conservation status: Amber – because of their unfavourable conservation status in Europe. They are vulnerable to hard winters and habitat degradation through pollution or unsympathetic management of watercourses.

Widespread throughout central and southern England, but less common further north, Kingfishers are small but spectacular and unmistakable birds mostly found close to slow moving or still water such as lakes, canals and rivers in lowland areas. They fly fast and low over water, hunting fish from riverside perches.

In total contrast, in plain black and white and far more common, my next spot was a Coot.

Coot – Fulica atra

Then a preening Canada Goose spied through tree branches with bursting buds.

Further down the lakeside someone had scattered some grain on the paving, attracting the attention of some hungry birds. Two more Canada Geese raced in

Canada goose-Branta canadensis

A Crow rushed past a female Mallard and a Swan

to join a group of his peers that were already tucking in.

What would a Park be without a flock of Pigeons? A male Mallard paddled in to see what they had.

He turned and joined his mate and they clearly decided there was nothing in it for them so set off to dabble elsewhere, passing a juvenile Mute Swan on its way in.

Mute Swans are, perhaps surprisingly, also Amber listed as birds of conservation concern. According to the RSPB “The population in the UK has increased recently, perhaps due to better protection of this species. The problem of lead poisoning on lowland rivers has also largely been solved by a ban on the sale of lead fishing weights.”

Mute swan – Cygnus olor

A late-coming Moorhen paddles in rapidly creating an impressive wake for such a small bird. Cousins of the Coots, Moorhens are smaller and are a little more colourful with a bright red and yellow beak and long, green legs.

Moorhen – Gallinula chloropus

The list of birds recorded within the Park is impressive:

A beautiful Weeping willow tree cascades down gracefully to touch the surface of the water. Often planted inappropriately, it was nice to see one in the ‘right’ place. I think this one may be a Golden weeping willow, which is so named for its bright yellow twigs.

Weeping willow – Salix alba

We walked around the curve of the bottom of the lake and up along the other side. At the top once more there were more Chiffchaffs darting out after insects, with one obligingly confirming its identity with its distinctive song; a wonderful sound that for me announces that Spring is here.

Chiffchaff – Phylloscopus collybita

Chiffchaff – Phylloscopus collybita

A signpost with a touch of humour that I’d missed on the way to the Park informs that Fishponds is quite nice! No doubt enhanced by the proximity of this lovely green space. 

Celandines were one of the few wildflowers I saw blooming.

A view of Colston Weir from its other end.

Leaves of Arum and Wild garlic are well-grown.

Crossing back over the footbridge I noticed copper pipes running along its side, attractively encrusted with lichen and turquoise blue verdigris.

Back in the Glen, Wild garlic extends beneath the trees. Already releasing its pungent aroma, it won’t be long before it’s in flower.

Cow parsley and more Arum leaves form a prettily contrasting patch of leaves.

Crossing the bridge to get back to the car we stopped to look upstream over its side. There’s an interesting piece of winding gear here that probably operates a sluice. I’m always attracted by such pieces of machinery, probably because I had an engineer for a Father who loved to explain how things worked!

I also have a Son with an eye for the quirky – he spotted this random scene of a football and a rugby ball trapped against the stonework of the bridge and forced to play together in the foamy water.

It seems more fitting to finish this post as I started it though, with a view of the Frome, looking upriver this time.

Footnote: The River Frome is sometimes also called Bristol’s Lost River – certainly much of its final length from the M32 and through the city centre is Hidden. The link below is an account of a walk following the Frome Valley Walk:

Spring is Coming to the Great Orme – part 2

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March 28th 2018

16:50 The shop is closed and the day’s last tram has departed, taking most of the late-afternoon visitors to the Summit back down to the town. Outside the wind is still blowing fiercely and although sunny, it felt even colder than it was when I got here. In the wildflower garden I stopped to watch a Pied wagtail scuttling around on the short turf between the flower borders and the path. These skittish little birds are fascinating to watch. Almost perpetually in motion they walk jerkily, craning their necks forward as they scan the ground in front for prey, wagging their long tails constantly. In pursuit of prey they can move at speed, half-running half-flying.

Pied wagtail-Moticilla alba

Pied Wagtails have adopted a wide range of habitats and landscapes as hunting grounds, from urban streets, wastes and car parks to seashores, wilder stream sides and reed beds. Most often seen singly, in the late afternoon the birds gather together, sometimes in their hundreds and fly off as a flock to roost communally. They often choose roosting sites on roofs such as factories, sewage works, hospitals and supermarkets. 

