Part 2 – Rhiwledyn Nature Reserve -The main track
Onwards and upwards; a flight of shallow stone steps make a steep rocky section of the path a little easier to climb (except when it’s wet & they get a bit slippery).
Pause here to admire the views back down onto the road and the many shades of green of the fields and woodland on its opposite side.
Facing around to the way I’m going, the views to the right of me, seen over a rampant tangle of brambles and wild clematis on the reserve boundary, are extensive and stunning. At once pastoral and contained and wild and open to the elements.
On the other side of the track is the biggest and best patch of harebells that I have seen for years, a truly beautiful sight.
I can’t resist sitting to watch them being blown and rippled by the wind and am captivated by their charm. For me this little flower has it all. Beautiful in colour and form, they have delicacy and fragility but also great adaptability and resilience to an often hostile environment. Each flower had turned its bell back to the wind to reduce its impact; their slender but tough and wiry stems having the flexibility to bend to the wind, not break. A life lesson in a wildflower!
There were yet more of the little beauties a little higher up on the slope contrasting delightfully in colour and form with frothy lemon-yellow Lady’s bedstraw. I clambered up rather inelegantly to take a closer look. Amongst other plants, these had grown taller and in a more sheltered spot, their bells were turned to the light rather than away from the wind.
Before going back down to the track, I take another look at the glorious view across the bays to the Clwydian Hills and with sheep where they are supposed be.
Back on track there is a change in ambience and habitat. There are small trees and shrubs on the boundary with the farmland sufficient to cast shade, and the sloping ground on the other side provides a windbreak. The trees are mostly hawthorn, prevalent throughout the headland as its one of the few plants not grazed by sheep or rabbits and again, tough enough to withstand exposure to fierce salty winds.
I round a bend in the track and see – sheep! Five naughty trespassing sheep! They are strictly banned from the reserve unless invited in as their indiscriminate grazing may damage or even destroy the rarer wildflowers that grow here. Fencing prevents them wandering into the higher part of the reserve from the rest of the Little Orme where they are not restricted, so I think they got in at this field level, no doubt irresistibly tempted by the sight of the lush long grass over here. I tell them they should return to their field, but can’t see where they may have got through and they pay me no heed anyway, just amble away showing me their bottoms.
I let them get ahead, the last thing I want to do is frighten them and send them scattering and concentrate on the patch of golden flowers I see amongst the long grass on the slope. I thought at first it may be Goldenrod as I’d seen some on the roadside earlier, but soon realised it was a Hypericum – St.John’s Wort.
Another plant with several species that share the same common name, but this is the one I am most familiar with and has all the right features to be Perforate St John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum.
I apologise, but need to digress a little here to explain the significance of my next plant. Earlier on in the summer a group of NWWT members were treated to a walk around this reserve guided by its manager, Rob and a guest expert botanist, Nigel. It was a brilliant walk on many levels and we learnt a lot about our special flora and its history, about its fauna and the trials and tribulations of modern Reserve management. Typically as on any walk, even guided group ones, I lagged behind snapping interesting stuff and in a rough bramble-and- nettle patch (in the pic above), spotted the plant to the right, which is still going strong. Yet another minty-looking one I didn’t recognise. I took hasty photographs and hurried after the rest of the group. No-one else immediately recognised it either, so Nigel suggested I email the pics to him later on so he could have a better look. From them his best guess was that it was Black Horehound, reservations having been that this was a vigorous, tall specimen of a plant that usually is, in his words, ‘much scruffier-looking’ He also mentioned it smells unpleasant, so this time I had a closer look and bruised and smelt a leaf. It definitely did not smell pleasant and as all its other important bits match the botanical specs, I’m taking that as another one to add to my list of wildflowers-I-will-know-how-to-identify in the future. (Unless anyone has a different idea……?)
It’s amazing what you can see in five minutes along a short shady stretch of track. I watched a dragonfly patrol up and down at speed, pausing only in his labour several times to ‘buzz’ me and let me know I was in his space. I was hoping he’d stop so I could at least see what he was, but no, much too busy. There was yet more mint here, and one I recognised from the distinctive scent of a crushed leaf – this is Water Mint-Mentha aquatic. A similar-looking plant is Corn Mint, but it grows shorter than this and doesn’t have a ‘terminal’ flowerhead (one that crowns the top of the stalk).
A fresh-looking Speckled Wood rested on a sun-warmed stone on the path
and a Red Admiral flew across to seek out the nectar of bramble flowers
There is a farm gate here which I checked for security, but tightly closed there would have been no exit for sheep. Another great Clematis-framed view from here, considerably enhanced by the clouds I think, although they were blocking out the sun at this point.
At the side of the gate another member of the Lamiceae (mints & dead-nettles) family, this one I know well, the Hedge Woundwort Stachys arvensis.
I moved on and round the next bend found evidence I was still on the trail of the errant sheep; a smallish neat and fairly recent deposit of fresh dung. And where there is dung there may be Dung-flies, one of my favourite insects, although I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps because I’m keen on recycling? As I hoped, a single male Yellow Dung Fly had laid claim to the heap of treasure and was intent on guarding it. A bit of a drama then ensued, but I’m saving that for later.
To the top
I had reached the Reserve boundary, marked by a gate through which the two marked ‘Trails’ continue on to cross the rest of the Little Orme headland. There is no marked official track up to the top reaches of the reserve from here though, so getting up there is a matter of a)wanting to; b) paying attention to where you are putting your feet; c)taking care not to slip on damp grass and d) watching out for rabbit holes.
Rock-roses are still fresh and lovely up here, as is the fragrant Lady’s Bedstraw.
I followed the path chosen by the sheep; they almost always know how to find the best way upwards. They were up there now, all standing facing the view. I may have thought they were admiring it, but one of them who seemed to be in charge, maybe the mother of some of them, was bleating loudly, eliciting a response from the field below. Was she calling to her friends telling them about the feast to be had on this side and inviting them over?
Once more I reminded them they were not welcome here, but Mrs Boss Sheep just gave me ‘the look’ that clearly said “mind your own business and what are you doing up here yourself?” Once past them it became more overgrown and not as clear where to head, but I kept going in the general direction of where I wanted to be and hoped for the best. I heard a bird making some squeaky sounds and spotted him as he perched atop a gorse bush, a speckly young Robin beginning to get his adult feathers. I realised this was the first bird I’d seen and heard so far on this walk apart from gulls and the occasional cormorant flying overhead.
I also realised it was lunchtime, so time to find a sheltered spot, take a break and sit and admire the sheep’s-eye view.