I have often walked across Kenfig Nature reserve, crossing sand dunes and damp sedge filled hollows, towards the sea at Sker Point, always trying to keep to the tracks but often straying into unknown sandy or wet areas while pursuing attractive flora and fauna. I never seemed to follow the same path; there was always something new to see. Here, at almost the end of summer, I am going to circum-navigate the Kenfig Pool, which is situated on the edge of the reserve. Summer this year has been a miraculous succession of bright hot days. Everyone has been grinning stupidly at each other as though they just could not believe it. However, on a much less uplifting day we set out in earnest to complete the 3+ mile trek around the 70-acre lake. It is Glamorgan’s largest fresh water lake, which has a very interesting story. According to legend the Pool has a drowned town beneath its waters. There is also supposed to be a whirlpool, called Black Gutter, that drags boaters and swimmers to their doom. The whole area abounds with similar myths and legends: The Maid of Sker (see Rest bay to Kenfig walk ), the Maid of Cefn Ydfa (see Llangynwyd walk) and the legend of the ninth generation which is based around the area of the Pool. For further information on these legends and others visit: www.bridgendsheritage.co.uk/our-past/a-pint-of-myths-and-legends.
“Water has a thousand pleasures and a thousand faces. The sight and sound of it cures our minds.” Words from ”The Magic of Water”, Laurie Lee.
I always find comfort and pure joy when I am near a body of water. The sights and sounds of the surrounding flora and fauna are a wonder to behold. The lake reflects the mood or atmosphere of the present; it, like petals, changes its colour every hour of the day.
Not being sure of the path around the lake, my daughter and I hoped to call into the Visitor Centre to pick up a map or talk to one of the rangers: out of luck I am afraid, as it was closed and all the literature that is usually displayed outside was taken. The toilet facilities were open thank goodness. We were left to our own devices.
We set out clockwise around the lake, hoping to keep it in view always on our right. The Keeper of the Dunes looked out upon all she surveyed with a critical eye on the shifting sands between the rough vegetation and scrubland. We followed the Kenfig Pool markers and strolled out upon a tarmac path that wound between Brambles and Bracken.
There are 14 wood sculptured Nature Keepers within the county borough of Bridgend. They are the guardians of the story of the land.
“within this land, a story sleeps
the world you see is a dream
this story, the ancient Keepers keep
and always has it been”
The first Keeper was installed in Bryn Garw Gardens in 2013 to raise awareness of and celebrate the county borough’s countryside and green spaces. There are interactive videos and poems about most of the Keepers. The full poem of the Keeper of the Dunes and others can be found at www.naturalneighbourhoods.com.
The closer we came to the Lake the paths became sandy tracks with Great Willowherb, Mugwort, Hogweed, Sea Bindweed, Meadow Saxifrage, Groundsel, Honeysuckle and Cat’s-ear fighting their way for space among the Bracken, Nettles and Brambles.
A cheeky, yet scruffy, Magpie was foraging on the dunes and among the planting; he soon flew off into some berry laden bushes as we approached.
At various points around the lake were picnic tables; there were some at the first access point to the lake. We had a gorgeous view across the lake and we could see Swans near the opposite bank. The lake was like a mirror: calm, perfectly clear, reflecting the scudding clouds. Further to the west was the urban sprawl of Port Talbot and the Tata Steel complex. On the lake edge Common Reeds, Common Club Rushes and Water-mint were in abundance. The long feathery fronds of the reeds and rushes were reflected in the still clear water of the lake. They also afforded sanctuary for waterfowl, reptiles, fish and insects. In a particularly muddy pool, among the reeds, we spied a young Robin having a bath. He was really enjoying himself, splashing mud and water everywhere.
We left the water to walk on a muddy path through the dappled shade of overhanging trees. Every now and then open spaces confronted us. Here flowers and grasses grew in profusion. A cornucopia of colour. Bright pink Great Willowherb flowers and fluffy white seed heads in large swathes vied with the cheery yellow flowers of Fleabane, while Red Clover, Gipsywort, Hemp Agrimony, Flag Irises, Marsh Thistles, Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Water-mint, Purple Loosestrife and Common Vetch sporadically pushed through them. The whole area was abuzz with insects: Damselflies and Dragonflies, Butterflies a plenty, Bees ( Shrill Carder Bee) and Wasps, a Ladybug , a Crane fly and Gnats. The Butterfly inventory sounds like a guest list for a dinner party. There were Common Blues feeding on the Water-mint, Speckled Woods on the sandy paths, a Grizzled Skipper and a Painted Lady flitted among the vegetation.
The Graham Duff bird-hide was just off the track and we ventured in. We didn’t have to wait long before a Grey Heron landed on a log which was situated in an opening in the reeds. On a small island of rocks was a pair of Mallards. We stayed awhile watching the Heron preen and the Mallards squabble. That was not the only activity. There were loads of Damselflies and Dragonflies whizzing about; they were very difficult to capture on film.