There is often a Pied wagtail up here around the car park area. This tarmacked area is bounded by stone walls with a strip of rough grass left in front of them and I’ve watched them make a circuit here, making a thorough search of the area. I guess that the combination of the nooks and crannies of the wall and the vegetation make it a good hunting ground.

Pied wagtail checking out the car park

16:52 The tide is out and the cloud has lifted above the Snowdonia mountains although a great bank of it still hovers heavily above the peaks.

Puffin Island and Anglesey behind it are visible but obscured by mist. The light and shade on the sea and the cloud make a beautiful sight but it’s too cold and windy to stand and admire it for long.

16:56 Driving up or down here I always have my car window open, partly to enjoy the super-fresh air but also to listen out for bird sounds. That paid off this afternoon as I drove past a hawthorn tree and heard the unmistakable song of a Greenfinch. I was delighted to hear it, particularly as my sightings of these finches have been very sparse in recent years. In fact, the last time I saw one was last year and not too far from here, singing then from the highest point of St Tudno’s Church roof.

Greenfinch-Carduelis chloris – singing

I stopped just past him and took photographs from the car so as not to frighten him away. Then I thought I’d stop further along at the pull-in I stopped at earlier and walk back to attempt to record his performance. Not to be, a Crow had usurped him and now squatted there, feathers blown akimbo by the wind.

The Hawthorn tree the Greenfinch was singing from was the perfect choice for him. Almost completely covered with lichens, it had caught my eye a couple of weeks ago when I’d stopped to check whether it had leaves!

Of course it didn’t, but that’s how green it appeared to be. A closer look revealed the lichen, an almost-perfect match for the green-yellow of a Greenfinch.

In the few minutes I’d been gone my car had been staked and claimed as a look-out by the Herring gull I’d photographed here earlier. OK by me as he hadn’t left any guano behind!

17:05 Further down, opposite the church, another favourite gull perching post was occupied.

I’d past the point where I thought I may have spotted a Meadow pipit or Stonechat, but there was still hope for Chough. Back down on Marine Drive now I slowed to check every black bird I saw, but all were Jackdaws or Carrion crows until suddenly I caught sight of two birds flying towards the sea; definitely Chough. I stopped and got out of the car and was instantly distracted by another bird that flew into view then hovered, braced into the wind high above the turf-covered clifftop. A male Kestrel.

The Kestrel, once known as the Windhover has perfected the art of hovering to the highest degree. They fly into the wind at the same speed as it is blowing them back, thus remaining stationary in relation to the ground, which saves them a great deal of energy.

I had stopped by a feature of the Great Orme I hadn’t noticed until now, probably because I’m usually looking in front of me or out over the clifftops as I’m driving. A sign informs that here is Ffynnon Gaseg, or Mare’s Well in English.

There are many natural springs feeding wells located around the headland, and there is no factual information about this one or why it was so named, but it’s thought likely that it was created when Marine Drive was constructed as a drinking place for the horses that pulled the carriages of Victorian sightseers for whom the road was originally built. The blackness  of the rock where the water emerges is staining from the peaty ground it runs through.

As I turned back towards my car I spotted the black birds again so crossed the road to try to get a better view just in time to see them fly down and along over the sea. Definitely Chough and though not the sighting I’d hoped for, a sighting none-the-less.

I made a stop to photograph the former Lighthouse as it was nicely lit by the sun. It’s surprising how the light affects the ‘mood’ of a building; this one can look rather intimidating on a gloomy day.

17:25 The clouds had lifted or perhaps drifted a little further over the mountains now revealing the snow that covered the highest peaks. Hardly surprising it felt so cold.

I’m looking forward to watching the seasons develop here Wednesday by Wednesday.

Spring is Coming to the Great Orme

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Wednesday March 28th

An early Easter and school holidays and the Great Orme Summit is fully open for business, including our NWWT shop, so all volunteers called back to action. I’m sticking with my Wednesday shift and was really looking forward to seeing what was happening in the wild world of the headland. I left deliberately early so I could take my time driving up along the scenic Marine Drive route and make a few stops along the way. The afternoon was bright and sunny but chilled, as it frequently is by a cold wind that ruffled the surface of the sea. Despite that there are plenty of signs that Spring won’t be put off any longer.

