The views from the Bryn are always worth the steep climb up to the top and change according to the season, the weather and the time of day. The southerly side overlooks part of Rhos-on-Sea and part of Colwyn Bay town, divided by the duel-carriageway of the A55, whose traffic noise can be loud and rather intrusive, so not the spot to seek peace and quiet. Beyond is Colwyn Bay and inland a patchwork of woodlands, golden gorse and neat farmed fields set upon rolling hillsides sloping around and down to the Conwy river and estuary.
I was heading now towards the true summit, where the not-too-beautiful triangulation (trig) point marks the highest point.
Last year there was an impressive patch of at least a hundred Early Purple Orchids on the approaching grassy slope (behind the other side of the rocky bit in the photograph), but this year although there are still a good number there are a lot less. Having said that, those I saw are beautiful specimens, of good height and their stems thick with flowers. The success of Orchids is affected by seasonal weather, they are affected by drought, numbers may vary even in areas they otherwise frequent, which is part of their allure of course.Their less than predictable appearance and their wonderfully exotic beauty combine to make each discovery just as exciting as it was last year or the year before.
I can still remember the excitement of discovering my first Early Purple Orchid, growing exactly where it should be, on the floor of the old woodland next to our house. I was probably about aged ten at the time and had no idea what it was, but it looked very special to me and I couldn’t wait to look it up in my ‘Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers’, which I still treasure because I love the descriptions written by the lady author of the book. I would quote it here but it’s currently in a box in a storage unit in Spain, so I’ll have to manage without for now.
Early Purple Orchid – Orchis mascula
In flower from April to June, the Early Purple Orchid is a species of old broadleaved woodlands, where they are generally widespread, but they also occur in rich grasslands, on road verges, on limestone pavement and on heathy ground in the South and West of the British Isles.
‘Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name’
But our cull-cold maids do dead-men’s fingers call them’.
It is claimed that when William Shakespeare wrote those lines in Hamlet, his ‘long purples’ referred to the Early-purple Orchid. The lines were spoken by Gertrude and referred to the coronet which Ophelia was wearing when she drowned.
A short-medium perennial that can reach 40cm, the stem is also often flushed with purple. There are usually 3-5 unstalked basal leaves, oblong in shape, pointed, parallel-veined and glossy green blotched with purple.
Flower colour can vary in shade from quite a dark purplish-red to pink or even white and are distributed in dense or loose spikes of between 10-30 flowers. Each flower has a narrow purple bract, purplish-grey ovary, three sepals and three petals.
Side sepals spread backwards, upper one joins to the upper two petals to form a hood; lower petal forms tri-lobed spurred crimson-dotted lip, 8-12mm long. At the back of the flower one unstalked anther holds two pollen masses on stalks that adhere to heads of visiting insects for cross-pollination; below the anther the stigma surface receives pollen brought from other flowers.
A few minutes taking in the view more or less east towards the mountains on the edge of Snowdonia , then onwards and downwards via the grassy slope on the north side of the hill.
The rough grassy area was, as I’d hoped, generously sprinkled with Cowslips. Not as showy as the Orchids or as bright as the Rockroses, but with a special understated beauty of their own. I was slightly concerned I may have missed them at their best as they are flowers I associate more with late April-early May, but thanks to the late start to Spring this year I caught them just in time before they start to ‘go over’.
Cowslip -Primula veris
I have a great affection for Cowslips and seeing them growing in numbers in a grassy meadow takes me back to my childhood in an instant. In Northamptonshire, where I grew up in the 50s and 60s, lovely golden-yellow cowslips were numerous, particularly in the damper grass meadows grazed by cows. One of life’s little treats back in the day was to pull a flower from its little green sack and suck the nectar from the base of the tube. And before it became necessary to ban the picking of wild flowers, we used to pick bunches of them for the house as they have nice long stems and looked lovely in a jam jar on the kitchen windowsill. We picked them to add to garlands and to decorate the ‘throne’ for the May Queen during our school’s Mayday celebrations. Occasionally we even got to pick lots of them to be made into Cowslip wine.
I assure you though, it wasn’t our picking that caused the Cowslip’s serious decline, we couldn’t possibly have picked even all of those growing in a single field. It had much more to do with the rise of intensive farming and old grassland being ploughed over to create more space for growing other crops.
Thankfully the plant’s numbers are on the rise again, partly due to raised awareness but probably owing more to the sowing of seed on roadside verges and in wildflower meadows. So once again the Cowslip can raise its graceful nodding heads above the grass blades and be counted in generous numbers once again. I won’t be picking any though, just taking photographs.
The leaves of the Cowslip are wrinkly and hairy and form a basal rosette, similar to those of the Primrose.
The yellow-orange flowers (8-15mm) are held in a one-sided umbel which is borne on a softly hairy, sturdy stem. The individual flowers are comprised of five joined petals, each flower bearing orange spots in the centre, and are deliciously scented.
A final gaze at the view from here over the tops of the trees below, across the golf course to Penrhyn Bay and on the horizon the Little Orme skirted on its left side by the road to Llandudno climbing Penrhyn Hill.