Through the Seasons:
Coed-y-bwl: This reserve of six acres is an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is a broad-leaved woodland lying on limestone. The wood is made up of mainly deciduous trees such as Ash, Elm, Sycamore and Field Maple with some Hazel, Hawthorn and Elder. The area is known locally as Daffodil Wood, and rightly so, because in early spring it is covered with Daffodils. This is one of the few places where a strain of Welsh wild Daffodil, Narcissus pseudnarcissus, also known as the Lent or Lenten Lily still grows. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales manages the site.
Flowers were planted in the early 19th century by Mrs. Nicholl of Merthyr Mawr Estate. The area became a Glamorgan Naturalist Trust Reserve in 1970 and by 2002 after some society mergers came under the auspices of the now Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
I joined a Valeways walk in early March which started out from the car park of the Fox and Hounds in St. Brides Major. We set out on a clear spring morning donned with jackets and heavy walking boots. The route took us first alongside the pub and up onto a road which skirted the houses on the hill. White Summer Snowflakes and pink Bergenia greeted us as we trudged up the hill. After passing the houses the road veered right through farmland. The hedges were quite bare and all that could be seen was a tangle of twigs and branches. Underneath the hedges, however, life was beginning to stir. New shoots of Lords and Ladies, Celandines, Hart’s Tongue ferns and Herb Robert were emerging. Clumps of bright faced lemon Primroses welcomed us everywhere and in the shade of a moss covered wall was our first glimpse of the Welsh Daffodil.
We crossed into an unploughed field via a stile; serried ranks of stalks from a previous crop poked out from the mud. We circum-navigated the field and headed for the farm buildings. Following the hedge we came to another stile which took us into a small wood on the outskirts of the nature reserve. The tree branches were bare and the banks on either side of the path were devoid of plants except for some Ivy and some newly sprouting ferns. The wall around the reserve was covered in mosses and Polyploidy ferns, with a few Herb Robert leaves pushing their way through the thatch.
The entrance to Coed-y-bwl was on the left of the road. We entered via a large wooden gate, remembering to close it behind us. What a sight assaulted our eyes. The whole wood floor was enveloped in a carpet of white, yellow and green. The sun shone through the almost bare branches of the trees and highlighted the beautiful Welsh Daffodils and Wood Anemones. The Anemones hugged the ground with their cheery flowers, of white petals surrounding delicate yellow anthers, held above their fern-like green leaves. The Daffodils, with spear shaped leaves and single flower stem holding the pale yellow petals and deeper yellow trumpet, pierced the leaf litter nodding in the slight breeze.
The trees entwined with Ivy, serving as underwear, await the arrival of their haute couture leaves. In fact some were announcing the arrival of their fully clothed selves by producing catkins, swollen buds and a sprinkling of soft unfurling leaves. On the woodland floor mosses were spreading like waves over rotting leaves and fallen branches. The mossy fingers were reaching up the tree trunks and branches. Polyploidy ferns were also growing symbiotically upon them. This compost of vegetation would be playing host to a number of insects and fungi, notably the bright red cup shaped fungus Scarlet Elf Cup and velvety brown Jelly Ear, both of which were seen during our visit. The wood was full of bird song. Wood Pigeon calls could be heard quite clearly but I only saw Blue Tits and Chiffchaffs.
It was time to return, so we retraced our footsteps back up the road and beyond . The walls and banks on either side were moss, ivy and fern covered but the trees that overhung the road were bare. We did not return via the farmland. On the side of the road were stands of Snowdrops, all clumped together under the brown Bramble branches. What attractive, dainty flowers they are. Each plant has two grey-green slender leaves and a flower stalk which bears a solitary white flower with three spreading sepals and three much shorter petals whose tips are streaked with green.
We followed the road past the stile which we crossed earlier and continued on towards the car park. One last thing afforded our interest; it was a Pheasant picking its way cautiously through one of the fields.
