Parks and wetlands
One weekend in May, the weather is fine and the sun is trying to shine. The bus pass will take a rest today because my daughter is going to accompany me on my next walk. We have a convoy travelling in tandem in two cars, one of which we leave at Font-y-gary Leisure centre car park and then travel together to Porthkerry Park. Parking in the top car park will make a longer walk. Change into boots and walking gear and we set off. It is a good job that I have two of everything as my daughter’s idea of clothing for a ramble is not exactly what I would call suitable.
We leave the car at 12:15p.m., later than I had planned but there is no hurrying Sara. It is overcast but as I said earlier, the sun is definitely trying to put in an appearance. Porthkerry Park lies in a fine natural Valley with 220 acres of parkland including woods, meadows and nature trails leading down to the seashore. We walk under a bridge onto a grassed area between woods of broadleaf and conifer trees. The viaduct looks impressive in the distance. It was built at the end of the 19th century, made of stone with 16 arches, all of 45 feet wide and with heights of 110 feet. There are a few flowering Prunus or Malus trees along the path and ample benches for sitting and taking in the surroundings, listening to the birds, people and the inevitable dog watching and generally chilling out. Magpies and Jackdaws abound. In fact two very cheeky courting Magpies (Pica pica) are helping themselves to the culinary delights of a rubbish bin. I manage to capture them perfectly in the act with my camera. I love Magpies with their long tapered tails and strikingly black and white plumage which looks steely blue when caught in the right light. We cross the field in the direction of the mini golf course, passing a pond which is amass with pink/purple flowers, Red Campion ( Silene dioica) I think. On closer inspection my guess is correct. In amongst them are Buttercups (Ranunculus repens) and also Flag Irises (Iris pseudacorus) and Bulrushes or Reed Mace (Typha latifolia) are just starting to appear bunched around the edges of the pond. Water Boatmen (Corixidae) are skittering over the water and a few tadpoles can still be seen, some with legs attached. Small shoots of Marsh Thistle (Cirsium palustre) and the dried husks of Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) can be seen in the Nettles (Urtica dioica) closer to the stream, which we need to cross. The stream is choked in places with Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum). At the bridge across the stream there is information about the hidden delights of Cliffwood and the medieval corn mill which was on the site.
Skirting the golf course, with the stream now on our left and the sea in front of us, we chat about mundane things and plan to take to the hot tub when we get home. The stream flows faster as we approach the sea, its banks covered with Nettles, Hairy-brome grass (Bromopsis ramosa) ,Red Campion and Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) (not yet fully in flower). We cross the bridge following the grass path, which can be very muddy in places, not onto the beach, but around the golf course. Wonderful, the sun has come out all guns blazing, time to divest myself of a layer of clothing. The path now leads into the woods and steeply rises into the gloom. There are Wild Crab Apple trees (Malus sylvestris) brightly covered in frothy flowers, Nettles and Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) tendrils on the out skirts of the woods. The wood consists of mostly broadleaf trees: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplantus), Holly (Ilex aquafolium), Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Birch (Betula populifolia), Common Hazel (Corylus avellana), Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). The floor is littered with Ivy (Hedera helix) and Ferns, Male Fern (Dryopteris felix-mas), Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and Hart’s- tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium). On the path edge are clumps of Bugle (Ajuga reptans) and half way up the incline are the Bluebells, ubiquitous at this time of year. My daughter cannot understand why, when I am puffing from my exertions, that I am so excited. I have just seen numerous Peacock butterflies (Nymphalis io) all over the dead Bracken and am trying to catch a pleasing photograph. The cliff edge is very close and she is afraid I will slip and fall. It is very pleasant under the canopy of trees with birdsong intermingled with the whooshing of the waves below – until there is an almighty roaring; and above our heads, almost close enough to touch, is an aeroplane on its way to land at Rhoose (Cardiff Wales) airport. What a marvellous shot through the trees.
At the top of the climb it opens out on to a field where there is a way mark sign directing you across the field towards the Holiday Park entrance. I can now see why the aeroplane was so close as in the field is an array of approach lights for the runway. At the entrance is a piece of land which seems to be a dumping ground for waste vegetation and branches. It has regenerated with tree stumps sprouting new shoots and many flowers are pushing their way through the Nettles. I spot Thistles, Teasels, Herb Robert, Rape, Hart’s tongue fern, Bluebells, Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Wood Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis sylvatica).
Once into the caravan park we turn left and follow the road past the mobile homes and a cafe, The Cabin, then right at the swimming pool. It is clearly way marked to turn right before going down a slight incline to the beach. There is a good view of Flatholm, Steepholm and The Knap from here. We stop and chat to some fellow walkers, some with dogs and one gentleman who was following the Wales Coastal Path and had travelled quite some way in the preceding few weeks. A Vueling .com aeroplane roared over head. This path was well maintained and made of gravel; it winds its way through hedges of Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Brambles, Sloe bushes (Prunus spinosa) and Nettles. The edges were strewn with Herb Robert, Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca), Dog-Violets (Viola riviniana), Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederaceae ) and Forget-me-nots. The birds are singing their hearts out but I am afraid I cannot distinguish any of them. This is an area of nature I must look into further.
