Apr 06 2022

A subtle and gentle spring in North Wales

 

While spring might be in full swing on our doorsteps, with tulips, daffodils and even clematis adorned fences and pergolas filling our gardens in a welcome array of brilliant and rich colours of the rainbow, the story of spring unravelling out in the wild is very different – subtle and gently paced.

 

 

I took a walk through the ancient woodland of Parc Mawr, under the watchful and experienced eye of its 75-year-old volunteer warden Rob Collister, on a sunny but still slightly chilly Sunday morning.

 

Parc Mawr is located on the western side of the lower Conwy valley, on the lower slopes of the Carneddau Mountains in Snowdonia. Its 34 hectares are situated just over 2 miles south of the medieval town of Conwy, near the villages of Henryd and Rowen, and offer breath-taking panoramic views from the mountains, over the Conwy river and its valley, to the Conwy Castle, Great Orme and the coast.

 

Rob lives close to the wood and takes care of it loyally and passionately on his daily strolls. After a lifetime of working as a professional mountaineer and guide in many parts of the world, even a year of guiding scientists through the ice of the Antarctic, who better to oversee this precious woodland. His knowledge of Parc Mawr is detailed and intimate, he names every flower, tree, plant or shrub we stumble upon and identifies the call of every bird flying overhead.

 

It was to my embarrassment however that I did not find all this out until after we climbed a moss adorned stone wall and I naively queried his confidence and agility, out of concern. I say we, but really, I was the one who got stuck astride the top of the wall while Rob casually walked on, after answering my question with a brief glance of surprise and puzzlement.

 

 

We walked off the beaten track, up one of many badger paths, in pursuit of the signs of spring. Munching on fresh wild garlic and sorrel, accompanied by the sound of chiffchaff, raven and buzzard, under blossoming wild cherry trees and willows, sprouting hazel, through carpets of bluebells and ramson, we knelt down to inspect the delicate celandine, wood anemone, sweet violet, golden saxifrage, primrose, moschatel and dog’s mercury, and admired trees and hedgerows coming alive with new leaf. As we stood in awe of some fine specimens of veteran trees and ancient sweet chestnuts, some as much as 700-800 years old, I felt like I was in my own David Attenborough documentary, while Rob pointed signs of wildlife around and even underneath our feet. A large active badger sett certainly the highlight.

 

A colony of lesser horseshoe bats inhabits Parc Mawr, spending the winters in the shafts of the old Trecastell lead mine, which was worked mainly between 1892 and 1956, but may date back to medieval times. The remnants can still be found in the northern tip of the wood, including the underground workings, a fine smelter chimney and its unusual underground flue. Greater horseshoe bats have also been spotted.

 

Look out for blackcaps, willow warblers in the trees, and comma and speckled wood butterflies during the warmer months. And one of my favourites, colourful foxgloves, often sprouting from the most curious of places like the abundant standing and fallen deadwood.

 

There is parking for 10 cars at the main entrance to the wood. From here, visitors can access a network of paths ranging from broad but occasionally steep tracks, rough byways and narrow pedestrian trails. A circular walk from the main entrance to the southernmost part of the wood and back is around 1.8 miles long. There is a circuit with two permissive bridleways linking to a historic byway which bisects the site, linking the community with the ancient Llangelynin Church on the hillside above.

 

The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (linking Basingwerk Abbey with Ynys Enlli) passes through the site from the south and climbs to the ancient church. The sunken way to the church is thought itself to be of some antiquity, possibly as the Bronze and Iron Age remains on the flanks of Tal y Fan above, while the church was founded as early as the 6th century.

 

Parc Mawr is adjacent to ‘daffodil mountain’, one of only a few woodland strongholds in North Wales for the native daffodil. The wood is also one of Woodland Trust’s primary sites for dedication of trees, benches, groves or acres.

 

Spring in the woods is upon us, nature’s spectacle yet again about to unfold. The signs are all there, the dense cover of ramson and bluebells all about to burst out in colour. A guided walk of Parc Mawr is planned for April 24, and I strongly recommend it.

 

 

Written by Eva Palencarova, Volunteer Whittle Reporter.

All Photos by Eva Palencarova.

With many warm thanks to Rob Collister, Volunteer Warden.

For walk enquiries please email kyliejonesmattock@woodlandtrust.org.uk (spaces are limited)

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