Once again I joined a Valeways walk. The starting point and route were the same although the floral aspect was different and the weather was not so kind. The hedges along the road had turned from dull brown to vibrant green and the banks were choked with many green hues and colourful flowers: Hawthorn, Hazel and Alder hedges with Honeysuckle writhing through them, Celandines, Red Campion, Dandelions, Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Forget-me-nots, Garlic Mustard, Bracken, Brambles, Nettles, Bluebells and Clevers nestling underneath. The stile which was clear of vegetation in early spring was now barely passable; our feet were getting wet as we walked through the high grass. The farmland fields had been ploughed and seeded; the crop was sprouting and spreading a green mat over the once muddy expanse. Although we knew we were walking towards the farm buildings, we could not see them because of the mist. We duly found the second stile and entered the wood, which was also transformed. Leaves were clothing the branches and each side of the path was swamped with Celandines, Hart’s-tongue ferns, Enchanter’s nightshade and Lords and Ladies. The Lords and Ladies now had green bracts or spathes and brown club-shaped flower spike or spadex. The walls still had their coating of moss but the Herb Robert was now in flower.
We did not enter the Nature Reserve immediately but walked further down the road to the railway arch. A river ran on the left, parallel to the road, and the reserve was on the right. Watercress was swaying with the current of the smoothly running river. Broad-leaved Dock, Common Reeds and Hogweed were starting to colonise the banks. There was a stone clapper bridge, Packhorse Bridge, fording the river and we stopped to rest there for a while.
We headed back to the reserve where we found the whole atmosphere of the wood had changed from our last visit earlier in the year. We now had a leafy canopy, although sunlight was piercing it causing areas of light and shade. Gone were the Daffodils, except their strap like leaves and a few stalks, replaced by banks of Bluebells. Everywhere you looked were the majestic arching, lilac, drooping, bells looking like miniature elongated milkmaid hats. Splashes of yellow were supplied by Celandines, Yellow Archangel and Dandelions. Glimpses of white here and there were some remnants of the Anemones and a few tall stalks of Cow Parsley. In amongst the Bluebells were Dog’s Mercury plants and alighting on them were some Speckled Wood butterflies. Up in the branches of the now scantily clad trees were a couple of Robins singing to each other. A lone female Blackbird and some Blue Tits were also adding to the melodic sounds in the canopy. We could see some bird boxes had been erected on a number of trees in the heart of the wood. The trees were all in different stages of re-growth; Field Maples, Elm, Hazels and some Sycamores, were fully clothed, while Ashes and other Sycamores were still in bud.
Having completed the clockwise circuit of the wood, we proceeded up the road and home. The mist had lifted and the sun had come out presenting a clear blue sky. We did pass some Bluebells which were upright and in colours of blue, pink and white; these were the Spanish imposters. There were also Red Campion, a few Cowslips, Comfrey and Forget-me-nots mingling with the Nettles and unfurling Male ferns. Ribwort Plantain, Meadow Foxtail and Silverweed grew in grassy areas forming a delightful picture of green hues. As we passed Blackhall Farm lots of swallows flew from the barns, some were taking a rest perched upon the telephone wires. Robins and Goldfinches peeped out at us from the hedges and a Greenfinch perched jauntily upon a telegraph pole. The fields were starting to turn yellow with the quickly ripening Rape crops which contended with Groundsel on its margins. Up in the cloudless sky a Buzzard was grappling with a pair of Jackdaws; their strident cries were almost deafening.
As we neared the village of St. Brides Major we could see that some of the Hawthorn and Elder were showing signs of flowering. A Horse Chestnut tree had also produced its white erectile pyramidal flowers. Upon a wall was a flowering Yellow Corydalis and beside it were clumps of Knapweed. Further along the wall a Blue Tit was entering a thicket of Ivy.
A day which did not feel promising at the outset, turned into a wonderful, interesting, nature packed one.
There are several brick-built railway arches in this area carrying the line between Bridgend and Barry. They are a marvellous feat of engineering. Many railway enthusiasts come to marvel at them.
Clapper or pack-horse bridges are quite uncommon in the UK, there being only about 40 recorded to date. The bridges are on pack-horse routes and constructed of one or more slabs of stone either with one stone stretching from bank to bank on a narrow stream or supported by piers of dry-stone. They were too narrow to carry wheeled vehicles, so only foot passengers or pack-horses could cross. Dating of them is from the late mediaeval period to the early 19th century. Some people think they are called “Clapper” because of the sound of the horses crossing them, but the Anglo-Saxon word “cleaca” refers to stepping stones and it may derive from this. The one at Castle-upon-Alun is thought to be from the 18th century. It is about 800 foot long, has about five small openings for the passage of water and is about two or three foot high; it is possible to dangle one’s feet in the cool clear running stream. Obviously, it will depend on the time of year as the depth of the water will change with the seasons.
