We have spent several weekends at Fronalchen Caravan Park on the outskirts of Dolgellau. This small, family run camp site is quite basic but its picturesque location affords magnificent views of Cadair Idris, the old market town of Merioneth and the lush green hills of southern Snowdonia.
Forming part of a working farm near an historical blast furnace and Quaker Trail at the foot of Torrent Walk, our base has been a big field in a tranquil valley, next to the Afon Wnion – the largest tributary of the Afon Mawddach – a splendid spot for walking the dogs.
In spite of our miserably wet summer (described recently by the National Trust as “almost apocalyptic” for certain wildlife), there have been sporadic breaks in the cold, wet conditions – if only for a few hours together. Unsurprisingly, we’ve taken full advantage of these ‘heat spikes’ in what must be one of the most natural and enchanting parts of Wales.
At Fronalchen itself, we regularly see flights of Swallows (Hirundo rustica) swooping close to the ground in pursuit of small insects. With their glossy blue backs, red throats and streaming tails, these distinctive itinerants (called Gwennol in Welsh) seem almost to be on a collision course with trees and farm buildings as they perform daring circuits over our heads. Small groups of them can frequently be seen perched on fences and telegraph wires around the site, twittering excitedly, and whooshing through outbuildings.
Even during the worst of the weather, there has always been something to keep us entertained. I discovered a White ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) moth sheltering behind a cubicle door in the ladies’ toilet block on one particularly wet and windy Saturday, and there are small flocks of birds feeding close by to keep us amused during the heaviest downpours.
During the relatively brighter interludes I several times caught sight of a Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) butterfly in our damp field – the insect’s chocolate brown wings closing to reveal those characteristic eyespots on its underside.
A couple of weeks ago we discovered the Llwybr Mawddach Trail, an old train track turned walkway and cycle path, which runs for several miles along the south bank of the Mawddach River. We joined it not far from our camp site and ambled into Dolgellau with the dogs to pick up a newspaper. The narrow, open footpath was a botanist’s paradise with avenues of rich vegetation, including Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Red campion (Silene dioica), Herb robert (Geranium robertianum), Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and Dog-rose (Rosa canina) growing abundantly after several days of heavy rain.
We picked up the same trail last Sunday, but this time headed in the opposite direction towards Barmouth. This section of the pathway is mainly covered by trees and takes in salt marshes, reed beds, mud flats and the wide sweep of the Mawddach estuary. The foxgloves had by this point almost died off but we recorded a profusion of Common valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) – to name but three – along the route. We then stopped at the RSPB Mawddach Reserve in Penmaenpool where we had a refreshing drink outside the George III Hotel before turning back.
The high point of my time in Mid Wales (thus far) has been a walk through the dunes at Talybont beach, close to the River Ysgethin. The sandy hills were carpeted with Wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus), interspersed with Pineapple mayweed (Matricaria matricarioides) and Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum). In the sunlight, Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) moths were feeding on Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), thistles and other nectar-rich plants, while a Small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) darted among the grass stems. My idea of a perfect summer’s day!