coal tit, dipper, foxglove, grey squirrel, hard fern, lady fern, Nevern, Pembrokeshire, Pilgrim's Cross, Pilgrim's Way, River Nevern, song thrush, tawny owl, wall fern
Our plan had been to head off to Skomer Island on Friday, but clearly we were thwarted in that by the extreme weather conditions and then constrained further by the fallen tree. We returned to the house after our ‘reccie’ of the tree situation, hung our waterproofs up to drip dry and headed indoors to warm up in front of the Aga.
Leaves ripped off the trees littered the ground and guessing that caterpillars and other tree-dwelling fauna may have come down with them, we thought some of the smaller birds may have been struggling to find food. On previous visits here we have always baited the bird table, usually with seeds and nuts, mainly to bring down the Nuthatches, who’s presence is surprisingly easy to buy. All we had to offer today was left-over bread (it was the more wholesome stuff), so we put it out anyway to see what was still around despite the rain. Within minutes a Nuthatch appeared, picked out what it fancied and took it back to a nearby tree. They don’t share well, so Blue Tits had to wait to dive in the cover of shrubbery till it was gone. A lone Chaffinch, I think it was a young one, pecked around beneath the table, as did a Robin. The Nuthatch made repeated visits, then the big boys arrived, crows and a gorgeous jay that grabbed great beakfuls and carried them off. A squirrel was not far behind them.
The Pilgrim’s Way
By mid-afternoon the wind and rain had subsided enough for us to venture outside for a proper walk. We thought that if we stuck pretty much to the woodland that we would be protected from the worst of the rain and sheltered from the wind.
A pathway runs close behind the property, partially cutting through its private woodland but part of a publicly-accessible circular walk beginning and if you like, ending at Nevern Church. The church, dedicated to St. Brynach is at the end of an historic Pilgrim’s Way from St.David’s cathedral, dedicated to Wales’ patron saint and regarded as the holiest place in the country. (More detailed Nevern history to follow in a later post.)
The route of this walk has become familiar over the last few years, but each time I have visited there has been something different to see. This year I have resolved to take more notice of ferns and make a proper effort to identify the ones I see and learn more about them. The damp woodlands of Wales is a great place to find them without having to try very hard at all and I spotted one I was looking out for within a very short time, a Hard fern.
Most ferns produce their spores on the mature fronds, but the woodland hard fern is one of a few species that does it differently. This plant has developed special fronds, the sole purpose of which is to bear spores, so they resemble a flowering plant in form with a rosette of leaves and some spore-producing structures in the middle.
The most abundant species here is the Lady Fern – Athyrium filix-femina, which forms large graceful clumps with the fronds arising from a central point rather than along a rhizome. The fronds are a light yellow-green and very dissected.
The river runs along the bottom of a valley that is bounded on ‘our’ side by the steep rocky hillside that is thickly wooded with a variety of tree species including beech, ash, sessile oak and sycamore. On the opposite side is a narrow belt of trees with grassy farmland beyond. This combination of old mature woodland, the river and adjacent farmland has created the perfect habitat for a wonderful variety of flora and fauna. In April and May, before the tree canopy closes over there are masses of colourful wood anemones, primroses, bluebells and ramsons (wild garlic), but now we were surrounded by lush greenery in a myriad of shades and forms broken surprisingly often by the flower of the moment, the glorious foxglove.
There were birds singing despite the rain, Song Thrush and Wren mainly, but also Blackbird, Chiffchaff and a very tuneful Garden Warbler. On other occasions we have had lovely sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, an array of Tits – blue, great, coal and long-tailed. Some of my all-time favourite sightings of birds have occurred here; the three following photographs are all from our May 2007 trip.
We had gone out quite early one morning and reaching the point along the path where there are two, now tumbledown, old stone buildings, we heard a sound from the roof of one and looked up to see a young Tawny Owl watching us.
The end of this section of path intersects with a wider access track. Turning left onto it brings you to a bridge that crosses the river that is just wide enough for one vehicle to cross. Today the river was in full flow and deep muddy water rushed through the arches of the bridge, but usually at this time of year the water is shallower, although still quite fast flowing and it splashes over rocks that are now submerged. We have had lovely views of Grey Wagtails here, balancing on the rocks and chasing after flies; beneath the bridge has been a favoured nesting site for them and one year we were treated to views of newly-fledged young perched on nearby vegetation being fed by their parents.
It has also proved an excellent spot from which to see the charismatic Dipper, a bird that is present along this stretch of the river all year round. Sadly we had not even a glimpse of either bird this time.
We didn’t linger long on the bridge as it was raining again and crossed the stone stile to take the slightly higher farm track where we had some cover from more trees.
Further down the track passes between some old stone farm buildings, no longer in use, which we had a little nosy around. We have done this several times before, always hoping we may find evidence of a Barn Owl nesting there, but still no luck with that.
At the end of the surfaced track there is a gate that leads into an open meadow; much of it is marshy and supports a lovely array of flora that thrives in such conditions, including the glamorous Yellow Iris, or Yellow Flag Iris as it is also called and an abundant amount of Water Horsetail.
Passing through the gate at the far end of the field brings you out into Nevern village, almost on the bridge. It is a lovely old stone bridge, dating back to medieval times and is a Grade 2 listed building. The rain had eased by the time we got here and we stood for some time watching a party of young House Martins practising their fly-catching skills over the river. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, swooping through the arches of the bridge and skimming low, sometimes perhaps a little too low over the surface of the water. It was hugely entertaining and a real treat to watch them, but a bit risky too – more than once we had excited birds passing at great speed by our ears, close enough to feel a change in the air pressure.
Moving on we continued walking towards the church, another fascinating building that again I will describe in more detail later.
Just before reaching the church we turned left to continue our circuit and return home. A short way up the first hill is the Pilgrim’s Cross that it is thought may have been a way marker to reassure Pilgrims of old that they were on the correct route to or from St.David’s.
Quite difficult to spot initially, it is set just above head height on a rocky outcrop ; coins pushed into the cracks in the rocks may help to pick out the outline. There is a legend that behind this rocky outcrop is a hidden cave that contains the remains of Merlin, King Arthurs Wizard and one theory has it that the cross is not carved into the rockface, as such, but into the stone of a bricked-up entrance to a cave….
Even I know of several sites spread throughout Wales that reputedly hold the remains of the fabled King Arthur, but who knows? This is as likely a spot as any other.