The path burst out into a small field which passes the houses at Rhoose Point Estate; these are over-looking Dams Bay. The cliffs are to the left and the houses to the right. Yet again this is a great place to live, with the channel in front of you and on a clear day views of the old enemy, England. The field is awash with colour: pinks, purples and blues of Vetch (Vicia sativa), Forget-me-nots, and Clover (Trifolium pratense) and also the yellows of Buttercups, Dandelions and Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) all intermingling with the grasses and Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata ). The Gulls and Starlings are squawking and flying furiously against the wind. Down the hill and to the left of the field is a hidden exit through bushes to the path which has steps cut into it; all are way marked. At the bottom there is access to the pebbly beach, where we rested before tackling the climb over the stile and up the other side. The beach is scattered with drift wood, some very large logs. It was upon one of these that we sat drinking some water and sharing a mint Aero. Gazing out to sea and watching the tankers waiting for the tide to change before continuing their journey up the channel to the docks. We rested awhile until we noticed that all around us were ground spiders (Gnaphosidae) crawling in between the pebbles. Time to move I think.
Over the stile and weslowly climb the steps between hedges similar to those mentioned earlier. There are a couple of lovebirds, Wood pigeons, cooing in the trees. At the top a fairly muddy path meanders between hedges, some Red Valerian intermingled with other plants such a grasses and Lords and Ladies, but no Wild Strawberries or Dog-Violets. Blackbirds, Robins and Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) swoop over head and between the hedges. This then leads on to a smooth gravel cliff path with views over the Rhoose point quarry, now an impressive wetland. Lots of yellow and pink flowers with sedges and reeds surround the pools. House Martins (Delichon urbica) glide swiftly over them. Rhoose Point, so the sign says, is the southernmost point on mainland Wales.
There is very little shelter here and the wind is blowing fiercely. We walk down a rough slope, thankfully out of the wind, towards the Blue Stone sentinel and stone circle. An inscription on the Blue Stone reads “ RHOOSE POINT Land reclamation & new landscape by BLUE CIRCLE INDUSTRIES PLC. 2000 AD”. Here there are access points onto the beach and information notices describing the area and its habitat. Up the hill and back into the wind, more views of the wetlands. A lovely scene as a Swan floats majestically through the reeds (Phragmites australis) and Quaking-grass (Briza media). Gulls and Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) battle with the wind as it pushes them up the cliff and holds them seemingly motionless as they try to return to fly out to sea. Views over the cliff reveal the flat rock pavements, which remind me of a jigsaw puzzle, that were seen further down the coast at Lavernock. The path soon squeezes between high rocks and a wire fence which holds back an avalanche of Brambles. Down dale and uphill is the order of the day. Next steps lead down to a bridge over a stream and then more steps, up this time, into a field. Along the side of the steps is a concrete structure that looks like a culvert for diverting excess water. The stream – or is it another culvert – which is at right angles to the previously described one, is choked with vegetation: Cow Parsley, Nettles, Herb Robert, Flag Irises and Water Cress.
Ah! The absence of Dog walkers was starting to worry me, but here they are in force. A strong south easterly wind is blowing sending the dogs crazy. My daughter and I have a quiet giggle as a small lady with two large dogs on leads passes us in an almost horizontal position. They are certainly taking her for a walk; I think we can call it that. I bet she wishes she had taken the leads off and allowed them free reign like the other dogs, or maybe not. Ha! Ha!
It is a little calmer between the bushes which are covered with the newly writhing tendrils of wild clematis or Traveller’s Joy (Clematis vitalba). The gravel path is fairly flat here with views over scrub land. The hedges are mainly Elder, Hawthorn and some Gorse just starting to flower, the dainty May flowers contrasting well with the bulbous yellow/brown prickly Gorse (Ulex europaeus). There is also a spindly tree covered in what looks like rather thick cobwebs of a greenish grey colour. I suspect it to be Lichen (Usnea subfloridana). On the path beside farmland crops, patches of Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica ) are flourishing. There seem to be more walkers on this stretch. Into another field and a large Fire Beacon has been erected overlooking the cliff. The last walk is down steps to the beach at Fontagary. The beach itself is just as I remember it when I was a girl and visited here with my grandparents. The approaches to the beach, however, are very different. Before, you would clamber over trickling water and slippery rocks onto the pebbles and then cross to flatter rocks where you could find little nooks and crannies to shelter if it was windy. Now, you find some unsightly metal railings snaking their way down to the beach, well that’s progress being conscious of health and safety.
We reach the car at 3:00 pm. then take a bite to eat at the Fontagary Inn which is just at the top of the road leading from the park. Later we retrieve Sara’s car from Porthkerry Park.
Wales Coast Path Region H : Map 102