Just a short way in to my drive I spotted five goats strung out along a narrow ledge high up on the cliff. Too high to see properly from the car I stopped and got out: they looked even higher up from where I stood. Their agility and balance is breathtaking; I couldn’t imagine how they were going to get down, or back up from there but I’m sure they did.

 

The leader looks  like a Nanny that has given birth fairly recently and the one behind is small, so maybe this was a lesson in advanced foraging.

Watching the goats I heard the unmistakable calls of Fulmars and followed the sounds to where there were several sitting on the ledges where they will nest. The massive bulk of the cliff emphasised how small and fragile the birds are. If they didn’t draw attention to themselves with their loud cries you’d be hard pressed to spot them.

Spot the Fulmars!

One or two were flying back and forth from the ledges. They are distinctive in flight, holding their wings outstretched stiffly.

Fulmars weren’t the only noisy birds in the vicinity – from the other side of the sea wall I heard the calls of Oystercatchers. The tide was beginning to go out and had exposed a strip of the rocky shore far below but it wasn’t until a bird flew in to join those already there that I spotted them. They’re surprisingly well camouflaged despite those bright bills and legs.

1243 – Driving on another gull caught my eye; a Herring gull. It’s good to see them in a more natural setting away from roofs and chimney pots.

This view shows clearly the line of the road ahead that continues around the point of the headland and back down to West Shore and Llandudno town. The road to the summit forks off to pass the buildings you can see in the middle of the photograph and St Tudno’s Church which is in the top left corner.

Passing the church I carried on, stopping at the pull-in parking area down below the cable car station, hoping to catch sight of a Stonechat or maybe a displaying Meadow Pipit amongst the gorse bushes. Two rabbits were out in the sunshine, one was grazing busily and the other, a much bigger one lay down to soak up the sun. I’m sure this wasn’t a true wild rabbit. It was big and white underneath, so may have been an escaped pet or at least was in some way related to one.

A man with two free-running dogs approached startling them and Big Bunny sat up quickly before they both shot for cover.

Big Bunny

A pair of smart Magpies flew in and perched jauntily on a bramble bush behind where the rabbits had been. There are often one or two to be seen around the area of the church.

Two for joy

One of them left the bush to pick up stems of dried grass, so likely they have a nest nearby.

There were no smaller birds that I could see so I crossed the road to the cliff side where there is more Gorse to give them cover. I could hear birds singing but couldn’t see any, they were probably sensibly staying out of the wind. I did catch sight of a singing Dunnock, but he too stayed on the leeward side of an Elder tree, well concealed behind its dense twigs. Nice to see signs of new leaves on the tree.

The grass here is thick and dense and forms hummocks that catch the light. Walking on it feels very strange, it’s soft and spongy and bouncy underfoot. I like the way the sunlight catches it.

Sheep must find it comfortable to lie on. I came upon these ladies-in-waiting lying in a sheltered spot. They all had large blue patches painted on their backs and looked as though their lambs’ arrival may be imminent. They may have been marked this way as their lambs will arrive around the same time and the farmer can easily pick them out and be prepared.

One of my favourite Spring sights is of golden gorse against a background of blue sea. Today was perfect for such a sight with the sea perfectly reflecting the colour of the sky.

Huge banks of towering fluffy clouds brought drama to the scene.

The Gorse as always smelled wonderful. I liked the way the rounded hilltop and the cloud echoed the shape of this blossom covered bush.

Returning to my car a Herring gull had taken up position on the sign board – this is a regular perching place where they wait in hope of scraps of food being left for them.

No signs of the Stonechats or Meadow Pipits I was hoping to see. It was good to see the Trams back in action at the Half-way Station. No 7 is waiting to pick up passengers that will de-board No 6 that will bring them from the Summit Station to here, then will take them down to the bottom.

Almost at the top I couldn’t resist another stop to watch Jackdaws that were strutting around near the edge of the road, busily collecting dry grass.

This one seemed intent on making as few trips as possible back and forth to the nest, cramming in an impressive amount before flying off.

Parking at the top a Herring gull came in to land in front of me and began posturing and squawking at the top of its voice.

It was calling to its mate who duly landed close by its side, squawking in response.

Don’t they make a handsome couple?

The view across the bay and the Conwy Estuary was stunning as always with more dramatic clouds casting shade to make patterns on the surface of the sea.

A quick look down from the other side of the car park over the farmland dotted with sheep…..

I zoomed in to see if there were any lambs yet. None to see, but I did spy the Magpies again.

It was really cold and windy up here. Anticipated trade in our best-selling woolly hats and gloves!

