Walk of the month: Welsh wildlife - even better close up in Ynyshir
Ospreys are the main draw as Mark Rowe ticks off his bird-spotting list near the base of the BBC's 'Springwatch'
Saturday 25 May 2013
The frustrating thing about wildlife programmes is that when you visit the locations featured in, let's say, BBC's Springwatch, the animals in question are frequently uncooperative and elusive. But by the time I've climbed up a winding lane above Ynyshir, the base once again for this year's Springwatch – which starts again on BBC2 tomorrow – my bird-spotting list has several ticks on it: swallows, nuthatches (which look like they've been drawn with a cobalt-coloured crayon) and redpolls (a fetching dab of lipstick red on its crest) have fluttered past. Somewhere in the Dyfi estuary below is Monty, the love-hungry osprey and something of a television celebrity in his own right, whose breeding fortunes have waxed and waned over the years. Every time I look up there seems to be a red kite hanging in the air.
Then there are the mountains: Snowdonia is on the doorstep of Ynyshir and the lump of Cadair Idris makes for a gorgeous backdrop. Ahead of me are smaller conical hills that seem smooth enough to stroke. Sheep nudge up the burnished flanks at nerveless, improbable angles.
Ynyshir is an extremely remote place, a finger of land on the far edge of the exceedingly remote Cambrian mountains. The name ynyshir translates as "long island" and this is a place of rolling dunes, peat bogs and marshland that frame the River Dyfi as it opens into the Irish Sea.
My walk had begun though with a less bucolic tang in the functionally named and tiny hamlet of Furnace, which enjoyed a fleeting heyday as a centre for iron production in the 18th century. A giant water wheel is still here, pinned to the broken remains of the foundry. Behind is a lovely waterfall.
I turn uphill along a small lane signposted as Cwm Einion, or the Artist's Valley, after the Victorian painters who fell in love with this part of west Wales and often came here to capture its beauty.
Soon, I'm on a series of lonely tracks that wind between small hills, rolling farmland and brush against woods of ash and rowan. The path, part of which is an old Roman road known as Sarn Helen, eventually rises to give high views of the Dyfi estuary far below and I see what Sue Wilson, a local guide, meant when she recommended this route to me. "It's the diversity of this particular walk which appeals and the views, sometimes glimpsed, sometimes unrolling around you," she said.
Later, the track joins a remote lane at a hairpin bend. It's a lovely, lonely walk, with sheep and weeks-old lambs filling the surrounding fields. The lane divides several farming communities, with bumpy flanks on either side leading to woodland clusters full of birdsong.
I turn off the lane to follow the Welsh Coast Path over streams and footbridges. The streams add a surprising variety to the walk, some are raging, others are just a trickle. They can be more awkward to reach than rivers and here they are often the last places that have not been grazed by sheep. Look around and you may find wild anemones and remnant plants that you don't find in other places.
Passing in and out of woodland cover, the views frequently open up over the Dyfi estuary, which has become a stronghold for this charismatic bird. Monty and his mate should have lit the fire by now and it's well worth following up this walk with a trip to the nearby Osprey project visitor centre, run by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, which has high-resolution cameras focused on their nest. The ospreys may be the main draw, but there are dozens of other birds to spot that you won't see in an urban garden, such as siskins, nightjars and snipe.
Further east are views of the RSPB Ynyshir reserve, with lines of silver birch, sessile oak and marshland. Returning to the Furnace, I edge along the road for 200 metres to the Ynyshir nature reserve. The inviting grounds of Ynyshir Hall, a luxury county hotel, make a relaxing place for afternoon tea. Giant tree specimens such as sequoia and wellingtonia add notes of grace to the grounds, along with an elegant Persian ironwood planted by Queen Victoria (who once owned the house). Red kites, buzzards, swallows, frogs and other creatures, great and small, float or crawl by if you linger here.
Mission Control for Springwatch is just behind the hotel so, come the last week of May and the first fortnight of June, when filming takes place, there's a chance of spotting further examples of plumped-up, preening wildlife. But this gorgeous fragment of Wales is best enjoyed on foot, not on TV.
Distance: Five miles (8km)
Time: 2-2.5 hours
OS map: OL23 Cadair Idris & Llyn Tegid
Directions: From Furnace water wheel, follow Cwm Einion lane uphill and then take the footpath sign at the bend in the road. Continue over the crossing of paths, following the Welsh Coast Path sign. After 50 metres, keep ahead when the coast path bears right. Follow the path to some farm buildings, dog-leg across a new gravel road, and keep ahead to join a lane on a hairpin bend. Turn right. After passing farms and houses, turn right over a stile, following the Welsh Coast Path signs and posts. Rejoin the path above Cwm Einion lane, and turn left downhill to Furnace.
The nearest railway station is at Dovey Junction, served by Arriva Trains Wales (08457 48 49 50; nationalrail.co.uk).
Mark Rowe stayed at Ynyshir Hall hotel ( 01654 781209; ynyshirhall.co.uk) which offers double rooms from £220 including breakfast.
Dyfi Osprey Project: dyfiospreyproject.com
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