At the end of August I visited Castle-upon-Alun again. I am ashamed to say that I did not walk the route from St. Brides Major but had a lift as far as the railway arch. Unlike previously the vegetation was extremely lush. The arch of the bridge was almost obscured by the branches of trees and the bricks were covered with Ivy. I walked up the road towards the clapper bridge and Coed-y-bwl nature reserve. The hedges had a sprinkling of autumn fruits: Blackberries, Elderberries, Black Bryony and Hazel nuts. The stream that runs parallel to the road was not very deep and softly gurgled over the moss, weed and stones on the river bed. Branches arching over it caused patches of sunshine and shade. Ferns of all descriptions were clothing the sloping bank the other side of the nature reserve wall, itself sprouting ferns, moss, Yellow Archangel and Ivy, while at its foot was a mass of flowerless but seeded Wood Avens. Nearer to the clapper bridge the stream was choked with Watercress, Broadleaf Dock, Giant Hogweed, Red Campion, Nettles, Great Willowherb and Reeds. The bridge had taken on a patchy green carpet of weeds and was overhung with Willow and Sycamore branches.
I entered the nature reserve; what a change of scenery and atmosphere to previous visits. It was quite dark and menacing. Gone were the cheery Daffodils and nodding Bluebells, replaced by ferns, Ivy, Moss, Nettles, Sheep’s Sorrel and Enchanter’s Nightshade. A mesmerising cacophony of greens. There were a few dried husks of Bluebell flowers. Here and there a sudden spike of brilliant orangey red would strike up through the mat of green; these were the fruiting bodies of Lords and Ladies, looking quite at odds with the palette before me. The paths were muddy with leaf-litter and masses of dislodged Moss. It had been wet and windy this last week and all this detritus must have been washed down the slopes of the reserve and onto the paths. The canopy above did allow some shafts of sunlight to pierce and when this happened the whole wood seemed to shine; the Lords and Ladies shone brightest but the Moss and Ferns took on a magical quality. I seemed to have been transported into a fairyland. However, when the sun hid its face in the clouds, the foreboding nature of the wood returned and I longed for the sun’s re-emergence. Branches of Ash, Sycamore, Elm, Hazel, Hawthorn and Field Maple seemed to close in on me and as I looked upward some of them were dripping with fungi, Jelly Fungus, Polyploidy ferns and moss. Everything was still; there were a few birds tweeting but I never saw them.
However I did hear the clip, clop of horses on the road.
The horses and riders were taking a side road towards the farm.
I emerged from the reserve onto an equally shady road; the darkness, the sprinkling of sunshine and the headlong flight, reminded me of some passages from Tchaikovsky’s Concerto Fantasia for Piano. The walls and banks of the road in front of me were still covered with lots of greenery but the branches that overhung the road were now fully clothed and gave a tunnel like atmosphere to the route which was a little misty in places. A lemony limey green translucent effect caused by the sun’s rays piercing the mist could be seen at the top of the road. Very eerie! Bursting out into the sunshine I was greeted by a flight of Speckled Woods, who were dancing around the miniature apples on a Crab Apple tree. The hedges along here were entwined with Hedge Bindweed; its trumpets were gazing up to the sky. Pink flower spikes of Betony and clusters of Creeping Thistle were thrusting their way through the undergrowth. There was no sight of the Snowdrops, only Blackberries and Elderberries running amok. All along the edges of the road it seemed as if only green things grew but on closer inspection there were pockets of colour. The pinks or purples were represented by Clover, Knapweed, Red Campion and the one-sided flower heads of Red Bartsia. Layers of Common Vetch and Field Bindweed snaked across the ground. Also Great Willowherb emerged with its long furry pods containing cottony seeds among its flowers. Yellows of Buttercups and Agrimony, both of which were displaying seed-heads were poking through. Honeysuckle in flower, delicious blended pinks and yellows, and also in fruit, little clusters of bright red jewels were trailing over the hedges. Not forgetting the whites of Clover, fluffy Meadow Sweet, much of which was going to seed, daisy like Scentless Mayweed, its white petals surrounding a buttery centre and prostrate Knotgrass with its tiny inconspicuous flowers.
Soon I arrived at St. Brides Major and my lift, thankfully was waiting for me.
I wonder what the reserve will look like in winter. I may return.
Thanks to the Valeways walks which were led by Sylvia Tapp.