 

Snow Scenic By Train

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Thursday, March 1st 2018

The first day of meteorological spring, but with temperatures falling as low as -11C (12F) in parts of the UK, winter was not giving up easily. Now we had another storm rolling in from the Atlantic, Storm Emma, which joined forces with the ‘Beast from the East’ from Siberia to bring about further widespread snowfall and temperatures that dropped as low as -16C (3F) last night. Fortunately for us here on this North-East stretch of the coast of Wales we were not as badly hit as much of the rest of Britain, but those of us that live up here had a family ‘do’ planned in London tomorrow that we didn’t want to miss. The plan had been to drive down there today, but reports of just how bad the weather and road conditions were in the Midlands caused a rethink and we decided to take the train instead.

Friday, March 2nd 2018

I travel this route every few weeks to visit family, so not an ‘everyday trail’ it’s a fairly frequent increasingly familiar one, but seen through the seasons, I never tire of the amazing scenery along the way. Beginning on the north-east coast of Wales across and travelling down through the West Midlands to the south-east of England, the railway slices through no less than 10 counties, so I anticipated this journey would be a great opportunity to see the pattern of snow cross-country between here and there. It was bitterly cold with a strong wind blowing in off the sea this morning, but we’d had no further overnight snow here, so everything crossed we set off to nearby Colwyn Bay railway station to catch the 09.47 Virgin Holyhead to London direct train. It was on perfect time.

0948-Porth Eirias

The train we would be boarding had started at Holyhead in the north of Anglesey, crossed the Menai Strait into Gwynedd (formerly Caernarvonshire) then into Conwy County where we got on at Colwyn Bay station.  For the next forty minutes or so the railway line sticks closely to the coastline and unfolds not only glorious scenery but also presents a picture of the wider geography and gives glimpses of several significant landmarks. Minutes after leaving the station we were passing our newest landmark building, Porth Eirias on Colwyn Bay. The tide was high, the sea rushing in wildly  and despite the proximity of all that salt, snow coated the Promenade and grass verges.

View to the Little Orme from the Viaduct

A bit further on waves were crashing over the sea wall, flooding the Promenade and the road alongside. This stretch of road will probably be closed off if it hasn’t been already – the sea spray often holds stones & pebbles delivered at force that could easily break a windscreen or cause injury to a person!

Stormy Irish Sea splashing over the wall

Ten minutes later we’re approaching Rhyl, crossing over the river/afon Clwyd in full flood. This tidal river flows mainly through Denbighshire and forms the border between Denbighshire and Conwy County here at its mouth.

River/afon Clwyd flows into the Irish Sea at Rhyl

Next to the mouth of the river is Marine Lake, a 12 hectare man-made recreational lake. This is the only salt water lake in North Wales.

Snow surrounds Marine Lake, Rhyl

We stop at Rhyl station, then six minutes later we are passing the dunes at Talacre, an important ecological area for a number of reason, not least of which is for its protected population of Natterjack Toads. They also serve as protection for a colony of not-so-rare holiday homes. There is still only a light covering of snow.

Taking photographs through the window of a moving train is a hit-and-miss affair. No time for focusing, just point, shoot and hope for the best! I rather like the effect of this view through a tree  which wouldn’t be a view at all when it has leaves. You may have noticed I leave marks & highlights on or caused by reflections from the glass of the carriage windows: this is deliberate as a reminder that I was on a train!

We stop again at Prestatyn then cross into Flintshire and pass the alien-looking Point of Ayr Gas Terminal.

Still following the coastline the next stop is the county town of Flint.

Here is the wild, flat coastline of the Dee Estuary, where receding tides expose vast mud flats that attract huge numbers of wading birds. Not exactly a place you’d expect to see a beached ship! Undoubtedly the most curious local landmark this is the Duke of Lancaster, at Llanerch-y-Mor on the River Dee, near Mostyn Docks. It has been re-purposed several times since it ‘landed’ here in 1979, but has been abandoned long since.  

The dry powdery snow didn’t settle as a uniform blanket like wetter snow does. It settled into hollows and against furrows and ridges and was caught in drifts along hedges and banks accentuating every contour of the landscape. Usually full of birds, there wasn’t a single one to be seen today, hardly surprising!

Sheep, looking a rather grubby white against the brilliance of the snow were doing their best to graze on the snow-covered salt-marshes. The raised bank between the sea and the sheep field gives some protection and is also the line of the Wales Coast Path.