We continued walking through the reed-beds; the reeds were well above our heads. Dampness was in the air. The trees sported Moss and Lichen and Polyploidy Ferns. Water-mint and Flag Irises, together with Water-pepper were enjoying growing in the damp ground. Speckled Wood butterflies were flitting everywhere among the Water-mint and Hemp Agrimony.
The lake was nowhere in sight. A screen of bushes and trees on our right obstructed our view. The area about us was once again open and full of vibrant colour and fauna activity.
Patches of Yellow Rattle, now covered in seed-heads, were evident. Other plants: Fleabane Knapweed, Burnet Rose, Cat’s-ear, Imperforate St. John’s Wort, Honeysuckle, Gipsywort, Silverweed, Purple Loosestrife, Common Vetch, Wild Thyme, Common Restharrow and Yellow Saxifrage. All these plants vying for space formed a carpet of colour: a different pattern in every direction.
Again, the planting attracted a myriad of wildlife: Red and Blue Damselflies, a Speckled Wood on the stalk of Ribwort Plantain, Large Whites, Small Heaths, Female Common Blues and a Brimstone. A furry brown caterpillar, possibly that of a Fox Moth, capered in the Silverweed. Grasshoppers were jumping all over the place; you needed to focus very carefully to spot where they landed. On a post marker basking in the sun was a Common or Viviparous Lizard. It had obviously been in the wars, as it had grown a new tail.
We couldn’t see the lake so we kept the bushes on the right and always followed the right-hand path hoping to circumnavigate it. This path led into wetter areas with muddy patches. Here there were Horsetails, Flag Irises, Marsh Pennywort, Gipsywort and huge swathes of Water-mint abuzz with Bees. Also, above head-height Common Reeds, many with twining Bittersweet surrounded us. Very picturesque were underlating and writhing tree trunks rising out of a haze of Horsetails. While trying to avoid the muddier patches, we saw small brown Common Frogs enjoying the ooze and dampness.
Another open space, but a little damper, presented itself. It had similar flora to other patches of ground but with the addition of Red Bartsia, Marsh Woundwort and Fleabane. All were attracting Small Heaths, Common Blues, a Wall Brown, possibly a Barred Rivulet Moth and brightly coloured Small Tortoiseshells. Also, in attendance were many Grasshoppers.
We kept to right-hand paths which meandered through head-high reeds. The dunes appeared to the left of us. I made my way through the reeds while my daughter climbed the dunes and looked down on me; it was in fact my flowing passage through the reeds as they shivered and rippled above me. Through the reeds and trees slivers of water appeared. At last we saw the lake.
Clouds gathered above; the sky darkened. It was time for us to walk a little faster. We still had some distance to cover before arriving back at the Visitor Centre.
We continued to alternate between sandy paths and wetter areas. Sand banks reached down to the lake. Boardwalks ran over the bogs. The boardwalk lead to another bird-hide. However, much of it was closed off due to damaged boards.
Sandy areas sported Common Restharrow, Wild Thyme, Imperforate St John’s Wort, Betony, Viper’s Bugloss and Field Bindweed, while damper areas were covered with yellow flowered Trifid Bur-marigold, Redshank, Marsh Ragwort and Bog Bean. Pinpoint patches of blue Water Forget-me-nots were glimpsed in waterlogged areas.
Small beach areas emerged through the bushes, where Reeds, Broad-leaved Pondweed, Hard Rush and Sharp Rush were growing in the shallows. Among the reeds there were flurries of activity as Coots took off from the water into air and then returned into the cover of the Reeds.
We were now back walking on the open lakeside. Gone was that closed in feeling which we encountered among the Reeds. Replaced with an airy freeness, we felt like gambolling across the fields like the Sheep that we saw there. We climbed over stiles into the fields of low grasses and islands of Bracken. Some of these stiles had very useful dog gates. Mushrooms were growing on the stiles and in the grass. Lesser Stitchwort and Selfheal grew among the Bracken. Together with the Sheep were Horses grazing in fields and a Caravan park overlooked them.
In the lake stone structures emerged; could these be part of the lost town? The natural pool, despite local legends, is actually very shallow and does not contain any ancient buildings underneath it. There were wooden posts with barbed wire also writhing across the lake.
Another plant that we have not seen until now was the tall yellow spires of Agrimony spearing through the Bracken and Brambles, together with Greater Willowherb, mostly with feathery seed heads.
On or near the lake, Swans’ heads appeared above the bank and the Club Rushes. Mallards or Pintails and Coots played follow the leader across the lake. A tremendous noise emanated from a flock of Greylag Geese, while Black-headed Gulls watched from strategic rocks in the water.
Eventually, we regained our first sighting of the lake. Complete circumnavigation of the lake achieved! That cheeky Magpie, we encountered earlier, had now come to the water for a drink.
We returned to the carpark through head-high Bracken, along sandy paths.
A little tired, we divested ourselves of our walking gear and sat awhile watching a pair of Collared Doves as they cavorted on a bird-table. The threatening black clouds failed to deliver their cargo, so the whole walk finished as it started: in the dry.