Sheep on snow-covered salt-marshes

At Connah’s Key there are two power stations – I think this is the Deeside Power Station as the other one only has four chimneys. Don’t take that as gospel though, my sense of what’s north and south is not always reliable, especially when travelling at speed.

Another iconic landmark is the Flintshire Bridge, it is the largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridge in the whole of Britain and when seen properly is elegant and impressive, not at all like my hasty photograph. The bridge spans the Dee Estuary, linking Flint and Connah’s Quay to the shore north of the River Dee at the southern end of the Wirral Peninsula. It carries part of the A548 road and is known locally as ‘the bridge to nowhere’. 

At 10.30 we were at Chester. This is a lovely old station with some fascinating features, but today for some reason I was drawn to photograph the old iconic red phone box. A lot of people got on here, so we probably weren’t the only ones not wanting to risk the drive. Some would be leaving the train at Crewe, a major hub station, to get connections to Manchester and other parts of the country.

1030-Chester Station

As you will have worked out, we were now in England and already in county number 4, Cheshire of course as we’d just left Chester and travelling towards Crewe. Not so much snow here, just a light scattering but enough to highlight the textures and patterns of the fields.

10:41 – Cheshire

From here on there are some great views of sections of our nationwide network of canals, in parts paralleled along their route by the railway line. It gets a bit confusing up here as there are several waterways that join into one another, but I think this is probably part of the Shropshire Union Canal that runs between Chester and Crewe. Still not a lot of snow evident, but the surface of the water is clearly frozen.

Frozen canal

10:54 – We arrived at Crewe station where a lot of people did indeed ‘de-board’.

10:59 – Cheshire

From Crewe the train doesn’t stop again until we get to Milton Keynes, so I’m not altogether sure which way we went, but possibly towards Stafford, which is straight down going directly south. From there the line goes off at what looks like a 45° angle in a straight line directly to London. There are other permutations, but all end up in the same place and we pass through county number 5 – Staffordshire.

11:04 – More frozen water

I have noticed this yellow brick building almost every time I travel this way and I’d love to know what it is! I thought it might be a crematorium as it has that really tall chimney, but this is the best photograph I’ve managed and it clearly isn’t. It has that odd bunker-looking building on this side of it and the plain white van has some kind of aerial on top of it, so I’m more intrigued than ever now. If anyone knows or has a clue, please let me know!

11:05 – Mystery building

Now in the West Midlands it became clear we’d made a sensible decision in deciding not to drive. There was a significant amount more snow and cloudy skies warned more was imminent.

The next county, number 6, is Warwickshire, where we pass through Rugby station.

11:12 – Reed-fringed pond frozen around the edges

Then we cut across the south-west corner of Northamptonshire,county number 7, the county in which I was born and grew up. More canal views here – now the Grand Union Canal and I believe we pass close by Stoke Bruerne, home of the Canal Museum. Barges weren’t moving, probably frozen in place!

11:15 – Barges frozen in place

11:54 – It’s snowing

Another canal view.

11:55- Barge on canal in the snow

From Northamptonshire we cross into Buckinghamshire, county number 8 and one of the five Home Counties that surround Greater London.

Approaching Milton Keynes you see can a church tower on the horizon. I’ve no idea where it is, but it’s big and I wonder if it could be the cathedral-like St Paul’s Church at Bedford.

12:00 – Big church on the horizon

12:03 – We arrive at Milton Keynes, the final stop before London Euston station. An announcement informs us we are 12 minutes behind schedule.

It was snowing heavily now and there wasn’t much to see as the weather closed in and obliterated much of the landscape, so no more photographs today. Parts of the remaining 40 minute journey are usually scenic – from Buckinghamshire we cross briefly into another of the home counties, Hertfordshire, county number 9, and pick up the Grand Union Canal again, passing through the towns of  Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead. Then we are soon into Greater London, county number 10, passing by the iconic Wembley Stadium shortly before arriving safely and not too far off schedule into London Euston station. 

From here I was on my own to make my way across town to Surrey in the south-west. We’d already been warned that train services in that direction had been affected by snow and stormy weather, and indeed arriving via the Underground at Vauxhall to pick up the overground train to Surbiton, I saw several trains were delayed or cancelled. Buying my ticket I was told the station would close at 8pm tonight! It was freezing cold here and snowing, but lucky for me, I got more or less straight onto a train that had been delayed by 20 minutes and reached my destination in good time. Later on in the day many people were stranded in the City or had to find other ways home.

Thanks be to the Travel Gods!